How a Photography Journal Provides Perspective in Troubled Times

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Sonoma County on Fire — October 2017 — Photos by Derrick Story

The world was a different place when I made my first journal entry in December 2015. I had downloaded an app called Day One to my iPhone. My plan was to document the details of film photography with this journaling software. I was trying to solve the no-metadata challenge that comes with analog cameras.

Unlike digital devices and smartphones, film cameras don’t record shutter speed, aperture, focal length, nor anything else related to the picture. The best you can do is burn the date on the film itself with a data back — not a very satisfying approach.

My big idea was to take a corresponding picture with my smartphone every time I exposed a shot on film. I would then add that digital picture to my journal with details of the shot. The phone would make my work easy because it automatically recorded time, place, and weather. All I had to do was add my thoughts.

I assigned a number to each roll of film, and I used it as a keyword for the journal entry. That way I could connect the two together. So if I wanted to find a particular image from 2016, I could use the search function in the digital journal to locate the picture, note the keyword, then go to my binder of negatives and find the page with the corresponding label.

As a practical tool, this system worked great. And for the next year and a half, life rolled on.

On October 8, 2017 everything changed. We were awakened at 1 AM with a phone call asking about our safety. What? We learned that a quick-moving fire had blown into our area. We went outside and saw the orange glow to the east. The wind was gusting our way. We quickly packed the cars and evacuated.

My life changed that night and has remained so since. Yearly fires in Northern California combined with economic challenges, political unrest, and a pandemic have converted my journal from a purely artistic exercise to a diary documenting three years of upheaval.

Both the good and the bad…

Like the most vigorous guitar solo, there’s still silence between the notes. And my visual diary has captured both.

Difficult times still have redeeming moments. Many entries note family gatherings, Sunday morning walks, and blue skies. These are the things that are so easy to forget when life sucks.

As I look at the pictures from 2018, I see sadness that I will never forget: my brother-in-law’s home reduced to an ash-covered foundation, singed thank you signs for first responders, and businesses struggling to rebuild.

But I also see pictures reminding me of things I might have forgotten: our cat sunbathing by an open window, family wine tasting on a Sunday afternoon, and the first apple blossoms of the season.

The journal reminds me of the quiet life that happens between the big events. And as time goes by, those are the moments that I want to hang on to.

Written by

Photography, podcasting, and writing. More at www.thedigitalstory.com and www.thenimblephotographer.com

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