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Why Would You Photograph the Mundane Everyday Life?

Why would you choose to photograph something that's mundane instead of naturally picturesque locations or scenarios? The short answer is because it's hard and it will test you.

I never intended to do this project but it happened by complete accident. I had arranged to photograph a model in a city, a good looking young woman that I had come across on Instagram and it gave me a brief impulse of inspiration to do some portraits of her. Long story short, she missed her train and it had started raining quite heavily, and due to other obstacles, we arranged to cancel it. 

I had my camera with me, so I went for a quick coffee to have a think on what I should do with my day. Few hours later I found myself walking past an art gallery that is a natural orbit of various things - business and office workers tend to have lunch outside of it as do manual workers, there is a large footfall of people of all ages and backgrounds, children enjoy running up and down the stairs, couples and friends also tend to sit there.

Inevitably, I ended up sitting down and started people watching. One thing led to another, and in my mind a project arose - why don't I document what appears to be a mundane scene yet attracts such a multicultural mix of citizens, and collate it all in a neat and uniform collection of images that show the beauty of simply transforming the regular passers-by into small, yet crucial, parts of the bigger picture (literally). This seemed so fitting with it being an art gallery and giving me material to work with just outside its front door.

1. It Teaches You to Organize Your Work

After I had done my first session of sitting there for approximately 30-45 minutes, I went home and uploaded my images. Having looked through them, I decided that for the project to work (and, to finish) I need a plan. I opted for six months of documenting the exact same place for half an hour or so, and do this two to three times a month to ensure I have enough of work in the end.

Having that timescale gave me a push to ensure I set aside certain days for shooting, whether I wanted to do it or not. I began the project in September, which gave me a few months of bearable weather but I didn't realize just how cold it'll get in the winter months. Furthermore, due to the unpredictable nature of British weather, I always had to make sure I have a back-up date planned if on my shooting day it keeps raining as I had no cover to hide underneath. 

Knowing the start and finish of your project is important because it keeps you in check. There are days when we simply cannot be bothered to go out and photograph, but if you're setting yourself a specific goal, then you're more likely to follow it and hold yourself accountable. 

2. You'll Start Finding Beauty in Simplicity 

When we're faced with photographing a visually attractive person or one with interesting features, or maybe a breathtaking landscape shot, arguably it is not complicated to create what one would consider a good and usable shot, with or without your personality in it. However, when it comes to something that is ordinary, the hard job is to start seeing it as something extraordinary and portray it so.

Learning technicalities of photographic equipment is important to be able to achieve what you envision, but training your imagination and vision is just as important, and the beauty is that you don't actually need to spend anything to do so. Choosing something basic to focus on gives you a real challenge because what appears too simple at the first glance generally isn't that easy to execute well.

A small selection of what I saw during my project.

3. You'll Learn to Adapt

We may have set plans in our head but reality can throw obstacles our way. There are many hurdles you may come across and you'll have the option of adapting or dropping the project. In my situation, the spot I always used to photograph from was temporarily shut down due to arrival of Christmas themed stalls which required me to move further down. This meant the view I was faced with was slightly different from what I was used to and enjoyed photographing, but there was nothing I could do, so I simply continued to the best of my ability in order to keep the continuity of what I was doing. Similarly, on the days it rained, I had to view it as a small loss and return to make up for the lost day.

4. You'll Have Something Tangible to Review and Learn From

If you think of your photographic work as projects, however small or large, you'll be able to review your progress at the end of it. Drawing conclusions on what you achieved and what could have been done better will give you something to think on and take it with you for your future work.

I never intended to challenge myself in learning new techniques or testing any equipment through this project but instead, my goal was to learn to document something oh-so-simple over a period of 6 months, and to see how I cope with it and how will I make it interesting for myself and others to look at. It also forced me to stick to strict deadlines and force myself out in the city, come rain or shine. But, the most beautiful thing was to say to myself at the end of it - "I did it". I even went to put it all together on a website where I set myself a goal of filling in each and every gallery at the end of the month I was shooting this to give myself a reason to get edits done by a certain date.

Do you enjoy giving yourself projects to work on to test your patience, skill or dedication? Tell us about it!

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Robert Altman's picture

To create great images from the ‘mundane’ is both challenging and highly creative- just not easy!! A true test of one’s photographic ‘eye’ ...

Anete Lusina's picture

It certainly is, we can learn technical things about the equipment and then we have that knowledge for the rest of the life but to work on creating something out of nothing we need to train our mind, experiment, keep playing and enjoy what we do, and sometimes also set challenges so we push ourselves and overcome the obstacles or creative blockages.

David Pavlich's picture

I sell my prints and one of my best selling is a statue. However, I caught it with a near perfect Sunset that lit the scene in such a way that it makes a statue a very nice subject. I took the same shot at Sunrise, but a wrought Iron fence behind the statue made for funny shadows.

The mundane is the life blood of street photography and why it's so much fun.

Richard Lisle's picture

A really interesting and inspirational article. My creative juices aren't flowing much at the moment, and this project is right up my 'street' (sorry about the pun). Time to get out and start scouting a location.

Anete Lusina's picture

Sounds good! I think sometimes when we're lacking that bit of creativity in our lives we think we've got to really plan something amazing and big but we don't! Something like this will frustrate you at times but when you get shots that you like, it'll make really you excited about it!

Mark Holtze's picture

What a great article Anete. The world changes when you look through a lens and alwsys feel really satisfied when I audit that sentiment and find an interesting frame I would have missed.

Doesn’t always workout but love it when it does.

Thanks for posting.

Anete Lusina's picture

Exactly, it's worth the effort and all the deleted/disregarded shots to get that one that we really do like!