Hour pre-0: Roll over, look at the clock—guh. I’m getting up in 3 minutes to subject myself to 12+ hours of a photo marathon with real photographers. So excited! But nervous, too. Grab my 9th grade film camera, grab my current digital camera, grab a semi-comfortable pair of shoes (damn you worn-in shoes for dying a few days previous to this event!), and head out the door. No turning back now.
Hour 0: After bus confusion and wandering around lost downtown for a bit wondering what direction Nelson Street is, I finally caught the cushy community bus and headed toward Comox & Denman, to the Urban Rush Cafe—the official headquarters of this year’s Vancouver 12×12 Photo Marathon. I register. Am ecstatic to see that I am lucky number 7! Glancing around I feel a bit intimidated by the amount of GIGANTIC lenses there are, and fancy-schmancy cameras attached to them. Tripods, crazy compartmentalized bags, and every other photographic implement of destruction imaginable is present. Humbled. I struggle to remember how to even load film into my crappy Canon Rebel. Man, this is going to be a long day! Briefly consider running away unnoticed; instead decide that although I have none of the expensive equipment, nor knowledge on how to use it, at least I have a relatively quick trigger finger in order to be the 7th person registered. I drink congratulatory coffee and celebrate small miracles.
First theme announced: Your Entry Number/Different Angle
And we’re off! Feeling refueled by the caffeine and excited by the process, I head out in search of 7 of *something* with which to photograph. I’m hoping for a parade of frolicking ponies pulling wagons of adorable babies but realize this is probably pushing it. Settle instead for standing under a string of seven balloons tied to a stop sign, and wait… ever… so… patiently for them all to line up perfectly. They do, and SNAP – commitment! Not at all sure if I caught the shot. Am suddenly painfully aware of how dependent I am upon the LCD screen preview on my digital camera.
Hour 2: Back at the cafe, excitement in the air. I wish that I had a chance to go to the previous week’s meet-up because everyone seems super friendly and familiar to each other. Feel a momentary pang of shyness. Decide to drink more coffee.
Second theme announced: The Usual Suspects
I head out again in the same direction – back down alleyways and through the residential areas. I think it might be cool to try to locate some pigeons and crows for this shot. Cannot find a single bird to save my life. Finally, I stop a homeless man who tells me a Canucks joke and chats to me about being a camera repair person in his former life. He is fascinating and so very sweet; he tells me I should go to the beach for birds— they like the garbage down there. I wish him well, and am off again. Finally spot two crows on top of a power line. Look through my pitifully small lens and wish that I had thought to rent something better. Wait again patiently for the bird’s heads to line up to show their beak profiles. In the split second between me pressing the shutter and it catching the shot, the birds move. This is ruined shot #1. This is the first of many. This game is harder than it looks.
Hour 3 – Feeling a little sad about my missed shot, I start thinking about how we take for granted the ability to curate our work. How often people don’t understand that out of the 30 great shots that you post on Flickr or Facebook, there may have been 300 others that weren’t. quite. right. It’s a strange feeling thinking that people will be able to see your glory and all your mistakes in this project. No retakes. No trash bin. I’m again humbled when I think of the giant lenses and professional photographers no doubt currently taking masterpiece shots of prancing pony parades and flocks of choreographed seagulls.
Third theme announced: Human Nature
After the bird fiasco, I’m feeling the pressure to do something better with this particular theme—it can be interpreted in so many ways! This is where the challenge lies. I just have to carefully decide what direction I want to take it. I remember seeing a bunch of shoes hanging from wires in a back alley about an hour back, but cannot remember where, for the life of me. Spend the next 45 minutes wandering aimlessly looking for shoes, unable to shake the idea to see other possibilities. Funny how your brain will sometimes fixate. Finally locate them… thankfully they do not move at the last second.
Forth theme announced: Reliable
By this time, my feet are really beginning to ache. I contemplate taking off my shoes and just walking barefoot. Decide instead to stop at Shoppers Drug Mart for emergency Band-Aide triage kit. Oh, good god there is still 8 more hours left. What have I signed myself up for?? I take a picture of my feet. At least they are still attached to my body.
Fifth theme announced: My Greatest Wish
My greatest wish… ? I wish for a shopping cart and someone to push me around in it. And a popsicle made of Strongbow. The odds of this combination happening also seem slim, so I decide instead to find something simple. It feels a little like a cop out, but my feet are killing me, so when I spot the fluffiest cat I’ve ever seen hiding under a bush, I think he would make a perfect wish (No Pets building for me, boo!). He sits patiently waiting for me to compose the shot (an obvious pro photographic subject) ready, set… press the shutter, cat MOVES. Mother$*#@er!!! Curse out loud, in manner similar to sailor. Pet adorable cat to console myself, despite his obvious leanings toward sabotage.
