I recently purchased a book that I cannot put down. It’s called The Photographer’s Playbook (edited by Jason Fulford and Gregory Halpern, FYI). I discovered it while reading through an issue of Juxtapoz magazine a few months ago. This was back when I first moved home and felt that tiny flame of creativity reignite. It contains 307 assignments and ideas submitted by renowned photographers and filmmakers (Roger Ballen, Miranda July, Stephen Shore, etc) and photography teachers. Many of the assignments are meant to teach the beauty of spontaneity and playfulness, the art of talking to complete strangers, and the importance of embracing mistakes rather than being paralyzed by them. These are extremely useful lessons and skills to hone both in art and in life.
I definitely don’t fancy myself a “photographer.” I mean, c’mon, if I called myself that then aren’t we all photographers with our high definition camera phones and Instagram filters? But anyway, as I’m sure many of you can relate, I love taking photographs. Whenever I’m having problems writing or when I’m having anxiety about other projects or the future or life in general, taking photos is extraordinarily relaxing. I can tune out nagging anxiety and funnel that energy through a viewfinder. But, enough with the self-indulgence. I am by no means a good photographer nor do I think I’m brave enough to search for subjects worth photographing. Not yet, anyway. Maybe one day. Maybe with the helpful hints in this book!
Even though I’m no photographer, I wanted to show you some assignments that are in the book in case you’re curious or think it might be helpful. So, I strapped on a camera and completed on as an example. It was pretty fun.
Don’t hate on my meager skills! Well, you can if you want…
The first assignment I did was submitted by Christine Shank and it’s called “One-Hour Photo Project” (on page 313, if you’re following along). She explains in the assignment that her students had “lost a sense of experimentation and play within their work.” So she purchased several objects from the dollar store (Scotch tape, tinsel chalk, plastic bags) and put them in paper bags. She gave one paper bag to each student and told them they had one hour to make a photograph with the object. The additional criteria: work alone, go outside into the landscape, the material has to be included in the image, people cannot be the main focus of the image, and they had to return in one hour for a critique.
I asked my mom (because yeah, I live with my parents, remember?) to choose a random item for me to complete the assignment. She chose a baby onesie with the word “HAPPY” written on it. Here is my photograph. Well, I chose two. One in color and one in black & white:
The second assignment I did was submitted by Janet Delaney. It’s not so much a photo project as a self-reflection project. It’s called “The Self-Portrait” (page 79). She asks her students to take a deep look at themselves and make lists of the following:
1. Ten nouns that best describe you
2. Add ten adjectives
3. Add ten verbs
Here are my lists. They’re very personal but hell, I’ll share them.
4. Love sickness
I actually wrote that a couple days ago on a Monday when I was having a hard day. I wonder if that list would change greatly on a good day? It would be an interesting experiment. In any case, it was extremely cathartic and really helpful both creatively and personally.