New Year, New Challenge: The Black and White Year

Shadow – Minneapolis, MN

A while back I blogged about the challenge I set for myself in 2012. To recap, it had been simply to shoot a roll of film each week with the goal of shooting more film again, since I had slowly but surely gotten away from analog photography over the past few years. In that, it was a success. For the full recap, click the link and read the post.

Moving ahead, I want a fresh challenge. After considering some ideas (thanks to all of those who emailed or commented me with suggestions!) I have decided to undertake a challenge (with a few key differences, but building off the same essential idea that less is more) that I read about from a blogger in Switzerland. I have never met him, nor do I know him any more than superficially, but I enjoyed his blog and his journey. Since he got his idea from another blogger, and since the idea is nothing new, I don’t feel bad about copying his idea and moving ahead with it in my own way.  He is simply the last straw that convinced me to simplify in order to move ahead (NOTE: he has since finished his challenge and removed his blog). There is a dedicated flickr group for this concept, and many have drawn inspiration from this post for this idea.

This is 2014, with my trusty rangefinder. This is my black and white year.

Since 2012’s challenge suffered due to a lack of rules and guidelines to keep it going and focused, I intend to ensure that this year’s effort does not suffer from a similar loss of inertia by installing firm rules. You might have guessed the rules based on the title of the challenge, but I think it is valuable to spell them out all the same and hold myself accountable. I have outlined a set of rules, and a set of goals, for this challenge.  Read on for the details.

Snow – Minneapolis, MN

Here are the rules:
  1. The entire challenge will be shot: A) with a single camera; B) with the lenses I currently own (28/1.9, 40/1.4, 50/1.5); C) on black and white film (Kodak 400TX/Arista Premium 400, Fuji Acros 100 and Neopan 400, and other films; I want to experiment with some different emulsions that I have not had the chance to try yet); and D) will last one calendar year (2014).
  2. For this year, the focus is improving my photography, which is another thing I want to improve.  My street shots range wildly in quality, and I want to address this. In part, this is due to editing; it is also because I need to learn to compose images better, and learn patience in shooting the out in the streets.
  3. I will shoot no less than 2 rolls of film per week. I may shoot more, but this is the minimum each week. I will continue to use my phone as a digital camera for snapshots of things, during those times that I can’t have a film camera with me, and will post some to the blog from time to time.
  4. I will send the film out each month (more regularly than I usually do, which is every 2-4 months) to get quicker results. At this point, I would like to do so every 2 weeks. I have decided not to process the film on my own, due in part to the fact that I will not have a dedicated space available and I simply can’t take on that task when I am gone from home. So, for consistency’s sake, and for the sake of not overwhelming myself with constraints and more work, I will send it out to be processed for me.
  5. I will create sets on flickr to upload each roll in its entirety (this will serve as my contact sheet), and choose 3 images from each roll as the best. This will help keep the project transparent and
  6. From the edited images, I will, at the end of the year, choose 20-30 images which I will put into a book (via Blurb). This will also allow others to see the final set of images in book form. The final selections will also be published into a set on my personal website.
  7. I will not be buying any new photographic equipment for the duration of 2014. I want to renew my focus on my photography and get away from the incessant temptation to acquire new/better/different gear.

Wind – NYC

Here are the goals:
  1. To stop focusing on the acquisition of new photographic gear, which can be fun and interesting, but also presents pitfalls. Firstly, the constant financial output of constantly adding more gear, which while not out of control, can easily get to be so. Second, I’d like to familiarize myself with a single piece of equipment so that it becomes an extension of my hand, and of my artistic vision.
  2. I want my photography to improve, and I want to have a solid portfolio of images at the end. To date I have too much of varying quality, and I hope that this project will help me to find the motivation to get out and shoot the streets more often, as well as help me to focus on a particular genre of shooting and improve the overall quality of my images. Perhaps I will even begin to develop a personal style of shooting, which I have not yet found.
  3. By forcing myself to shoot regularly and often, I will make sure the project has a chance to show improvement in my work. There is a minimum of 2 rolls a week, but I may shoot more certain weeks (while traveling, if the weather is nice, etc), while understanding that certain weeks (bad weather, work/school/family commitments, etc) may not leave me as much time. By ensuring that I have to shoot at least 2 rolls, I always get out to shoot. This will hopefully help me to stay in the rhythm of it, and force me to think creatively.
  4. Timely results help to reinforce how things are going and keep me on track.
  5. Having to choose 3 shots from each roll means I will really have to edit carefully–I’d say that I generally get 6-10 “keepers” on a roll now, so that means that only the very best shots get picked as finalists.
  6. Creating a book and publishing the images will allow me to have a printed, bound, edited collection of images I can keep to remember this year of growth.
  7. I want my work to improve, and so this is an attempt to harness creativity by stifling options. When forced to do more with less, I’m hoping that I will respond with a new way of seeing things and a fresh drive to get me where I want to go.

This is the challenge that I have laid out for myself. I imagine there will be some challenges, but that is part of the fun.  Overcoming and adapting to them is part of the fun, and what will–I envision–help me develop photographically and artistically.

