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Returning to Photography

Updated: Jan 21

A Word-of-the-Day Photo Challenge

Close-up photograph of berries on a branch of a Himalayan tree cotoneaster
All photos by the author

I used to dream about taking photos. I don’t mean lofty life-goal dreams, I mean that at night I would conjure up the most fantastical landscapes and scenarios and in those dreams I would be taking photos.

I don’t have dreams like that any more. If I do, I’m not holding a camera like I used to but instead taking photos with a smartphone and there’s just something off about that.

I miss my camera. I miss the fluidity I used to have with it and most of all, I miss seeing in photographs. To compose an image means to really see what is in front of you, to notice the details and how the forms and edges intertwine with their environment and play with the light.

During times of stress, it’s hard to see the world in this way and it’s only in moments of relaxed, creative ease that I’ve noticed glimmers of this photographic sight retuning.

Doing a PhD and juggling a million other projects means that stress is a constant in my life, but I want to find a way to orchestrate that photographic sight back into my life on a less temperamental basis. I’m hoping it will bring more of that creative ease with it and maybe transform some of that stress into something more desirable.

A few years ago, I wanted to establish a daily habit to work on my fiction writing and illustration fluency, but I needed some kind of prompt to answer the question of what should I create each day. I also wanted to expand my vocabulary and this led me to do a word-of-the-day challenge. Each day, I would take’s word of the day and write an A6 page of fictional brain juice and accompany it with a small black and white illustration.

Now, I’m in a similar position with photography. I want to take more photos, better photos, bolder photos. But I need a reason to do so. Without something to photograph in mind, it feels the same as facing a blank page with nothing to write about. Creator’s block is inevitable when infinity is in front of you.

So this year, for as long as I can, I’m going to take each day’s word-of-the-day as my photographic goal for the day. I’ll treat it as something like a scavenger hunt. If I miss days, that’s fine. I won’t back-track on old prompts, just take the loss and move on with the current day’s word. I’ll post the images somewhere, maybe, but also most likely I’ll write about them here, because writing is again something I want to work on.

Today’s prompt was “tussie-mussie” (I’m using because they always feature the most peculiar words), which means a small bunch of flowers or herbs. An easy start, admittedly. Or so I thought. The photo above was taken today, but it features neither flowers nor herbs. But I wouldn’t have taken it if it weren’t for this challenge, so in that way it’s already a win.

Close-up photograph of the small white flowers on a fragrant saracococca bush surrounded by its dark green foliage
The flowers of a fragrant sarcococca

A lot of today was spent exploring the back lanes of Dorset and among them was a beautiful garden surrounding the wishing well at Upwey. Across one of the paths was a bubble of heavenly fragrance and after too much searching, I found the source: a large bush of fragrant sarcococcas. Its flowers looked more like beansprouts, but I suppose it’s strange enough for flowers to bloom in the winter that it’s ok for them to look a little strange.

On the way back, I stopped at a garden centre that’s usually too far away to visit just to indulge my casual plant obsession. I couldn’t resist picking up their one jewel orchid and taking it home.

Macro photograph of the white flowers of a jewel orchid (ludisia discolor) on a black background
Jewel orchid blooms are very underrated

Turns out these jewel orchids, ludisia discolor, are technically classed as herbs. And it was in bloom from multiple stems. As close to a tussie-mussie as I would get. Day one complete!

Because of this challenge, after just one day I have a beautiful new jewel orchid and a lot of other non-plant photos from today that I would not have had if the challenge hadn’t compelled me to take my camera out and actually use it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next days will bring and especially how I manage to integrate the challenge into weekdays when there isn’t the freedom of the weekend.

No matter what, I’m happy with how it’s begun and that I’m finally taking steps to return to an art form I had neglected for so long.


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