[Warning – this post contains, at the bottom, one image with mature content. Potential triggers: suicide, depression, addiction.]
Back in March of this year, I posted about how I’d jumped in to a new online photographic community named DEDPXL, run by Atlanta-based commercial photographer and educator Zack Arias. Zack et al. have, among other things, been running a series of assignments online, with participants able to submit images via Flickr, 500px, Instagram, Google+, and probably other routes I don’t remember at the moment.
The DEDPXL assignments are essentially a freebie photo course, with the possibility of a personal critique from Zack and Meghan Arias, along with an occasional guest commenter. Not all entries are critiqued, but hundreds per assignment are, in an entertaining video format. This yields a very deep dive into what works for the assignment, and what doesn’t. You can see the most recent one, for assignment number 6, here, and find the rest on the DEDPXL blog.
Much of what is fun about these assignments is the community feel – with contributors cross-commenting on each others’ pictures. Sometimes there are disagreements, sure, but on the whole it’s been healthy criticism, and refreshingly free of the banal “oh, I love this *FAVE*” kind of comments that are pervasive at Flickr and other photo sharing sites.
However… for the seventh assignment, the gloves are metaphorically off, because it’s the wrap-up and, for the first time, it’s a competition – with a rather tasty ~$6,000 medium format camera rig as a prize. The result being that the usually-convivial DEDPXL community has gone rather silent for the month of October, as everyone feverishly works on their top-secret projects. But now that the deadline for creating work has passed, photos are being posted and we’re all seeing what each other has been up to. More on that down below; you can read about the final assignment, watch the video, and drool over the prize (if that kind of thing turns your rewind crank) here. In the meantime, here’s a quick recap of the photos I liked best from my submissions for the first six assignments, and a peek at where I found myself when I hit “submit” on the final one earlier today.
DEDPXL01 – Lines
I’ve posted about this assignment previously. Finding lines to photograph isn’t difficult, as it turns out – but making a meaningful photograph out of them that isn’t simply a picture of something with lines in it is a different story. A story, I fear, that I didn’t end up telling particularly well. This one came midway through the assignment, on one of several trips through downtown Toronto’s Eaton Centre. The motion-blurred figures weren’t intentional, being a result of the slow shutter speed I needed in the dismal indoor light. I do rather like how they offset the rigidity of the lined pattern on the wall, however.
DEDPXL02 – Repetitive Shape / Form / Pattern / Rhythm
This one is shot down from a balcony into an interactive space at work, and has had severe perspective correction to square things up. If only I’d thought to include a few people in it, perhaps lying on the ground as though sitting on the tables. It would have been helped by lining up the tables parallel with each other, too. Nevertheless, I kind of like the monochrome, abstract feel. Around about now, I was beginning to feel uncreative – the remedy to which you can read about here.
DEDPXL03 – Shadows
The only halfway decent thing I could come up with for this theme, which on the face of it seemed like it would be easy, was a staircase outside Toronto’s City Hall. Again, a person or two on the stairs, or in the foreground, would help this, although I do find the abstract pleasing. I definitely fell into the trap of seeing an interesting shadow, rather than making an interesting picture that has shadows as an important element. Sigh.
DEDPXL04 – Get Low
This one was a bit of a fail. I’ve taken a number of ground-level photos of things in the past, but I just couldn’t come up with anything striking during the assignment’s time frame. Among a few feeble attempts of the undersides of fairground rides, this frog’s eye view of a frog was the best I could come up with.
DEDPXL05 – Reflections
Another failure I think. Plenty of reflections to be seen, but none where I could wrangle them into an interesting or meaningful composition. It was about now that I really felt like I was running out of steam. I did try some studio setups with bent reflective paper, and this is the best of them, channeling Salvador Dali a bit I suppose. But ultimately, it’s just a photograph of a clock with an interesting, wibbly-wobbly reflection, and no story told.
DEDPXL06 – The Egg
This one was a nice kick-start. Back into the studio and playing with light, for the classic “Photography 101” assignment. The diversity of approaches that the group came up with was astonishing. Although I played around with blue backgrounds and introducing motion, ultimately I landed on this as my favourite submission. Simple, clean, but with a slight twist in that the photograph depicts a scene that is more or less impossible, for a few reasons. This one also benefited from some direct feedback from Zack (and indirectly, his intern Bernard), so credit where credit is due. In the end, though… it’s just a picture of an egg (yes, just one – that’s one of the impossible aspects).
DEDPXL07 – The World Has Changed
This one requires a bit of explanation.
The brief called for not only something different – a concept, rather than a single type of element (lines, shadows) or specific subject (the egg). But it also specifically requires three elements to be present (or possibly, alluded to). First, there must be a human presence – a person, or a part of a person. Second, there must be some form of news delivery medium – a newspaper, television, laptop, smartphone, note, and so on. And third, there must be something spilled, or in the process of being spilled. All of these elements supporting the overall concept of “The World Has Changed”.
Sounds tricky? Yes, it was.
I think many of us participating began to run into similar problems. I know that I came up with a number of concepts that fit the theme and could easily include two of the three elements. Most often, the problem was coming up with a plausible reason for something to be spilled, beyond the obvious “oh my goodness look at that terrifying news story and oops I’ve spilled my coffee” gambit. My wife Louise, a creative force on her own, told me this evening that she came up with a number of concepts but all of them would have required considerable effort in building sets, or sourcing props and costumes. Which, truth be told, didn’t stop everyone in DEDPXL land, looking at some of the recent uploads.
After punting around a number of ideas, I eventually came up with this. I’ve never been as nervous about posting a photograph to Flickr as I was with this one. It’s a self-portrait, which is uncomfortable enough territory. It deals with a very worrying theme, and could potentially be a trigger for vulnerable viewers (for both suicide and addiction). And, of course, I’m letting it free into the DEDPXL group for adjudication by not only some A-list photographers, but also a very talented peer group who have already posted some tremendous contributions. But nevertheless, this is the best I could come up with, after dozens of test photographs. One thing that never changed from the beginning was the black and white treatment, though – I’d always visualized this in monochrome, although initially more as a gritty, newspaper-photo type of image.
And so there it is, released into the wilds of the DEDPXL assignment group, to be judged alongside the rest. Self-serving? Possibly. Unimaginative? Perhaps. Exploitive? Insensitive? Unrealistic? These are all possibilities, too. Take a look and see what others have come up with for this very open-to-interpretation assignment… and then head back and look at the older submissions as well. Regardless of the ultimate adjudication of this photo, at least I can say that DEDPXL has succeeded in fulfilling, for me, one of its aims – pushing me to create something I definitely otherwise wouldn’t have.
All of my candidate and submitted photos for the whole series of DEDPXL assignments are in this Flickr collection.