How Flickr Threw a Switch In My Head

9/22/2008 04:22:00 pm

Last year, one of the people in my aggregator, D'Arcy Norman, published a video to share the results of his year long experiment: he took a picture every day for a year and published it to his flickr account. He called the experiment 365 Photos. Actually, an entire community has grown up around this idea on flickr; it wasn't D'Arcy's idea originally, there are over 1200 "365 Days" groups. I don't know who started this originally but it seems like a natural extension of publicly sharing your photos.

D'Arcy said a switch got thrown in his head. Watch his video of the results; as you watch you'll get a sense of what his year was like, when and where he went on vacation, his love for his son, the things he finds interesting, but pay particular attention to how he uses perspective, how sets up his "shots", and the things in his world he notices:

As the new year rang in for 2008 several other people in my aggregator decided to join D'Arcy in his new experiment: 366 Photos (2008 is a leap year). After several weeks many started writing about how their visual perception changed as a result of doing this. They started noticing things they hadn't before, the quality of the photos they took (of things, family, friends, events, etc.) improved dramatically, and a switch in their heads flickred.

I came late to this party for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the "every day for a year" commitment intimidates me. So, in March I started my own experiment: 31 Days.

There's a bit of folk wisdom that says it variously takes 21 or 28 days to create (or break) a habit. (15 minutes a day every day. If you miss a day just keep going until you get to 21 — or 28 — days in a row.) I've been able to find no verifiable research to back this up so make of it what you will. In any case, I did find that my 31 Days experiment lead to a change in the way I see the world and use visual imagery in my teaching.

Now, this part wasn't planned, but as I've used flickr more and more I've become more and more interested in taking "interesting" pictures.

As a math teacher I was fascinated to discover that photographers have long known of and used a mathematical definition for beauty. It's based on the number φ, phi (one H of a lot cooler than π, as my students say), which it turns out is embedded in the the natural world in all sorts of ways including the various dimensions of our own bodies. I digress, that's a post for another time. ;-)

I stumbled upon an online photography course over at I've only read through Lesson 1: Composition And Impact - It's A Beautiful Photograph, But Do You Know WHY It's Beautiful?. It had a significant impact on how I take pictures and view the world. That was almost a year ago. I'm about ready to move on to Lesson 2: Aperture And Shutter Speed - How They Work Together.

Here's how I did my 31 Days experiment:

 » All pictures were taken with my cell phone. (Because it's always there, and it's easy.)

 » All pictures were uploaded to flickr (almost) daily. (You can send directly from your phone if you like.)

 » All pictures were tagged with a unique tag for the experiment. i.e. 31Days.

 » All pictures were aggregated on my blog using a slideshow tool, (also allows you to embed music).

 » I took at least one picture every day. (Some days I took more and picked the one liked best.)

You might wonder: Why all this photography stuff from a math teacher? Well, the short answer is that I wanted to model what I asked my students to do — check out the flickr assignment I designed.

The long answer is: It has enriched my life. I used to leave taking pictures to others; my wife or mother-in-law. Now I take more pictures than anyone, and the skills I've developed have lead to some striking pictures of my kids (sorry, we don't publish publics pics of our kids online ... yet). More than that, it has effected the way I read to learn. I recently finished reading John Dewey's Experience and Education. I decided, as a mnemonic and a way to help me move everything I read into long term memory swiftly, I would mentally construct an image that summarizes the content of each chapter. I hope to publish it as a slidecast (slideshow + podcast) on Slideshare in the near future. I know that little book really well as a result of doing this. Creating the slidecast will really embed it in my brain.

Anyway, I think I'm ready to try this experiment again in October. October in Winnipeg starts with colourful leaves on the trees and ends with snow on the ground. This is going to be fun!

Photo Credits:
Me and my Cell by flickr user dkuropatwa
Vitruvian Genesis by flickr user karlequin

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  1. Thanks for sharing your experiment Darren. I was another who took part in the 366 project. I started off gung ho and posted for the first 40 days. Then, I had a flickr hiatus, I continued to take many pics (albeit not daily) but neglected posting. A few days ago I jumped back on the 366 wagon. It has changed the way I take pictures and increased my sense of vision. I like your idea of capturing a book in image and look forward to your slidecast.

  2. Anonymous25/9/08 08:23

    I liked the 100 Strangers project at flickr, which I know about because of an European city daily photo blog which participates. I'd link to it, but I'm at school and flickr is blocked.

  3. @thekyleguy: I think that's the best way to do it. Try to keep up, if you fall off the wagon, that's fine, just jump on again wherever you are when you can. Kind of like AA, not that I'm saying you should be in AA. ;-)

    A friend told me that AA says that it takes 28 days to form a habit although I couldn't find anything about this anywhere on their site.

    @jude: Wow! I just found this group on flickr. How cool is that! This picture tells the whole story of the group which also has a home on the web at 100 Strangers.

    Talk about moving out of your comfort zone!

  4. Anonymous25/9/08 15:08

    I think that using flikr could be beneficial in the classroom, especially a math class, if used to show demension and depth. Or in teaching students how to draw/look at different 3-demensional objects from different angles and perspectives. Having them create their own flikr show (I am not familiar with how it all works) allows them to be creative and use their own images, while also forcing them to look at each object from another point of view. I am an elementary teaching major (although not set in stone...I may teacher higher level math/science)and would definitely consider using flikr in a variety of different ways in the classroom. When doing chemistry experiments I took pictures of every step and of each phase of the reaction itself to help myself and the students I tutored understand and see how the experiment was supposed to work. Using an online photography tool would have been much easier and more effective than taping them in my binders. Thank you for introducing me to this and sharing your flikr with me.

  5. @s.rhodes: Glad to introduce you to flickr. The thought struck me that taking pictures of science experiments in progress is a great idea!

    Not only might you upload them to flickr, but you can sequence them in a slideshow and invite your students to compete: Who can create the best audio track to describe what happened and what was learned. Publish the whole thing on Slideshare and let them comment on each others' work as well.

  6. Anonymous29/9/08 15:03

    That idea cracks me up, I would love to have done that back during my own high school science classes! That would also help everyone to pay attention and have a reason to participate in their groups. We have had problems in the past with one person preforming the entire experiment and the other members of the group just copying lab reports. Allowing each student to take the pictures/narrate the experiment etc enhances education and creates a better form of participation. I love it!

  7. If you ever do it let me know. I'd love to hear & see what your students create. ;-)


  8. We still haven't met yet, Darren, but one of these days I hope to have the pleasure.

    Alan November showed your wares to our rather large group at a conference this week. I've been continually impressed with your willingness to share, work hard and help others.

    Regarding your new design, I like it, but think that a fractal or two might liven things up. :)

  9. Thanks for dropping by Darren! I'm looking forward to the day we shake hands.

    You were right about the place needing a little fractal something. The next post is for you. ;-)