No Pic Per Day 2013 - Reflections
During 2012 a small number of my Facebook and Twitter friends posted a daily picture under the heading ‘Daily Snapshot’, ‘Pic Per Day 2012’, or similar. Most notable among them was Dave Jarmain, whose daily pictures ranged from the familiar - nostalgic, sunshine-through-clouds shots - to pictures of old running shoes, and even the odd selfie. Dave managed to keep it interesting for a whole twelve months. I didn’t see every picture along the way, but the project remained in my mind throughout the year and, judging by the comments left beneath some of the pictures, I am not the only one who felt like this.
Keen as I was to produce a daily picture of my own, I was hampered by my not fully catching up with the project until mid-February. I realised in the spring that I need not have been bookended by January 1sts, and started to think that maybe I would begin on my birthday, in mid-June. In May, however, I dunked my phone into a bowl of water that was cooling my new baby’s night-time bottle of milk. The phone survived; its camera did not.
I gave up on the project, though its presence persisted through other people’s daily images appearing on my news feed. The project would not go away, and eventually I had the idea of creating a similar daily project the following year. On January 1st 2013, instead of posting a picture, I posted on Facebook my first daily description of an image I would have taken a picture of. Over the next twelve months my No Pic Per Day 2013 project had its ups and downs. Here I intend to take a look at those highs and lows, the effect it had (or didn’t have) on its audience, and what the reasons were behind the project’s midsummer faltering and, in August, its premature demise.
On January 1st I wanted to catch people’s attention. I wanted to post something that I thought most people could relate to, and so I called on the New Year’s Days of my childhood, and created a picture of the aftermath of a New Year’s Eve party:
No Pic Per Day 2013: New Years Day. Debris from the night before strewn about the living room. Beer cans, half-eaten fish sticks, and cubes of cheapest cheddar and red leicester on cocktail sticks.
The next day felt closer to what I was aiming for. It has the seasonal element and poetic sense of a haiku, if not the form:
No Pic Per Day 2013: Jan 2. Sunrise over Alice Park, Bath. Orange light picks out trails of dewy spiderwebs among the flowerbeds.
The project continued in this vein for a little while; gloves on fence-spikes, views of countryside through rainy sash-windows, that sort of thing. On January 4th Glen Seymour wished me well, and explained that he lacked the tenacity to carry on the project for an entire year. The remainder of the month brought many more positive comments and messages of support from fellow artists, who saw it as a worthwhile art and writing project, and from non-artists and family members, who told me it was an interesting way of framing a simple Facebook status update.
No Pic Per Day 2013: Jan 9. A potted Christmas tree, on the pavement outside its former home, with a sign that reads ‘Free to a good home’.
Beneath this post, was a comment from Em Hasney: ‘that makes me feel sad :( if it was an actual photo it wouldn’t have made me sad but the picture in my head when I read it did!’
Emma’s comment summed up the exact aim of the No Pic project: to create an emotional response to an image that wasn’t there, but that I had conveyed through words alone. I had figured it was possible – after all, we’ve all been moved by novels and short stories – but wondered whether I would be able to manage it. I assume that this had been seen by, say, half of my Facebook friends – that’s a couple of hundred people. Less than ten percent had clicked ‘like’, and one person had commented about the way the image had made them feel. Success!
Other early responses included:
Tom Adams: ‘The words are more emotive than the image could ever be. Imagination vs image. Trev you mythical beast!’
Adam Osborne: ‘Why not just buy a camera haha or are you being different?’
On January 15th Charlie Cousins alerted me to the work of Matt Richardson, via a blog post from precisely one year earlier. He had created a camera that would take a photo, but then send the image to a remote location where someone writes a short description of the image. This text is then printed out by the camera, in the manner of a polaroid photograph. Unbowed by this creative disturbance, I continued to publish my daily No Pic. Tom Abbott commented:
‘You’re beginning to remind me of that kid from American Beauty. Tomorrow I’m expecting: No Pic Per Day 2013: Jan 18. Stopped in the street to see plastic bag dancing in the wind with some leaves. Was hard to see after a while through my tears.’
He later added: ‘…anyway, keep it up!’
On January 22nd I referenced Instagram – the mobile phone app that allows photographers to apply filters to their image in order to recreate some of the quirks of analogue photography.
No Pic Per Day 2013: Jan 22. Two Mr.Men books lie discarded on the dining room floor. Mr. Strong, partially covered by Mr. Bump. Image filtered to look like it was taken in 1978.
By mid-February I had found something of a stride. I regularly used the weather combined with the flotsam and jetsam of daily life, usually which I had spotted while out walking my son in his pushchair. Somewhere in late January, however, No Pic became all about the boy. A quiet day, visually, if there is such a thing, often ended with me falling back on my experiences with him, as he always had something interesting, funny, or plain cute, going on. I also knew that a portion of my Facebook friends would be happy to hear about how he was getting on:
No Pic Per Day 2013: Jan 26. Avocado. Everywhere.
