A Tiny Bit of Press for 365plrds

September 26, 2009

365plrds MarqueeEarly in April a correspondent from the Times of India contacted me to discuss 365plrds for a story about photography projects. After a number of  email exchanges, the article was complete by the end of the month,  but it was just published today. It’s a short article with a minute reference to my project. (Download the article as PDF) Our exchange, however, was significantly more elaborate. While almost none of it was included in the article, it was a valuable opportunity for me to reflect on a project I made more than a decade ago and formalize my thoughts about the project now. I’ve included his questions, as well as my emailed responses to them, below.

What made you start this project?

It’s an art endeavor and, like most works of art, a meditation of what it’s like to be in the world. This particular project, 365plrds, grapples with my experience of the passing of time. At this particular point in my life I felt time passing quickly without a sense that I was accomplishing much in its duration. Breaking its passing into visual parts, or units, was a means for me to digest it, reduce it and make its presence smaller. Moreover, this project became a way for me to demarcate time in a unit of measure that was personal (the “plrd”) rather than general (clock time), public (Gregorian calender) or scientific (solar cycles). As I hint at the end of my essay, I also understood at its completion that it brought a daily awareness of my own mortality; each image (plrd) was evidence of life lived and the promise that it would continue.

What were the main problems which you faced for continuing the project or for its successful completion?

June 14, 1997

The ongoing challenges were pragmatic. My camera couldn’t fail, as I only had one, and I had to have at least one Polaroid exposure to capture my waking day. There were several occasions when I had to make a trip to the local Wal-Mart to pick up some more Polaroid Spectra film to capture that day. The image from June 14, 1997 was one of those nights. There were plenty of days when I just didn’t feel like being in front of the camera, but feelings like these were nuisances and never any real threat to the project. I was very serious about being faithful to the program I had set myself for that year.

Did you ever face any internal conflict for bringing your personal life into public gaze?

No. I can’t say that I did. First of all, I don’t feel the majority of the images are very personal, or revealing for that matter. For example, any of the ones that show skin only reveal my torso. While it’s inevitable that some of the images will show my private life, I think there’s a certain distance in the way I went about presenting it. I’m only showing so much. There are some images I feel are intimate and others where I felt vulnerable, but this common in photography and often a quality that makes a photograph compelling. I should also note that while I finished the project in 1997, I didn’t display it publicly or publish it online until 2002. Thus, the primary viewers until then were friends and fellow artists. By today’s standards, with sites like Flickr, this project seems especially mild. I’m surprised that some users who share images publicly aren’t conflicted by what they reveal.

What do your friends and employer say about the project?

The response has been positive on both fronts. I’ve particularly enjoyed the conversations I’ve had about the project with a wide range of people who are interested in it for different reasons. People seem bothered that I’m not smiling more often. But who smiles that much when they are alone?

What are the social effects of this project? Have people started recognising you just because of the project? Is the project affecting your personal life?

After I launched this project online, and displayed it physically in Houston, I did have a couple people recognize me in public. In the context of the fourth largest city in the United States, and the even bigger context of the Internet, it didn’t have a big enough audience to create significant notoriety for me.

What makes you continue with the project?

In terms of execution, the project is complete. Having done it for one year, I haven’t had the desire to do it again. While there might be some interest in comparing physical appearances and experiences from one year to another, I really think about this project as a discreet experience. It was valuable, but not one that needs to continue. In other words, adding duration doesn’t make the project more compelling in my mind. It’s just this sort of dialogue with you that makes the project “continue.”

Do you think there is any other social relevance of this project, or it is for only personal fulfillment?

When I undertook this project, it was several years before digital photography became widely available. Therefore, the Polaroid photo was the only technological means to realize an image more or less immediately. It was important to me that I have the finished photo on the day it was taken. This way I had physical evidence, or a document, of the project’s progression in time. Looking back I find this project an interesting precursor to the daily digital documentation that is so common today on the web (daily photo projects, blogging, Twitter, etc.) In a certain sense, I think my impulse to do the project was the same as the impulse people have today but the tool, the Polaroid, is so different. Maybe 365plrds is the prehistoric visual analog to Twitter?

Secondly, there are at least three individuals I know of that completed the project in subsequent years using my program *exactly.* I call them the 365plrds franchises (Marcel Molina Jr. | David Chien | Lisa Cheng Smith ). What’s exciting about this for me is how radically different each project is. It’s a demonstration of the richness that can arise out of even the most rigid of programs.

Do you see the advent of digital photography, and the emergence of photo sharing websites, as a generalisation of art? If photography is an art, then unlike old times there are several photographers now and, similarly unlike the old times where exhibitions were the only way to get audience, photo sharing websites not only provide platform to these artists but also guarantee an audience.

I’m not sure that I would call most of these projects “art” for the simple reason that they generally don’t forefront quality as the main objective. There are documentary, informative, open-ended. Thus, I see their main objective as communication. The concept of time and the strict procedure I lay out in the supporting essay distinguish 365plrds as a work of art. Moreover, the project also, of course, still exists in a physical form. There are 365 Polaroid photographs (not prints). As is true for paintings, there is only one version of each photograph. The online aspect of this project is merely a digitized extension and presentation of the real thing. In this sense, 365plrds belongs more closely to the traditional sense of art. Most digital projects exist only virtually, or the physical realization is a byproduct.

I want to reiterate that I am contextualizing 365plrds as a “precursor to digital documentation” from my vantage point in the present. I don’t want to make any claims that I conceived of this project as “visionary” at the time. Instead I feel that my sensibility, intent and choice of medium (the Polaroid) are in the same spirit as the kind of daily documentation, both visual and written, that people are involved in so regularly today with new digital tools at hand. Dating each image and noting the location where it was taken was fascinating for me in the same way EXIF data in the digital image or being able to geotag a digital image to locate it spatially in the world is fascinating. The more I think about the spirit of this project recently, the more I’m seeing it as a sort of primitive, visual analog to Twitter. It captures the ordinary things I was doing that day.

Does it also identify the importance of idea over skills because the time series with the photographer himself as the subject would not be technically superior but the idea itself fascinating enough to catch the attention of audience?

Yes. This project ultimately always forefronted the quality of the idea over the quality of the photographs that constitute it. While there are a handful of images I consider to be good photographs in terms of the aesthetics of photography, the vast majority are merely descriptive and, together, serve the larger idea. They make sense as a whole more than as individual images. Those that have been interested in this project were drawn to the concept and the ideas that drive the project rather than my “skill” as a photographer.

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