The Origin of the 365 Days Photo Diary and why you should be doing this.
By Stephen Poff
1 Jul 2007
On January 1st, 2006 I began work on a little project that would document my year in photos and short blog entries. I created a photo set on flickr and named it the "365 Day Visual Diary". Day after day I would take a self portrait accompanied by a short description of my day.
The idea had come from a my friend Anna Lognion who had attempted to do a similar project with Polaroid photos. Every year I try to come up with some New Years resolutions that will in the end produce something creative that I can look back on to remember that year by. Previous years were marked with records I either wrote or produced as well as a feature film that I wrote and directed over the course of a year. After Hurricane Katrina my life was changing on a daily basis and when the new year came around I decided that Anna's idea should be something that I should attempt myself.
So I began on January 1st with photo of my daughter and I enjoying a ride on my dad's 4 wheeler while visiting them on Christmas vacation. Within days of beginning my little project one of the cast/crew of my film "Songs About Your Girlfriend" died in a tragic car accident. It was the first in a long line of incidents both delightful and upsetting that would shape my year.
I won two AP Awards for graphic arts for the Mississippi Press.
I moved my family 3 1/2 hours away to Montgomery, AL
Others start to get involved
Along the way I got lots of encouraging words and had begun to draw a daily audience. Some left comments and others just checked in to see what I was up to. Over the course of the year I had lots of people comment on how they'd like to do the same thing. One of those people was Chris Maverick. In August of 2006, Chris left me a comment to say:
"This may be the greatest idea ever. I am tempted to steal it from you. kinda weird starting so late in the year."
Soon after that he left me a comment to say:
"I did decide to steal it, starting today. Hope you don't mind. Thank you for the idea. It should be an interesting experiment."
I was kind of excited to hear that someone else might also join me in the project. On August 12th he began his first entry and in the description for his photo set he wrote:
"So while browsing flickr, I ran across this photoby stephenpoff. I liked it and then started looking at his photostream and then realized that since the 1st of this year he has taken a self-portrait every day and hopes to do the same every day for a year. I immediately decided that I had to do the same.
If you would like to try this project as well, there is now a flickr pool called 365 days for you to share your efforts.
Needless to say I was stoked. 11 months later and 4,528 people strong, the idea has become something of a phenomenon.
What I've Learned
I'm not someone who finds themselves attractive in any form or fashion. But over the year I have become much more comfortable in my own skin. I've learned to see myself as others see me and to be content with my outward appearance.
I've also learned after re-reading my blog entries over the year that one goes through a LOT of changes that we don't always remember. Our own personal histories are often distorted by our faulty recollections of events. Going back and being able to see the photos and read the events as they were recorded clued me in to the differences in what I remembered and what actually happened.
Why you should do this
1. As the family photographer and archivist, I find that I'm notoriously absent from the photos of our family events. A side benefit of the project has been getting myself into at least one of the family photos.
2. Often our blogs and photos are a snapshot of our emotions at a particular point and time. Unfiltered and raw. Documenting your daily life gives a person a chance to reflect on those events in hindsight. It's a chance to see how we reacted and learn from our mistakes. Like the saying goes, if we don't learn from our history we're doomed to repeat it.
3. You get to become familiar with the way other see you. We often look at photos and are shocked to see ourselves in a way that we're not used to. For the most part, we look at ourselves in the mirror. We see ourselves reflected back 180 degrees from the way others see us. Our faces aren't symmetrical so it's strange for us to see your own face when not reflected.
4. You might find a photo of yourself that you actually like!
Tips on Self-Portraits
Over the course of my project I've had lots of questions about how I get various shots. Here are my list of things that might help.
1. Get a tripod - I see a lot of photos from arms length. Holding the camera yourself and aiming it back at you is not a bad idea, but you certainly don't want 365 days of this kind of photo. A tripod can be a great friend. And for you guys with the little point an shoot kind, it can be as simple as the type that you can attach to your water bottle. Take a look at Wal-Mart's photo department. It's a great little tool.
2. Get in focus - It's not always easy to get a photo in focus when you're not behind it. I had several tactics, but the one I used most often was to set up a microphone or light stand where I was going to be standing/sitting and then focus on that. Otherwise, if I had a friend or family member nearby, I would ask them to focus on me.
3. Get used to your timer - When taking self-portraits you have to know how to use your timer. Pretty much every camera from little point and shoots to DSLR's have them. Break out the manual and figure it out.
4. Light your photos when possble -It's not always possible, but try to avoid having all your shots lit by the little pop up flash on your camera. Try using continuous light sources by arranging to have yourself standing under/near them. For those of you with hotshoe flashes, try bouncing them off the ceiling or wall to get a more pleasing photo. And for those of you with more equipment, you know what to do.
5. Get creative - The bathroom mirror shot was always a good standby for me, but when you're doing a project that spans this amount of time, the only way to keep yourself interested for that long is to get creative and try to tell stories with your photos. Try some long exposures, or some cool photoshop tricks.
I had a lot of fun doing this project and met a lot of great people during the process. The things I've learned about myself and others has given me a greater understanding of everything from photography to psychology. I look forward to seeing what the seeds I've sown will grow and hope all of you can gain something from doing your own 365 Days Project.