How taking a picture everyday unexpectedly changed my life
I’ve been proudly staring at the wall behind my desk for the past half hour. It looks good.
I spent my evening filling it up with small prints of last year’s photo project- 365 days of taking a picture every day, at least one picture a day that best told the story of that past year. Looking at it as a whole spread is more incredible than I could’ve anticipated.
Jumping out at me are pictures from Italy, Isla Vista, and Izmir; Turkey. I see a jar of Nutella and a glass of wine. A short-lived summer romance and a newly-made lifelong friend. Plenty of shots of the UCSB campus and several from the Santa Barbara Mesa. All of it makes me realize, it’s been a good year. I’ve been given a good life.
I’m so thankful right now.
I’m far from the first person to undertake the project of taking a photo every single day. A quick search on Flickr reveals so many others have taken on this goal successfully, with much better photography skills than I could ever dream of. At the same time, I can’t help but feel like my own spin on this project fills me with so much thankfulness that I can’t imagine anyone else getting as much out of this photography quest.
About a year ago, I made the decision to embrace life to the fullest. I wanted to dive right in and experience life in all of its depth and ups and downs as much as possible. For years prior to that, I had to fight my way out of different seasons of depression. There were times where I felt like I wasn’t doing anything of meaning, and other times where it felt like I felt so isolated. It wasn’t until last year when I started to fully explore the big, uncomfortable questions that kept me trapped in that cycle.
That led me to start exploring my faith, and to really start taking ownership of it. I started to realize that life was a gift and that naturally led me to start thinking about my own connection to my relationship with its giver. I started to see God as an author of countless beautiful stories in the form of our lives, and it was up to us to figure out how to embrace that fully.
I went into this year with an unprecedented willingness to say yes to anything and everything. At the start of the year, it meant simple things, like saying yes to random events around campus and the possibility of new friendships. Soon enough though, I found myself saying yes to things like taking a trip to Turkey over Spring Break, or jumping out of an airplane.
Unlike previous years, I found myself willing to accept life as a gift and to simply live in the wake of being endlessly grateful for that.
That’s why I initially wanted to start taking pictures daily. I wanted to welcome each day as a packaged gift, and to take it all in. I wanted to live abundantly. I wanted to savor every single day and to let it pass slowly. I wanted to see what was possible when I was open to the idea that I had been given a lot and that I should simply be awake and aware that life was full of pleasant surprises.
I decided that by taking a picture of everything, I would be setting myself up to notice the beauty in each day, whether it was centered on a specific adventure, or if it was one of the countless ordinary days that I could expect over the course of life. I figured photography would train my eyes to see beauty in the ordinary, and that this would help my heart to adopt the same lens. Thinking of which image best told the story of my life within each day helped me to see the greater stories that were present in my life.
The more I acted on the belief that life was a gift from God he intended us to enjoy, the more that it seemed to keep giving me beautiful things.
My camera started to capture some really incredible sights.
There was the firey sky on the First of December that I had the chance to witness. It was the most incredible sunset I’d ever seen as the sky lit up to a bright orange and purple for a couple hours over Isla Vista.
There were the golden tones that everything in Italy seemed to take. The cobblestone streets provided a noble texture as the light seemed to bathe everything in the romance the country does better than anybody else. These were the streets where I got to live my life for an entire summer.
There were also the faces of the countless new friends I got to make over the course of the year. Daniel, who I seemed to bond with instantly after responding to his post-it note prayer request. His housemates, Deanna, Caytlin, and Bree who took me in as a couch surfer. My newfound communities at Hope and Real Life that really started to make me feel as though I had found a place of belonging in Santa Barbara.
Looking back over the course of the year, and at all the images it produced, I’m filled with an incredible sense of gratitude. I feel closer to God than I’ve ever felt, and more in awe of the way he’s written out the story of my life.
I can sit back and let my eyes scan over images of a Sufjan Stevens concert, Turkish skylines, the Eiffel Tower. I see images of Downtown Santa Barbara, a Psych screening on campus, the last time I saw my grandma before she moved back to the Philippines.
All that fills me with a sense of wonder. The kind that makes me so thankful that I get to be alive and that lets my heart fully know that this life was made to be good. A year ago, this is a kind of joy I would have never imagined.
At the end of the day, and at the end of the year, this project has been about way more than photography. It’s about gratitude, and that’s exactly what I want out of life. At the end of this year, I find myself thankful, and at the end of life, that’s exactly how I want to feel. I know there’s no way to measure this, but I want to go down as the most grateful person who ever lived.
These pictures help.