Blog 72 : Photographing the Zero
Photo Club 3
Motivated by a desire to encourage people in my community in their journey as photographers, I've created a new digital community and photo club called the "Creative Potential Photo Club". In this photographic blog post I share the contributions from our third assignment.
The other week I was hanging out in the stacks of my favourite library, flipping through the pages of books featuring the work of noteworthy female photographers. I consume the images in the book like any good millennial, turning the pages perhaps quicker than I should, but nonetheless still critically processing each photograph. As I turn the page to the spread featuring photographer Imogen Cunningham, I'm gripped by the textures and folds of the bedsheets coupled with the tonal range in this black and white image. She captured this image just moments after getting out of bed, a simple photo of her surroundings without people. It was to become one of her most famous images. By this time she had lived thousands of mornings with freshly tousled sheets. I couldn't help but wonder: what made her photograph her bed on that particular morning?
I spend a lot of time thinking about the zero, the absence of marked moments, our unmarked speech. What are the things in my world that have become so quotidienne that I don't even pay attention to them anymore? These things are hard to notice, but these zeroes are exactly what we're going to focus on for this month's assignment.
Now, for the simple instructions of this month's assignment:
1. As you move through the rhythm of life in the coming weeks, reflect on the idea of the unmarked moments that are part of each day. An empty coffee cup sitting on your kitchen table. Your umbrella leaning against the wall, still wet from a spring shower. Your favourite earth pal sprouting a new leaf.
2. As you are able, photograph these unmarked moments, being careful to photograph your surroundings without people.
3. Write a short paragraph describing your reflections on these images and send in as many or as little images as you want.
Recently, the weather has been a downer and today has been the first consistently nice day so I decided to celebrate by going on a bike ride. Taking a break at the park is a no brainer since I can people watch but today no one was there! It felt like a missed connection, an opportunity lost, since it usually has a few people or families around using either the park, the sports fields or the walking paths. I felt like a voyeur looking into a bubble of time where the park was waiting for someone to bound through the sand, racing for the slide, or swing between monkey bars and restart time again with peals of laughter and shouts of excitement.
Camera: Samsung Galaxy XCover 4
I shot a tulip blooming through a fence in the space where I always park my bike—watching it open, it's petals spreading wider day by day until they eventually fell to the ground and blow away made me think about entropy, and the ways in which the cycles of life continue in the face of inevitable decay (even relying on that decay for their continuation).
Two different photos from two different places for two different moods.
Camera: Contax G1
Film: Kodak Ultramax 400
I’ve spent the last few weeks taking a few moments out of my days to look around and search out that special “something” in the regularly repeated cycles, and kept finding myself contriving shots and compositions that sparked zero interest. I was a bit stressed that I could not find that perfect rumpled garment or slightly unkempt facet of my life that would be worth sharing, I still have not, but…
I ran across a piece of debris while helping an older friend fix up his yard. I did not recognize this at all when I first tripped on it, smashing knees in muddy soil and rotting twigs. I pulled it out thinking it was another of the hundreds of fallen branches I had already collected, but it took shape from the soil and the crisscrossing vines I tore it from into something resembling a tripod that had its third leg amputated.
After some discussion, my friend told me its story, at least the parts of the story my friend had been acquainted with: the old tripod was likely built sometime in the 1930s or 40s. It had been found half buried in sand dunes in the mid-1970s off of Monterrey Bay, California. My friend (in another life) was studying at the Defense Language Institute, but was also working as an amateur photographer. Apparently, this was a big find which he ended up polishing up and refitting to stick his 35mm Pentax camera onto take shots in the surf. As this was a military base, the tripod likely spent the first half of its life as a military land surveying tool, but who knows?
After my friend fell out with the military, this ended up coming home with him to Michigan and spent the last half of the 1980s and early 90s as a Christmas tree for his much older Polish parents who would decorate it with lights and otherwise just had it around. Sometime in the last ten years or so it was placed in the garden and forgotten, while, at least until I tripped on it.
