In December of 2017, I was finishing up my book, The Many Faces of Elgin. I had spent two solid years hardly touching my camera except to photograph the people featured in the stories I was writing. I had completely lost my photographic mojo. I randomly stumbled upon a mention of a weekly photography challenge called 52Frames. It had two simple rules 1) you must take the image 2) It must be taken between 12:01 AM Monday and 11:59 PM EST Sunday. Each week there is a new theme and that’s it. I didn’t blink an eye and I signed the manifesto and looked at the first challenge.
That first week was almost my undoing. Really— a self-portrait? There was a reason I spent so much time behind a camera— I hate pictures of myself.
I still remember someone from the Facebook group telling me to get over myself and take the picture because no one was judging me. I won’t lie. It was hard, but I survived that first week. I went on to do something I had never done prior to joining 52F. I shot consistently through the winter- every single week! Tom always teased me that I was a fair-weather photographer and that if I just opened my eyes to other things I could shoot year round. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into!
With the submission of my photo Jumbo Hot Dog Ketchup Only I became a 4X warrior, which means that I submitted a photo every week for 4 straight years (209 weeks!). It is hard to put into words what these last four years have meant to me, but I’ll try here.
Lessons I have learned:
- Just show up. The leader of my running club gave me this advice when I was first considering becoming a winter runner. He told me that if I just got myself to the store that the rest would take care of itself. Maybe I would run five miles and have an epic life changing run and maybe I would run/walk two miles. It didn’t matter because I showed up. The last four years have shown me that this is true for 52F as well. Some weeks are epic and some weeks are meh, but the average of the last four years are photographs that I am pretty darn proud of.
- Make making art a priority. I’m lucky. I’m a teacher and I get my summers off. That means that for approximately three months every summer, I have the flexibility to shoot whenever I want. If I want to spend three days hammering out the best shot to meet a challenge I can. During the school year, I am lucky if I have fifteen minutes on a Saturday afternoon to shoot, process and submit my picture. But I make making my image a priority every single week. It trains a part of my brain to know that it matters and that it is worthwhile.
- It’s only partially about the photograph. I absolutely learn something about my photography each and every week, but the lessons I have learned from 52F more often than not have come from the people that make up this amazing community. I have learned about culture, history, life and much more from all over the world through the stories people tell with their images. I look forward to reading the stories almost as much as I do seeing the images. But most of all, I love interacting with incredible people all over the world who share my love for photography.
- There is beauty everywhere. In 2020 when the world shut down, I was forced to figure out how to shoot from the comfort of home. When I created my 2020 52F photo book, I discovered that ALL but FOUR of my 52F images were taken in our house or on our property. Never in a million years would I have imagined making 48 images in our house before joining 52F.
- Everyone has their own why. Each and every person joined 52F for their own reason. They are on their own photography and life journey and we are lucky that they let us all be a small part of it. Maybe you see a picture in the album that appears to not fit the theme at all. There are a thousand reasons why this could be the case and none of them matter because each person is on their own journey and who am I to judge? I try to approach each image with empathy and that keeps me centered.
- Inspiration comes in many different forms. If you have read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, you are familiar with the idea of needing to fill-up your creative cup regularly. I like to think of it as a bank account. If I withdraw more than I deposit things go sideways pretty quick. I try to get in as much creative inspiration as I can and from a variety of sources. I keep an extensive Pinterest board with photography ideas, but I also use all my other interests to help me keep that creative cup filled. Try new recipes. Listen to energizing music. Engage with other creatives. Check out my blog post on having a creative mindset. Many of those principles apply directly to my 52Frames journey.
- Some people hunt for images. Others farm their images. I have strayed from hunting and am trying to find my way back. After a year of being stuck at home, I am ready to start hunting again. Check out the blog post I wrote about this topic last year.
- Gear doesn’t matter. This is such a polarizing statement. There are so many people who crave the latest greatest lens or body or gadget. My Dad had a high-end DSLR that he kept set to auto and he took such incredible photos with what essentially was an expensive point and shoot camera. There are SO many Framers in the group who shoot exclusively with their phones. The gear might make some types of shoots easier, but in general it just doesn’t matter. If your gear isn’t meeting your news, then by all means change. There was recently a fascinating blog post by world renowned photographer David DuChemin about his decision to completely change his gear to a different brand. I’m still using my Canon 7D that I got in 2011. I have gotten multiple 52 picks with that camera and more importantly, I have created images I am proud of.
- You get out what you put in. 52F isn’t for everyone. It’s that simple, but you do get out of it what you put into it. Joining a mini group completely changed the experience for me. I had a regular group of photographers to help me decide which image to submit, give me feedback and then also comment on my image in the weekly album. From there, I joined the group of Framers who comment weekly on 25 random images. That opened my eyes to images in the album I might not ever have seen otherwise (in four years, I have only gone through the entire album ONCE when I was asked to select the banner for that week.) I have gotten to know people. I have my favorites, whom I follow. I have my friends and then I try really hard to engage with people via the Facebook group.
- This world is made up of some incredibly freaking cool and talented folks. It’s that simple. The people are 100% the best part of this group. Of course, I love the images, but the people rock my world week after week with their stories, their comments and their friendship. Just yesterday I received a care package in the mail from a framer in Australia. We had decided to work our way through The Artist’s Way together and explore our creative journeys together. How cool is that?
Awesome experiences I have had because of 52F
- Zoom call with multiple framers spread across the world. Technology is incredible.
- Discovered that a fellow-framer in Israel is also a painter, so we did a virtual pour painting together and have met multiple times since then virtually to chat about creativity and art.
- Did a photo walk with some members of the local Chicago group at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. We were a small group, but it was so lovely to meet some fellow Framers.
- A fellow Framer saw that I had started doing paintings on fan blades, so she sent me a set of blades from a fan she was replacing so that I could repurpose them into art.
- Developed incredibly special friendships with framers all over the world. People I would truly visit if life were to bring me to their part of the world.
- During COVID 2020, 52Frames was an anchor for me. It was something I could rely on and use to connect with others. I cannot overstate how much it helped me through some of my darkest hours.
- Explore the book The Artist’s Way with a fellow Framer on the other side of the world.
- I am sure there are many more that I am not remembering. What I do know is that I can’t imagine my life without 52F in it and for that I am eternally grateful.
My favorite submissions