Five Thousand Photos

So that's it. This project is complete and no more photos will be added. And I have to say that, after five hundred and ninety-seven photos, its ending was distinctly unsatisfying. More on that in a bit.

I started this series back in April 2011 by writing out my ground rules and guidelines. Here's how I compare the results to my original intentions:

• Take at least one photo a day with my compact digital camera.

The main goal of this project was simply to start taking photos on a regular basis again. Photography had become an unusual event, and my shift toward film made my creative output particularly erratic. Having a small digital camera that I would bring everywhere would fill in those lulls and keep me thinking photographically every day.

While the project accomplished that goal, it never became second nature, and was often something I had to bring myself to do. There were occasional days that I didn't take photos, but far fewer than I expected.

It's also telling that I referred to "my compact digital camera" – I had originally planned on making the project about one particular camera. It took a while to shake the specificity of that idea, but I became so frustrated with the TS3's low-light inabilities and general stubbornness that I added a Canon S100 at the half-way point, which radically changed the photos that I was taking. I'd suggest that it made as big a difference in the look of the photography as the late addition of my IR-converted Panasonic FZ18.

• Upload as many as possible to a dedicated gallery.

My original expectation was that I would upload everything I could while still respecting the privacy of my friends and family – I got this one very, very wrong. I vastly underestimated the number of photos I would take that were either overly redundant or complete trash. In the course of uploading five thousand photos to the gallery I actually took well over eleven thousand pictures. But over the course of the project I think I was fairly consistent with my selection criteria, and rarely uploaded extras just to make it end earlier – although when I was in the mid three-thousands it certainly began to drag.

• Post one of each days' photos to this blog.

I posted two photos on New Years' Day, but otherwise kept to the publication chronology. A secondary purpose of the project was to make me into a more effective editor, and that only had mixed results. I started out photographing as the spirit moved me and then selecting the best image to use, which could involve tough choices, but eventually the tail started to wag the dog. I would often take photos specifically so that I could have something to post, and put the camera away when I thought I
had something worth showing.

Given a choice between two good photos, I would usually post the one that was later in the sequence, or at an interesting number.

But time itself is a relative and arbitrary construct. I eventually realized that a calendar-day and a project-day weren't quite the same thing, so if a calendar-day was broken into distinctly different events or times, I could stretch time out and choose a photo from each part. That's why some of my trips seem longer than they really were, and it's why missing the occasional day didn't bring the whole project to a crashing halt. Which brings me to my best idea:

• There will be a built-in delay between taking and publishing each photo.

A creative project, or process, shouldn't depend on meticulous administration for its success. By decoupling the taking from the posting I didn't need to be chained to the computer every evening, and could actually forget about the clerical drudgery for a week or more at a time. This buffer made it all work, and while the hardcore photo-a-day purists might object, I'd point out that completing a strict daily-photo regimen is needlessly masochistic and much more prone to failure.

Creating blog postings like clockwork isn't actually a photographic skill.

These photos were actually taken across a span of 585 days, and generated 597 photo posts on 596 days. But my Lightroom catalog tells me that I actually only took photos on 542 days during that time. So on average I skipped one day out of every two weeks, give or take, and made up for it by posting one extra photo for every ten days that I took them. Sustained over the course of almost twenty months, I think that's pretty good.

• The project ends when the gallery reaches 5000 photos. If the camera dies, that will also end the project.

My original project idea was to buy a cheap waterproof camera and post a photo from it every day for as long as it continued to work. I'm overwhelmingly glad that I didn't do that, but this dual-termination fine print was an escape clause that dates back to that idea. I had never actually had a camera stop working on me, but I didn't want be stuck buying a replacement if my little camera quit on the road to five thousand photos.

It turns out that the project simultaneously ended both ways.

I knew that I would finish this project with a photo taken while I was visiting New York City. It was inevitable: I only needed to add a hundred more photos to the gallery, and a half-blind chipmunk could take that many during a long weekend in Manhattan. So I was looking forward to finding just the right photo, going out on a high note, and capping off the hundreds and hundreds of hours that I've spent on this project with a flourish.

Half-way through the weekend the bloody S100 broke.

And even worse, the last photo it took was crap.

If I had been at home I could have just grabbed my TS3, the camera that started it all, and not missed a beat. I even tried to fake it by finding something suitable to photograph after I returned home, but that was even more unsatisfying than the way it actually ended.

I made it to five thousand photos, but still never quite crossed the finish line.

The question that I'm thinking about now is what sort of project I'm likely to do next. It's not going to start any time soon – I've been enjoying not using a camera quite a bit these days. But projects and series are something that I enjoy, so eventually I'm bound to try another one. And with luck its ending will be more satisfying than this one's was.

There's still one more post coming to wrap this series up: I get to go back and pick out my favourite photos.

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