Morrill Hall – East Lansing, MI

Though this is surely going to be littered with challenges, I think I’m ready. I want to get better with my photography and really devote serious time and attention to doing what I love; perhaps with the right push I can even get to the point that I begin to show things in public. Maybe I’ll take the leap and attempt this professionally. On the other hand, maybe I’ll hate it so much that this will drive me toward a new hobby!  Seriously though, I think this will be fun and the blog will help me to remain consistent and hold me accountable for the project that I have laid out. That means I’m counting on you all to keep me honest!

The thought of doing this for a whole year is exciting, but also intimidating. What if I can’t keep up with my own rules? What if I quit? On a more pragmatic level, what happens if my camera breaks, or is stolen? The hurdles seem innumerable, but like I said, that’s part of the fun in the challenge. What good is a challenge if it doesn’t actually challenge you? Although my own sense of self-doubt is already greater than it should be, particularly when it comes to my photography, this is something that I can conquer. And, in doing so, perhaps I can get over some of my own doubts about my work.

I’ll need a lot of help from my readers to keep me going. I foresee dark days ahead, so keep me honest and help me to carry on when the going gets tough and life weighs me down. I’m not going to quit this.

A black and white year. I’m ready.

It’s on.

Angles – London

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19 thoughts on “New Year, New Challenge: The Black and White Year

  1. So, You decided to go strictly mono for a hole year… I admire your guts! I think your “contract” can became a bit to tight. If you feel you must bend your own rules to achieve better results, do it!
    I always suspected that every thing looks better in b&w until proven otherwise but sometimes color creeps in, irresistibly for me.
    If these tree b&w shots are a sample of things to came, you are up to good start. Plenty of perspective and dynamic in composition.
    Look forward to see you in action.

  2. Pingback: Last of 2013 | Trevor Saylor

  3. Wow–good luck with your effort! I have a similar endeavor underway (50 rolls of Tri-X 400) and am self-processing. I am having a hard time shooting 1-2 rolls per week (not enough chances to get out and shoot, with all the home duties required)!!

    It is sad that fewer labs are processing; I have had to resort to doing my own exclusively, as the turnaround is far too long, the labs are far too costly, and most do not treat the negatives with the respect they deserve.

    Anyway, I will be following your efforts with great interest. You are going to have to find a reliable way of storing all of those precious negatives!

    Warm regards,
    Mark

    • I have a pretty good system in place for storing negatives already, having shot film quite a bit for 6+ years. My scanning workflow is better with the addition of the Pakon F135 (highly recommended) now, too.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Trevor,

        Funny enough, I just picked up the F135–haven’t cracked the box or set it up yet, but I have a roll waiting to go through it. Anyway, I’d love to hear your suggestions for storing your negatives. I am debating the “pocket pages” but haven’t taken the plunge yet–still at the shoebox stage!
        :)

        Anyway, I am further impressed by your decision to publish the whole roll–I am not that confident, and have to self-select first. My goal is 6-8 per roll; if I can get that, I’m usually happy!

        All the best,
        M.

      • I wrote a quick post on the Pakon, and in it I put some links to help I had with it. The Pakman is amazing!

        As for storing film, I have the storage binders and negative sheets I use. I don’t process my film (as of now), but I cut, scan, and store it myself.

        Best of luck and I’ll check on your progress throughout the year! If you have questions about the Pakon or anything else, feel free to send me an email or find me on twitter.

        T

  4. What a great idea! I wish I would have the commitment to stick to something like this for a full year. The single focal length would scare me so I can see why you want to use your three lenses. Best of luck with your goals! I look forward to seeing your progress throughout the year :)

  5. Your post is inspiring! I try to set rules and assignments in my mind, but writing them down is an excellent idea. I’m looking foward to following you over this year. Are you an MSU alum? I spent a lot of time in Morrill Hall many, many years ago, in class and working at the Red Cedar Review.

  6. I like how you post what your rules are. I like the black and white concept with film, too! Good for you, to resist not buying any new gear! I hadn’t thought to list my rules, with mine. I’m working on a 365 day of “it’s the little things” with a quote, to make into a photo calendar at the end of 2014. Christina

  7. Funny thing. I almost decided the same thing. Especially your rules No 1, 2 and 7. :) Except that I am a ‘digital kid’ though I might turn to analog photography sometime in future, because it surely does have its charme.
    The last year was a year of practicing and improving my skills, but I still do consider myself an “advanced beginner”. This year I would like to improve in a more focused way, get away from quantity and concentrate on quality using the equipement I have and follow my passion for monochrome photography.
    So good luck to you and a happy new (photography) year.
    Greetings from Germany. :)

  8. I look forward to looking at your “contact sheets” on flickr. I have a much greater sense of a photographer’s work when I can understand the context the images come from. I believe that it is not too hard to make good singular images – it is the contact sheet that revelas the true work. Good luck, my friend, with this project!

    • Muchas gracias por tu comentario.Tendré en cuenta tu sugerencia de llevar mis fotografías a flickr. Aunque anteriormente publicaba en otro blog, hace mas o menos 5 meses decidi ser mas constante con mis publicaciones. Espero que sigas viendo mi trabajo y haciendo tus comentarios, los cuales los tendré muy en cuenta. De nuevo muchas gracias.

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