Six theme announced: Odour
After grabbing a bite to eat and a couple of beers, everyone seems refreshed. Odour seems like a great theme—everywhere I look today I’ve seen fragrant things: flowers, dumpsters, porta-potties atop flatbed trucks. Decide in the end to shoot some people crossing the ‘Finish’ line of a bike marathon. Wonder if any of these things will make any sense once printed without the aid of artistic explanation? Decide to risk it anyway.
Seventh theme announced: Echo
Man, these themes are getting tough! My creative brain is throbbing much like my feet, although the beer and band-aids helped immensely for at least one of those issues. My friend Craig talks about his idea which admittedly is pretty awesome, and rides off to capture it. I wonder if it’s possible for me to finish the rest of this marathon without actually moving from my chair? Curse you, footwear. I think of all the cool shots that might visually echo… reflective surfaces repeating, over and over. Head back to Shoppers Drug Mart to see if I can find a hand mirror. I buy it, but am used to knowing how a shot will work on my D80, with the 18-135mm lens. Through the film camera, the shot doesn’t seem nearly as good, but I do my best, anyway. Not sure if this one will come through. Drink more beer. Congratulate myself on strenuous tasks already completed today, like breathing and walking upright.
Eighth theme announced: Trapped
I’ve gotten a chance to talk to a few more of the participants. Funny how you see the Photo Marathon lanyards from across the street and nod and smile knowingly at each other. They understand your pain. They know your exhaustion. Fellow troops in the trenches. By this time Denman is starting to get insane with the amount of people heading downtown for the fireworks. I take my picture and then wander down to the beach. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day! On the way back to the cafe I see another marathoner taking the same picture that I did for this theme. I wonder how many duplicates of any given subject there will be?? It’s kind of great to know that similar things catch your eye. It will be interesting to see the different takes on the same idea.
What’s this? A beer? Don’t mind if I do. No longer feel quite so glum about my inadequacies in the lens-department, due largely in part to being slightly tipsy and mentally exhausted.
Ninth theme announced: Take it to the Grave
After sitting on a park bench in the sun with my friends Ryan and Ruwan, eating burgers and bitching about first world problems, we discuss the day’s events thus far. I love how clever my friends are. They were organized and brought props. PROPS! I didn’t even think to bring a tripod… or shoes that actually fit my feet. Clever. Lessons learned for next year.
Tenth theme announced: Second Chance
I debate trying to recreate the echo shot, hopefully get it right this time, but the light is waning, and I know that pretty soon I’m going to be screwed. So I tried instead to find one more street subject. I locate a tattered couch in an alley. My already shaky hands are generally adept at messing up shots in the sunniest of conditions; henceforth, it’s unlikely that I will get a steady picture, sans-tripod. I wish I could shoot “Second Chance” tomorrow, with a new roll of film and a better camera. Again, unlikely… I’m now imagining difficulty moving my limbs in the morning.
Coming into the home stretch!
People galore, downtown! Seriously, I am normally claustrophobic, so the steady and constant stream of bodies down Denman Street is starting to make my heart pound and my hands sweat. Then I see some policemen ride down the street on giant, gorgeous Clydesdale horses, and the Hare Krishna’s following — dancing exuberantly with trumpets and tambourines. This is the best. day. EVER. Is there always this much cool stuff happening around here?
Eleventh theme announced: Not for Sale
By this time all I can think about is my limited light options and lack of tripod. I head into the thick of the crowd at the beach just to try to catch the last shred of sunlight. Line up the shot beautifully. This might actually work! I realize after the fact that I set it on the wrong shutter speed. Dammit. This one is bound to be insanely overexposed. Oh, hello camera— have we met before? I apparently have no idea how you operate. I silently vow to teach myself better photography skills, and hope that my roll of film mysteriously goes missing during the developing process.
Twelfth theme announced: Expectation
We are all rejuvenated knowing that the
torture adventure will soon be ending. This has been one of the most interesting experiences I have had in a long time. It’s been so amazing to come together with a great group of creative people, of all levels and backgrounds: from film novices like me, to seasoned professionals—bound together by the appreciation of the photographic medium. I can only imagine what goes into organizing an event like this; everyone did an incredible job! Although we are all tired from today, I can only imagine that this is just one of several really long days that have been put in by the entire 12×12 Vancouver team. Bravo, you guys!!
The final exhibit is in a month. I’m both excited and nervous to see it. I realized after this weekend how much I depend upon automatic settings and trial-and-error in my own work. I’m not sure what the final result will look like, but even if I get 2 decent shots from the film I’ll be thrilled. I can’t wait to practice over the next year, and *fingers crossed*— I’ll get a chance to participate in this event again in the future. Vancouver is a special city, and to have an opportunity to meet amazing people, drink beer together, and be collectively creative? You can’t really ask for anything better. (Except maybe ponies).