No Pic Per Day 2013: Feb 11. Beetroot boy.
In other, non-baby posts, I started to add commentary, rather than simply describing an image and letting the narrative build in the mind of the reader:
No Pic Per Day 2013: Feb 19. Encyclopaedias stacked high in Oxfam. All the information we ever needed. Before the internet.
I had expected the project to evolve over the year, though I did not expect to be able to pick out these changes quite so early on. On February 23rd I posted an image from a dream:
No Pic Per Day 2013: Feb 23. A hilltop dirt-road. A field of six foot tall sweetcorn to the left. To the right the landscape drops steeply to the city below; in our shadow its grid flickers to life one block at a time. In front of me the setting sun will soon disappear behind a ruined castle. It’s warm and I’m dreaming that this will be today’s No Pic.
I thought the fact that my daily project had penetrated my dreams was interesting enough to be referred to in the project itself. I still find this one of the most fascinating effects of taking on a daily responsibility to come up with new content.
By March I was accepting submissions, such as this one from Max Townson:
No Pic Per Day 2013. Mar 23.The Edge of a wood, a tree covered in what appears, in the sunlight, to be light brown flowers with yellow tips. As I approached the tree all the flowers took off and flew away. Never ever seen so many Yellow Hammers all together there must have been between 50 and 100. A lovely sight.
Max had used the No Pic project to portray a narrative. His contribution was, in effect, a short film, documenting his encounter with nature. I loved it.
On April 2nd I documented the arrival of my new phone, with functional camera:
No Pic Per Day 2013. Apr 02: A boxfresh Samsung Galaxy S2, not taking a picture of a tired and redundant old blackberry curve.
I knew that this new camera could jeopardise the No Pic project, but I felt like it was still carrying some momentum, and by mid-April the submissions started coming in at a rate of around one per week. It felt like a lot of people had got the idea of the No Pic project; that a description of an image can sometimes be more powerful than the image itself. Summed up nicely in this submission from Jazz Hazelwood:
No pic per day 2013. Apr 13. At the bottom of Bennett’s lane, Bath; a bricked up garage door. Written on it in spray paint, the words ‘ANOTHER WALL RUINED’
Up until now I had been working two jobs. Through the week I worked in a deli just across the road from my home, and at the weekend I worked as a delivery driver, around South Wales, Gloucester, and Wiltshire. The driving job had provided me with a great deal of No Pics, but in early April I resigned in order to concentrate my spare time on art and writing. As a result, my midweek routine became my only routine – mundane almost, save for the hangouts I was now enjoying with my almost one-year-old boy, and so the project drifted back towards baby-No-Pics:
No pic per day 2013. Apr 14. All of the power cables and extension leads in our house, out of Hamish’s reach.
No pic per day 2013. Apr 15. Low angle shot of a freshly baked tray of pains aux raisin. Golden.
I felt it was getting boring but was still receiving the odd message of encouragement on Facebook. Ed Cranmer-Perrier posted to tell me that he and his girlfriend were discussing it over dinner, and whenever I met with MadeScapes ^, my artist collaborative group, the subject of No Pic would arise, with much debate over whether it would become Pic Per Day, now that I had a new phone with a working camera. My response was that it was no pic or no project. I tried to mix it up with some other types of image; photocopies and screenshots, such as this one:
No pic per day 2013. May 21. A screenshot of an article describing ‘Four ways artists are making Facebook a less boring place’
But the project had lost its original poetic impetus, and I was beginning to get into using my new camera phone – so much so that I had now joined Instagram in the hope of using the app to critique itself. I’m still working on that.
Of course, the much more original thing to do would have been to carry on not taking any pictures at all. The original project, No Pic Per Day 2013, had become tired as it approached the six month mark. I turned to my wife for submissions, but she was living the same work/baby/sleep life that I was! The project itself had become entrenched in the daily domesticity of Facebook:
No Pic Per Day 2013. May 27. On a bright bank holiday afternoon a one year old child squints into the sunlight. Submitted by Annemarie Dewar-Smith
I decided to give fresh impetus to No Pic Per Day by removing it from Facebook and making it an entirely tweetable project. Into June the daily posts were becoming interesting again:
No Pic Per Day 2013. Jun 2. The Officer’s Club on Stall street. In the window a poster advertises the current art exhibition, ‘Tom Holsgrove - Photo of the day’
No Pic Per Day 2013. Jun 6. A kit-kat with five fingers.
No pic per day 2013. Jun 7. On the back canopy of a Mitsubishi a sticker reads, ‘buy British’.
