How I Will Publish One Million Photographs Before I Die
My friend Chris Guillebeau sent me an email this morning about my uploads to Flickr. One of the things I love about Chris is that like me he is a big dreamer/achiever. For those of you who don’t know him, you should get to know him. He’s a huge motivation and someone who can help you achieve great things as well. Chris wrote up a really nice interview on my photography a few years back.
One of the things that Chris wanted to do was to visit every country in the world by April 7, 2013. For this goal he is using the United Nations list of 193 member states. You know what? He’s visited 192/193 so far. WOW! His Brief Guide to World Domination should be required reading for every person in the world. It should be taught to students especially.
I sincerely believe human beings are capable of so much more than they think they are. Unlocking our true potential and power comes from some very basic tools and techniques that can be learned. In 2005 I read a book that dramatically changed the way I think about my own life by Brian Tracy called Focal Point. I’d encourage you to buy this book and read it. It’s probably the most important book I’ve ever read. If you’ve got kids buy it for them and give it to them as well. It teaches you how to accomplish great things.
One of the things that I’ve decided that I want to do with my own life is to publish one million photographs before I die. When I talk about publishing a million photographs, I’m not talking about simple shutter actuations — I’ve already taken over a million frames. Anyone can push a shutter a million times. You could probably train a monkey to do this. Anyone can even publish a million meaningless photo clicks to the web — many in fact already have.
My quest is not simply quantity over quality. What I’m focused on is publishing one million *quality* photographs that I believe in and care about as personal art — photos that I can be proud of. Each photo I choose to publish is carefully selected amongst many different frames from a shoot. Each photo is individually worked with, processed, edited with software, keyworded, and frequently hand titled and geotagged (although not always, for those last two points). Occasionally I will create more than one version of a single frame, but each photo is unique and different.
Although I publish my photos to many different sites on the web, Flickr is where I’m presently maintaining my larger body of work. What a deal Flickr is — unlimited high res photos for $24.95/year. Nobody comes close to touching this. In addition to this great value, Flickr comes with great presentation tools, an awesome new iPhone app and a pretty terrific social network too.
At present I’ve published 79,783 photographs to Flickr. In addition to these published photos, I’ve got an archive of about 22,000 fully completed and finished photos in a folder ready to go to Flickr. Each day I publish about 30 more of these to the site, pretty much at random — or about 11,000/year.
Which brings me back to Chris’ email earlier this morning. Chris is working on a new book right now and for the book had asked me some questions last month about my photography. He was following up today to confirm that last year I published about 11,000 new photos to Flickr — which I’m going to confirm with him shortly after finishing this post — but in considering this, I realize that the 11,000 number for 2012 is problematic. It’s problematic because if you assume that I continue on at this pace, I will need to live 84 more years to realize my goal of 1,000,000 photos. At age 45 today, it is highly unlikely that I will live to be 129, and so at my present pace, this sets my goal up for failure if people take my publishing rate today at face value.
My goal is much more complex than simply 11,000 photos per year for the rest of my life though. I’ve thought about my lifetime goal for many, many hours and my plan to achieve it is more complicated than a simple number for 2012 might suggest.
I’ve actually worked out my lifetime achievement goal in rough form with a spreadsheet as I’ve developed my thinking. At present what I plan on doing is increasing my publishing rate of photos by 2% per year during the next 10 years. The reason why I’m publishing less photos today is primarily because I’m so focused on actually shooting the photos today. I want to spend the time in my life when I’m most physically fit shooting the most. I also think that time/age frequently add interestingness to many photos. So I’d rather capture photos here and now today than in the future.
If I increase my publishing 2% each year for the next 10 years (something I’m very confident I’d be able to do even with my current unpublished archive alone) I should have about 200,000 photos published 10 years from now.
10 years from now my last of four children, Kate, will (hopefully) be leaving us for college. With all four of my kids out of the house, I will likely spend less time on my children than I do today. So 10 years from now I will increase my publishing rate even more, about 5% per year — more time for shooting but more importantly, more time for processing. In 10 years I’ll have approximately 370,000 photos published.
20 years from now, not only will my kids (again, hopefully) be done with college, but I’ll also be able to retire from my day job at around age 65. This will then free me up 100% to focus my time and energy on photography. I plan to increase my publishing rate by 10% per year then.
After age 65 the proportional rate of time spent shooting vs. processing will likely flip flop from what I’m doing today as well. Instead of spending 80% of my time shooting and 20% of my time processing, like I do now, I’ll likely spend 20% of my time shooting and 80% of my time processing. When you’re an old man (not that 65 is old, but I’ll get older likely after that) it’s a lot easier to sit in front of a computer and process than it is to run around the country staying up 20 hours at a stretch and shooting.
If I follow this strategy, and the part between age 65 and 80 is super important, I will publish 1 million photos when I am 80. Government life expectancy tables today give me until age 83 to live, but I wanted a few years as a buffer in case I kicked the bucket early.
My biggest challenge in all of this is maintaining my unpublished archive. I want this archive to grow larger and larger and larger, even as my published work grows as well. By growing my unpublished archive larger, I ensure that greater and greater diversity will be represented in my daily publishing. This is a secondary goal of mine, to have as much diversity with what I publish as possible. 20 years from now I like the idea of a photo from 2010 being published alongside a photo from 2015 and one from 2020. I like the idea of my photos been diversified not just by time, but by location (I’ll shoot more and more locations over my lifetime), subject matter (I’ll shoot more and more different things), style (my style will evolve and change), etc.
As I pursue this lifetime goal I’m also cognizant of a powerful tailwind at my back — technology. Technology will make my goal easier and easier to achieve. Already in 2013 I’m blown away at how much faster I can process my work than two years ago. Going from hard drives to flash storage, going from USB to Thunderbolt, faster macs, better cameras, all contribute to ensuring that I will be able to keep pace in the future even as I grow my publishing rate. For the first time, this year, I’ve felt like the only thing holding me back with my processing is actually me. For the first time with the hardware and software advances, I feel like I’m working and editing my work in real time. The future is indeed bright for the future tools that will not only continue to make our images look better, but which will also help us do more faster.
One final note — this goal is intensely personal for me and me alone. I created it, I live it, I fuel it. Over the years I’ve had many who have been critical of my goal. Many don’t understand that quantity can also be quality. Many have expressed an opinion that taking so many photos somehow diminishes my work. Many people have a desire to produce less, not more. All of this is fine. Everyone can do whatever they want. This is just what *I’m* doing. I’m not saying that this is the right path for anyone other than me and me alone. I’m not making a larger statement about photography in general, or saying that people that don’t keep my path/pace are in any way less significant as artists or photographers.
While I’ve personally admired many of the most prolific artist/photographers in the world (Warhol, Eggleston, Winogrand, Friedlander, etc.), I also admire many photographers and artists who make great art in smaller but more intense doses too. Whatever YOU do is fine. Be true to yourself and follow the artist that is inside of you.