April 3, 2012
I will be the first to admit that in the fall of 2010 I thought online communities were creepy and a great way to invite unwelcome people into your life. Why would you share any details of your life with complete strangers, in this day and age with identity theft and hacking? Life was for life and online was for researching and connecting to the real people you actually know. Now, over a year later, I can say, that to a point, I was wrong. Online communities are not just full of creepy people who want to steal from you. There can be places that are full of ordinary enthusiasts who want to learn and connect to those around the world.
In the fall of 2010, I was adjusting to a whole new life. Our family moved 1600 miles back to our roots. We moved from a wonderful community with lots to do, back to what felt like a closed community in the midwest. I felt like I was surrounded by the most boring landscape ever. I stopped teaching to stay home with my kids. I was lonely, sad, and mad that my husband and I made this difficult choice. My dad suggested I try a 365 Project at www.365project.org. He suggested that for 1 year, I take a photo a day. He said it would make me use my camera, which is something I stopped doing when we moved. I checked it out and decided to try it on my 32nd birthday.
It started out to be MUCH harder than I thought. My friends and family have always told me that I had an eye for photography. I had a DSLR, that I used on automatic ALL OF THE TIME. I didn’t understand any photography terms, and didn’t even know where to begin learning. I had no aspirations to really learn the technical stuff, I just wanted to practice my picture taking skills. Until that point, every good picture I took had been purely accidental. The first few days were really tough. It was Christmastime and it was hard to find something INTERESTING to photograph. I almost quit that first week. The reason why I didn’t was because a friend from high school/distant relative saw that I was doing this project and decided to join in. We started commenting on each other’s photos and it was so much fun to reconnect with her after years of not communicating! Then, my dad, stepmom, and sister-in-law started and it was even better. I loved knowing about the days of my loved ones through photography.
Eventually, I started looking around on the site. I found discussion forums, and LOADS of photos from people from around the world. I started following, commenting, and participating in the community. I also was LEARNING about my hobby at rapid pace. I began reading books, and internet articles about photography. Inspired by the others on the 365project website, I started downloading software free trials to really learn how to post process or develop a digital image. I bought macro filters to play around with small object photography. I learned about the nifty fifty lens and for $100 enjoyed making my portraits better. The University of Google and The University of the 365 Project taught me a plethora of photography terms. Finally, I learned how to operate my camera in MANUAL. I never in a million years thought that I would ever understand how to do that.
I just described how this project helped my understanding of photography, but I have yet to explain the BIG impact this project had on my LIFE. The first thing this project did was OPEN my eyes to the world. I started noticing reflections in EVERY drop of water. I noticed lines and patterns that the world had to offer. I started appreciating symmetry and unsymmetrical things. I started seeing the different types of birds and flowers that are available in Nebraska. I fell in love with textures, clouds, openness, country roads, gravel, barns, colors, and contrasts. Most of all, I started really, really, really looking for the one moment of perfect in each day. Life starts feeling better when your eyes are truly open.
Eventually, my kids became interested in my project and would help me find my photo for the day. I loved watching them play and freezing moments of their true selves. I started really thinking about my kids, their futures, their presents. I became more than their caretaker, I really started to connect to their true personalities. This project has taught me to sit down and write down those cute little stories from the day, and I have put them in books for the kids to enjoy when they are older.
Finally, I learned acceptance of myself and circumstances, which were the biggest lessons I needed to learn. For years, I have HATED, I mean, HATED being in front of the camera. When it was time to take pictures, I would often have an anxiety attack, because I hated how I looked. I exercise, I eat right, and I still am heavier than I want to be. It’s been one of those things that I continue to battle and have seen multiple doctors about. Anyway, my followers on the site every now and again would request a selfie. Years later, it’s good to know what you looked like at the time. It would be so hard for me to take a selfie. I hated how they came out, but I would still post them for the world to see. The more I took photos of myself, the less flaws I saw and the positive features came out to my eyes. I still am trying desperately to change how I look, but I no longer want to cry when I see selfies. I have learned to accept my looks and my life for what it is. After looking back at a year in pictures, I admit, my life is wonderful. Sometimes I am ashamed it took a project like this for me to see it, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how I got here. All that matters is that I see it.
Not only was this a personal journey, I have also met, yes, I say MET some wonderful people online. Last April when I took photos for Autism awareness, a fellow 365er living in Ireland, made a wonderful Autism Awareness photo and dedicated it our family. She also donated to Cancer awareness fundraiser my husband did this fall. When my first camera broke, unexpectedly this summer, I had offers from people around the world who wanted to donate money to help me get a new one. I didn’t accept it, but the offers completely touched my heart. Sometimes, I will get a message on my Facebook timeline from a 365er just checking in to see how I am doing. Comments from many of these friends from around the world on my photos have often brought a HUGE smile to my face and have also moved me to tears. I cannot begin to describe the connections I feel to these people I have not physically met. (I actually might get to meet a few of them this summer!) Not only that, their photos literally have taken me to the moon and back and all around the world. Thanks to these people I have a thirst to travel to places that I never would have dreamed of before.
The photo I took for today is a classic example of the community of 365. A member, who is widely followed, and who is extremely talented, is having a birthday today. A couple of online friends gathered a bunch of us together to take a photo for him to give him a Surprise Party online. Now, if that doesn’t say friendship and community, I don’t know what does.
Thank you, www.365project.org for changing my life.
To view my personal project: www.365project.org/cfitzgerald