Submitted by Christopher Arnopp.
But in late June, the lure of the camera in my pocket outweighed my mind’s eye as I Instagrammed my way through early summer, and for the first time I neglected my project, resulting in this pitiful excuse for a No Pic:
No Pic Per Day 2013. June 19, 21, 22 all no good. Overexposed, lensflare, and a car park with camera strap.
This was the lowest point in the project. Perhaps I had become weighed down by the responsibility of creating new content daily. Earlier in the year my sister had made me aware of how much it revealed of my daily life, and just how boring it had become (the project or my life?). Being the father to a child under the age of one, and working just over the road from my home, this was always going to be a fallow period in terms of the variety of my day-to-day life. What my sister had alerted me to was how my situation was affecting No Pic Per Day. A resolution to make more of an effort with my daily output resulted in a brief return to the poetic nature of those early January posts:
No Pic Per Day 2013. Jul 3. Slowly dragging its way across Alice Park: a single, black, partially deflated McDonald’s Happy Meal balloon.
But my apathy towards the project revealed itself through the first medium that came to hand:
No Pic Per Day 2013. Jul 9. A 36 year old man stares at a blank box on a tiny screen which awaits a text description of a photograph he didn’t take.
This admission of a kind of writer’s block paved the way for some final glimmers of life in a dying project:
No Pic Per Day 2013. Jul 19. With its gaze fixed straight ahead, a cuddly Mickey Mouse toy - dusty, tattered, and torn - is shackled to the grill of a bin-wagon.
No Pic Per Day 2013. Aug 1. On the pavement: an in-sole, out.
No Pic Per Day 2013. Aug 8. A small van, marked nationalgrid.com being jump-started by a breakdown truck.
And my final post:
No Pic Per Day 2013. Aug 10. An old man happily pushes an older, analogue lawn mower across a tiny lawn.
Followed by three submissions:
No Pic Per Day 2013. Aug 11. Maroon Mercedes parked on the street. Alarm going off, lights flashing. Small child in the back seat. Submitted by Chris Murphy.
No Pic Per Day 2013. Aug 12. A heavily pregnant woman outside Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital sharing a cigarette with her unborn child. Submitted by Chris Murphy.
No Pic Per Day 2013. Aug 19. An ageing maths teacher is caught off guard by the unexpected sight of flesh for sale as, accompanied by his partner and daughter, he stumbles round a corner and into Amsterdam’s red light district. Submitted by Derek Rae.
I dropped the project like a stone. The summer had grown long and very hot. The routine of my daily life had not changed in six months. Every day I was looking at the same pub sign, the same street corner, the same faces, the same shoe-laces in the gutter that hadn’t moved for two years. And which I never did get round to not taking a picture of.
I am certain that the project suffered because of my decision to publish it on Facebook. I went for maximum audience reach, and was rewarded with a glut of positive feedback early on, but in the long-run the project became confused with the standard Facebook status update of ‘what I am eating for dinner’, or ‘I hate Sunday nights’, or ‘my son now has three teeth’. The two mediums merged into one and the originality of the No Pic was lost in a sea of status updates about my family and work life. This, combined with my eventually getting my hands on, and embracing, a mobile phone with a functional camera, led to the slow decline of the project, in favour of posting real pictures on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, which attempted and most often failed to receive anything like the reaction that No Pic did.
On reflection, I’m pleased I had a go at No Pic Per Day 2013, but I am disappointed that it didn’t make the full year, and I’m sorry if anyone enjoyed it enough to miss it once it had gone (Thom Lepic).
Today, while reading back through No Pic Per Day before writing this, I posted a comment on the Jan 2nd post, in response to Glen Seymour’s admission that he would not be able to fulfil such a promise. Seeing as how Glen seemed to understand what I set out to achieve from the very beginning, I’ll leave the final word on No Pic Per Day 2013 to him:
Trevor’s Myth: ‘I failed in August, three months after finally getting a phone with a camera that worked! Most disappointing.’
Glen Seymour: ‘Was a valiant effort though. In a world obsessed with Instagrams of lunches and the mundane, this was a novel alternative for the attention of a generation who can only function at 140 characters or less.’
The Nostalgia Project
If you’re on Instagram, check out @thenostalgiaproject it’s a project I’m working on with Charlie Cousins and Clare Winnan for an exhibition later in the year.
Celebrating and investigating the mechanics of Nostalgia.
Proposal for an exhibition by Trevor H Smith
All the pleasure of a private view without the presence of art to complicate things.
Hold a typical private view (drinks, nibbles, air-kissing) in a gallery with bare walls and empty plinths.
Hire a photographer to document the event.
Superimpose images of artwork into the documentary photographs, and present these as evidence of the exhibition having taken place.