How are you doing today? In some recent internet explorations I came across the most fascinating website called, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Created by John Koenig, it is a collection of “newly invented word(s) for a strangely powerful emotion.”
I found myself diving into it when I read about the word vemödalen:
“n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.”
This is an experience and an emotion I have had hundreds or thousands of times as a photographer! Especially as one who shoots some of the most visited places on the earth (Paris! Venice! London!)
I started to read about other words that Koenig has created and I thought there were words there that would provide some excellent inspiration for photo challenges.
Now – we don’t have to adhere completely to the definitions. What I would encourage you to do is see if any of them spark ideas or curiosity, and then use them as a touch point.
“ a kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details—raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee—briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, an act that is done purely for its own sake.”
Tip/ideas: this is something I can really relate to, being so absorbed in the sensory atmosphere or feeling of somewhere. To be this is a wonderful gateway into becoming present, listening to the rhythmic whoosh of the waves, watching the light glowing through raindrops.
For the challenge you could focus on any sensory detail, and the aim to capture that feeling that you have listening to or watching the subject.
“a feature of modern society that suddenly strikes you as absurd and grotesque—from zoos and milk-drinking to organ transplants, life insurance, and fiction—part of the faint background noise of absurdity that reverberates from the moment our ancestors first crawled out of the slime but could not for the life of them remember what they got up to do.”
Tip/ideas: I remember the time in my childhood where I suddenly realised how milk was made and it freaked me out. This is a big challenge. Can you find some every day thing in your environment that just seems completely ridiculous, awful, stupid or grotesque, and shoot it?
The endless rubbish of modern society, signs that make no sense, the horror of the zoo, the sadness of closed playgrounds. Whatever it is that seems ‘wytai’ to you.
For me the endless waste of modern society really nauseates me.
Which then reminded me of this fun photo I took in East London:
“With every click of the shutter,
you’re trying to press pause on your life.
If only so you can feel a little more comfortable moving on
living in a world stuck in play.”
Tip/ideas: There is perhaps always the desire with us photographers to capture all of the exquisite experiences that we have in life. I imagine like me when something wonderful happens – a beautiful sunset, my kids sharing a cuddle, dappled light on the forest floor making beautiful patterns – I reach for my camera. I want to capture, press pause perhaps, on the extraordinary experiences of life. Perhaps to feel them more deeply as well to remember them and make beautiful photos.
This challenge to me would be – what singularly extraordinary experiences will you capture this week? And what experiences can you make extraordinary? What beauty can you find, what experiences will you have that make you want to press pause and capture them? What is rich and wonderful in your world right now?
“the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable—their pupils glittering, bottomless and opaque—as if you were peering through a hole in the door of a house, able to tell that there’s someone standing there, but unable to tell if you’re looking in or looking out.”
Tip/ideas: Looking deeply into someone’s eyes can be one of the most strange, vulnerable and intimate experiences we can have as humans. If you think about it we rarely, or ever, spend a lot of time looking directly into someone’s eyes. Possibly with the exception of babies and small children, especially your own.
The eyes reveal so much about the feelings and thoughts of people. They are loaded with visual information about people. Especially now with mass mask wearing, we are relying on the eyes to give us more clues about each other than ever before. Can you reveal interesting emotions from people you shoot by focusing on their eyes? What can you discover?
You can’t see this man’s eyes but you can tell what they look like, right?!
“An image that inexplicably leaps back into your mind from the distant past.”
I love this idea because for me the passing of time should be paid attention to. When I get lost in the worries of my life, or in the fact that my family still won’t stack their dirty dishes like I asked them a thousand times, I can forget the big picture of all that life is. I can forget about what’s meaningful, what’s significant, and years can pass without me noticing.
I want to notice the passage of time, so that I can firstly appreciate this life that I have now, but also so that I can be intentional about what I do and don’t do with my time.
Retro! Real phones!
I think this is a really fun photo challenge, because it feels to me like we will try to create or capture something from our past that is already gone, lost, forgotten. We can use our photography to create and bring back the sensation of watching a black and white TV set, or the broken-sleep exhaustion of having a newborn and watching the sunrise with them.
We can remember the blossoming of young love, or remind ourselves of the pure joy of playing with our friends as children, lost in the moments of fun and togetherness.
Tip/ideas: So I see this challenge as being more of a set-up experience or more intention. So instead of reacting to the world, you are actively looking for something or setting up a scene or scenario.
I would love to know what you think about these challenges. Do they inspire you to try something new? Let us know in the comments below.
Have a really good day,
Anthony and Diana