Those that are my friends on Facebook know that for the year of 2017 I posted one photo a day for 365 days. It was inspired by two events during the holidays in 2016.
Event 1: After living in Cambodia for almost a year Alyssa and I decided to head home for the holidays. We already had discussed that we might be heading back to the US before the end of 2017, so at Christmas I talked to my parents about it. My mom, besides being happy that I would be back in the US, expressed that she was a little sad because she wouldn’t get to see what my life was like on a day to day basis.
Event 2: When I left my parents, and went other places in the US for a few weeks, a friend posted an article (I think this one) about a man who took one Polaroid a day for almost 20 years. They weren’t amazing photos, just photos about the man going about his life. And I remember thinking: “That’s a cool idea. I could probably do that.”
I started thinking that I could take a photo and post it to Facebook bringing my friends and family along to see what I saw.
After a year of doing it, here’s some lessons I’ve learned.
- People Yearn For Personal: This activity quickly became a conversation piece with a fair number of people. Not just friends and family in the US when we were back, but friends who lived in Cambodia and saw many of the same things I did. I was showing them my day by posting a photo and they loved it. Both of our parents liked this new activity because it allowed them to know we were safe and what we were doing. Our friends from the US liked it because they could see something that was personal to me. The photo with the most people engaging was one of Alyssa I took early on. We had gone to the Women’s March in Phnom Penh, and I had been watching her all day. As she was talking to a friend I took a quick photo as the sun set and simply stated what we were doing. It’s not the best photo from the bunch, nor is it the best photo of Alyssa, but looking at it today, I know that it is personal to me on many levels, and it seems to be one that resonated with lots of people. As I was about to end the photo a day someone I am not even friends with on Facebook mentioned how the photo a day was something they looked forward to seeing as others like and comment on the photos. They liked it because it offered a peak at a different life than their own and that was something they didn’t get to see often.
- People Want to See the Small, Overlooked, Or Problematic: As one friend put it three or four months into me doing it: “I love it. It’s like a montage of the small and overlooked things all around us.” And it’s true. People liked seeing the construction that was happening around my office (making it almost impossible to work sometimes). They enjoyed the pictures of piles of trash that I took next to Wats. Pictures of graffiti and random rooms of my apartment became things people called me on the phone to talk about. We often see big events posted on social media, weddings, births, graduations, promotions, but we rarely see the little stuff around us everyday. Yet this activity caused others to want to see the small things people around them too.
- Everyone Takes Too Many Travel Photos: I did this during a year of travel to be sure. I lived in Cambodia. Traveled to and from the US twice. Went to Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Laos. Traveled to 10 states in the US, and multiple provinces in Cambodia. And because I had a reason for my photographs I found out I actually began taking less of them. I am definitely someone who took hundreds of travel photos only to delete them or forget about them. Each photo I take, I do in theory to remember what I was looking at. But photos never fully capture the moment, and if you have 1,000 photos, you’re never going to use them for anything other than filling a server or hard drive somewhere. Sometimes during the year I’d kick myself for not having my phone on me to take a photo I thought would be a good photo of the day. But really, the activity made me want to take less photos, as I saw that people really only want to see one or up to three photographs from your travels (except for parents, they will always want to see all of them).
- People Like Scheduled Engagement: Another thing that people enjoyed was that I would post almost every day. They knew that if they went online they could see it. I had many friends that told me they enjoyed my scheduled activity because they could go back if they wanted to, but they knew that everyday there’d be something new. One of our parents stated they worried about our safety less because if I was posting a photo, then we were not in any trouble. If I ever posted more than three photos at once though, almost all of them were not engaged with (in the form of comments or likes). It was, to me, a fascinating example, of either Facebook algorithms or people themselves. Either way, having a schedule and sticking to it made people more interested in engaging with it.
- We All Spend A Lot Of Time On Social Media: I started the activity, in part, to let friends and family see what I was seeing one photo at a time. The problems is, they can’t see everything, and even the one photo, no matter how personal, doesn’t tell the full story. Posting it online made me go on Facebook even more than I might have otherwise, much to Alyssa’s dismay. But we are all online more, like a lot more than even when I lived abroad in 2008-2011. Whether we are less engaged with the immediate world around us, either because we are taking photos with our cameras, or looking at photos others have taken with theirs, is something to be argued else where. But I can say that for me, it became a part of my mind instead of seeing the world out there in front of my face.
So will I do this activity again? Probably not. If I do take a photo a day, it will either be saved somewhere personally, or e-mailed to a few people instead of posted online. It was an exhausting exercise, and at times lead me deeper down the social media rabbit hole than I liked.
I enjoyed that the Black and White photo challenge happened near the end of my year, which for 7 days made many people do what I was doing, as it made my Facebook feed feel a bit more personable and less political.
That being said, I’m glad I can take days, possibly weeks, away from social media now and not feel under any self-inflicted stress because I haven’t kept up a promise I made. Actually, it’s what I’m giving up for Lent this year.*
*edit: I didn’t succeed on not looking at Facebook at all, but did cut out looking at it on my phone.