The wood is in an advanced state of decay, and the fine finish and polish disintegrated decades before most of us were born. I love the old tree it was sitting next to—it’s as if it started taking back its wooden shape and mirroring the still thriving relative. The metal device which used to help produce precise measurements over vast distances is now rusted and no longer moves at all.
These images don’t quite capture half of its intricate layers and contrast, but perhaps some of what my eye saw was caught.
Cameras: Nikon d850 and a Huawei p30
I live with a delightful little creature who happens to be a three year old human. The fact that she is outnumbered by adults isn't immediately obvious upon entering our apartment. There is often evidence of a recently eaten meal in the kitchen, a recently completed activity on the living room floor, and a recently "optimized" bathroom shelf. The photos:
1. A mug left behind following a meal. The cup to the left is for water. The mug is for "tea" (also water). Both are required at meals.
2. Kid-sized table and chairs, in the living room. This is our breakfast-for-two table, used on weekday mornings. It usually lives in the kitchen, even though there isn't space for it there.
3. My daughter took this one, along with three of me. If you ask her, it's a picture of her elephant. It's a rocking elephant (a cousin of the rocking horse) and is wearing a Captain America mask.
Camera: Canon Rebel G
Film: Ilford Delta 3200
Each day, I escape my office in downtown Toronto for a quick walk around the block. I wander along quiet side streets to clear my brain and stretch out my limbs. Since the spring though, my route has turned into a construction zone. No street has escaped. So although I still go for walks, I've sped up my pace to avoid the worst of the dust and noise.
Last week, it rained. The construction stopped. And for the first time in a long time, I relaxed into the walk and took time to really look at my surroundings. I spent some time contemplating what had become of my quiet streets and and the space I’d been rushing through in recent weeks. I captured some of this pondering in these pictures.
Camera: iPhone 8
This month’s assignment resonated with me because the banal and the mundane are things I am often drawn to photographing. The photos presented here are from a quiet day at home, in and around my kitchen and balcony. I found some quiet juxtaposition in this small space, which I decided to photograph; growth and decay, colour and monochrome, light and dark. I feel the images are more expressive when presented together, in a sort of collage form. The story here isn’t about individual objects, but rather the expression of a particular space. I was listening to the album U.F.O.F. by Big Thief whilst editing the photos, and I think the moodiness of the music has affected how I’ve chosen to present the assignment.
I enjoyed how this assignment made me pause in my precious calm moments during the day and observe my surroundings. I had the idea that I would try to capture the beauty in the chaos that is our family home at the moment. But in the end that proved more difficult than anticipated. Sometimes chaos is just chaos. My pet project for the summer is learning to grow and arrange flowers. So instead of my first ambitious idea, I took photographs of my first cut flower endeavours.
I have come to really enjoy my quiet evening walks around the garden, after tiny is in bed. It is always exciting to see what has come up during the day. Photographing my flowers has provided a way to extend the calm, joyful feeling that I have when caring for and arranging them. Here are three of my favourites.
Camera: Nikon D3400
This bouquet reminds me of just time. Time can simultaneously stand still and change (the flowers). They were once flowing with life, standing still, and now they are lifeless, and standing still. Time is the changing factor that shifted them from being alive to lifeless. I am trying to learn to enjoy the quiet moments—of being in the present and just being. It's a challenge.
here we lay
in the deep
of the present
Camera: LG G 6
Here’s the assignment from the first and second months of the Creative Potential Photo Club. Each month I send out new assignments by email. If you want to join the Creative Potential Photo Club, please send me a message through my contact page or an email at lifebyselena[at]gmail[dot]com and I'll add you to the list! After the submissions are compiled, I'll post the images with the goal of fostering the digital community. This is a project of Montreal portrait photographer Selena Phillips-Boyle of Life by Selena Photography.