Opinion

Eric Johnston: Challenge shows story of 2013 through Instagram

ejohnston@modbee.comDecember 30, 2013 

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    Henri Cartier-Bresson, who is widely considered the father of modern photojournalism, stated: “We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory.”

Photographs are immortal. They capture people and places and times that occur in a fraction of a second. They are dependent on light and shape and angle.

On the first day of 2013, I began a personal challenge to make an image every day of the year; to capture memories that would normally go by unrecorded and to create a growing photographic timeline. This began simply enough – I had recently traded my beloved BlackBerry mobile device for an iPhone and began exploring the universe of Instagram.

Instagram is a mobile phone app used to share photographs. Unlike other social networks that get mired in personal politics and diatribes, this one tells stories in photos.

Arguably, I had something of an advantage. I have worked as a photojournalist and the specter of a daily deadline did not concern me. What did cause trepidation was the subject matter – could I find enough things of interest to sustain such a goal?

As if the challenge itself wasn’t difficult enough, I created a few rules. First, the daily photo had to be taken that day (particularly challenging given occasional time-zone and data-access issues) with my iPhone. I didn’t want to repeat any images (42 photos of my car in different light wouldn’t accomplish my goal), try to get people in the pictures (a holdover from my photojournalist days) and – last but not least – no photos of my meals (mainly because I just don’t like seeing them).

Not surprisingly, as I browse more than 400 photos from 2013, it tells the story of a year filled with joy and adventure, victory and heartbreak.

Jan. 1: The first photo of the series, taken of my wife, Susan, and I on New Year’s Day. It is one of my favorite photos of us and is a classic “selfie,” shot at arm’s length with heads close together.

Jan. 10: My grandmother Bernice Buessing had died earlier in the month. At the reception after her funeral, I made an image of a pair of horses in a nearby pasture, a visual metaphor for her and my grandfather’s 50-plus-year marriage.

Jan. 26: Feeling a bit of wanderlust, Susan and I began our “Sunset Saturday” day trips. We strolled at Seacliff State Beach as a pair of bicyclists rode by. Later trips would include San Francisco (Feb. 16) and Santa Cruz (May 25).

March 5: The weather was warming, so I ventured out of my office and ended up in the parking garage on 12th Street. Timing, light and shadows resulted in an image of a man checking his smartphone along the sidewalk. Other “around town” images were posted on May 14, June 24, Nov. 13 and Dec. 5.

March 26-April 5: Following our youngest daughter, Morgan, who was studying abroad on the coast of Spain, some of my favorite images include history, landmarks and culture in Spain (March 27), Paris (March 31) and London (April 1).

May 4: After a lengthy battle with cancer, dear friend Lisa Michael passed away surrounded by family and friends. The service celebrating her life was filled with stories of love, photos and even a somewhat surreal serenade.

July 4: Proof that timing is everything, sitting behind a little girl watching fireworks with her star-spangled headband yielded a great moment of youthful excitement.

July 20: The wedding was beautiful, but the day was the one of the hottest of the summer. As guests looked for any relief from the stifling heat, two young brothers – who had traveled with their parents from Hong Kong – sat arm-in-arm in the shade and watched the proceedings.

Sept. 20: Stuck at the Detroit airport for 5 hours due to a flight delay, travelers pass through an illuminated tunnel.

Oct. 17: It’s hard to take a bad photo in Hawaii, but one of a man next to a pair of trees overlooking the ocean is one of my personal favorites.

Dec. 14: During a weekend trip to Tahoe, I experienced something I hadn’t before – snow on the beach. With wispy clouds streaking the blue sky, I was able to capture an image of a woman standing along a path in the snow.

The year isn’t quite over yet, and I still have a photo or two to post. It’s doubtful I will keep the photo-a-day pace, but I would welcome you to review the entire gallery at instagram.com/ericejohnston.

Bee Publisher Eric Johnston can be reached at ejohnston@modbee.com or (209) 578-2090. Follow him on Twitter @EricJohnston.

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