Bringing the new website up to date with updates on various projects. Here’s the latest on the Decade Project, the photography thing I began on January 1, 2012. Wait, what the Hell is it? Good question. Short version: I shoot 10 years’ worth of film pictures and I don’t look at any negatives or proofs. At the end of each year (or really – whenever I can actually make it happen), the photos are delivered to that year’s photo editor. The editor has complete discretion over how many images are selected, based upon whatever criteria the editor establishes. At the end of the ten years, a book is published comprised of the selected images. I see the images for the first time in book form, along with everyone else. More detail on the project at this page: internet weblink to other place.
On February 1, 2020 I updated my film count, which is my best estimate based on my records. There will invariably be some margin of error in the count due to anomalies like getting 38 or 39 images out of a roll of 36, or blowing half a roll, pulling a roll entirely, or forgetting something along the way. But averaging it out based on rolls shot and fairly rigorous tracking, my estimate earlier this year stood at 71,281photographs. That’s over 70k images I have not seen that have been – or will be – forked over to other people to evaluate. To judge.
I should point out here – strenuously – that I’m not a professional photographer. These are neither mind-blowing, high production studio images nor are they epic, jaw dropping “street” photographs. They’re snapshots. Landscapes. Natural light pictures. Vacation photos. Lots and lots and lots of Tri-X. They’re personal pictures, boring pictures, bad pictures – many of them, anyway. Most of them, probably. But I have good rudiments, I shoot a lot, and I get lucky. Surely lucky enough every year to cobble together a halfway decent book.
Ostensibly, it’s just my photo diary. I do not rate myself as an excellent photographer – far from it – but I do throw my weight behind the concept. I think it’s a great idea, certainly unlike anything I’d heard of someone trying. I get sick to my stomach thinking about opening my own photo book for the first time not knowing what will be inside. I’ve gauged the reactions of people who’ve heard about this idea, and I know it’s “a thing”.
I don’t know. The idea’s got some balls. It’s 2020. Anyone over 13 who can afford an iPhone and create an Instagram account can be a photographer, and get paid doing it. Everyone is a photographer. Photographs are everywhere. Everything is a photograph. Everything is a camera. Photos drive feeds more than they stop people in their tracks. In part, the decade was a reaction to the ubiquitous photographer, the democratization of the medium, and the upending of an industry. If everyone is a photographer, I won’t be. If everyone is incessantly uploading images and curating their lives and hunting for likes, I’ll… not do that. Or try not to. Social media is so god damned enticing.
Everything has a screen. Images are instantaneous. We don’t live the moment and make a photograph to relive it later, we pretend to live the moment to create the photograph. Then the photo feeds the feed, gets its likes, and vanishes. Turning life into Likes. It’s a mundane detail, but I also just hate the screen on the back of a digital camera. The mystery of an image, the joy (or despair) of finding out – later – what you got, or what you missed… for me that was the entire point. Ripping open an envelope of photographs from a couple of weeks back and howling with laughter at the stupid glossy surprises inside.
Film pictures, man! I’m old. I like them! Physical photos rolled up inside a machine. Tightly coiled in a dark can to be discovered later. Restraint. Consideration. Rationing. Calculation. I love all this shit. I just don’t feel it when you point your tiny computer at something and see it on a screen instead of with your eyes.
So – whatever. It’s the age of social media and of automated digital image making. Every instant we live is an instant photo. It’s everywhere, and it’s endless. The decade project was a response to the photographic moment in which we were living in 2012. I would forego instant gratification. I would continue to shoot film for the stupid love of it (as emulsion after emulsion was discontinued), and I would not curate myself. I would surrender all control to others and let them tell me what my photos were and, by extension, who I was and how I lived during those ten years.
The thrill of the project, for me, will be the reveal. Sharing the book with people and opening it for the first time together is the the same as opening the envelope you get back from the 24 hour lab. Our photos are ready! What’s inside?! That’s the abiding joy that keeps me shooting three quarters of the way through year 8.
The scariest part, of course, is the surrender of the images. By every measure I am permitting myself to be evaluated. Technical mistakes, bad subjects, bad decisions, embarrassing moments preserved on film. All of it’s there for an editor to pore over and think, “Jesus, what the Hell is all this crap?”
It’s a wiggly proposition to hand it all over without first pre-vetting the images. Particularly in project years edited by real photographers, I cringe. From my perspective, it’s a leap of faith to deliver the images and hope for the best, but what keeps me up at night is the thought or Michael or Daniel (who don’t know me personally) seeing the images, gauging their caliber, and immediately feeling they’d been duped into making a putz look like a photographer, forced to curate a mountain of garbage in search of a dozen lucky moments.
Anyway, this project is now enormous in scope, and it’s equal parts thrilling and terrifying.