I’ve been trying to take and publish at least one photo for every day since 2010. Ten years, roughly, as of December 2019. I’ve published this diary on my website, and I’ve written about the project at least once before. From my first selfie with (taken with a Canon T2i) to the last photo of 2019 (taken with a Leica M10!), I published 8,564 photos for this project—an average of 2.3 photos per day.
Generating this document that chronicles ten years of my life has certainly been some kind of accomplishment. I sometimes struggle, though, to understand why I’ve continued to build this record. Partially, I admire the work others have done in this area and want to make something even a small fraction as interesting. Partially, I’m vain. Partially, it’s an instinct I can’t shake.
This record of my life is both a memory aide and a memory censor. The photos I take and any text I write to accompany them necessarily highlight certain events at the expense of others. Even if the images I publish jog my memory and bring undocumented events to my mind, that historical context vanishes at the interface of my consciousness and the world around me.
I suppose every person processes this existential tautology in their own way. Personally, I can’t yet improve on the text I wrote to accompany this image five years ago:
the idea that the human body and mind are in some sense a temporal reflection is beautiful, perplexing and terrifying to me.
it’s disappointing how poorly we parse these reflections. to some extent we can forgive ourselves—the reflection itself is a hopelessly incomplete representation.
even so, i can’t help but wonder if we are getting better, or if we will.
The photo processing speedrun I recently completed for 2019 reinforced this notion. I published almost 1,700 photos for 2019, but in many cases there was more than a year between taking a photo and publishing it. As my mind time-traveled through 2020 it somehow managed to forget parts of 2019 and ignore other parts. When I was finally able to process and publish photos from 2019 I remembered things that happened, remembered thoughts that I had, and realized just how much I had forgotten. No documentation effort, no matter how thorough, can effectively communicate the fullness of one’s life experience. Even to oneself.
In the 2018 Ignite Boulder talk that I gave on this very topic I touched on the futility of documentation projects like this. I said this futility is both merciful and cruel. Good, bad, and mundane are all placed on the ambivalent altar of entropy.
But I’m still doing it and I plan to continue. It’s worth the time and effort. Taking photos forces me to participate in the present. It makes me consider what I’ll remember. Perhaps most importantly though, it gives the gift of hindsight and forces me to confront my actions in a context outside of my present understanding.
sometimes i think it would be nice to have some cognizance of the implications of any given passing moment, but in those instants i remind myself that fully understanding the present is an act of theft against my future self.
“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.”
May I never stop measuring.