In an enlightening extract from her new book, Little Stories of Your Life, the author and photographer reveals how to make creative projects out of daily rituals
In any life there will be joy and sorrow, celebration and heartbreak, but I believe it’s the stretches of time in between that truly matter: the tiny moments and the beautiful, ordinary days. Perhaps today is a rainy Wednesday and you may feel that there’s nothing interesting taking place in your life, but even the days that seem least noteworthy can contain flashes of interest or joy. Small moments accumulate, bound together like patchwork into a pattern that is unique for each of us. Our daily lives contain us, but they also create us: the everyday is everything.
Finding joy in little things begins with being deliberately present in the moment. On a rainy Wednesday, take a minute or two to notice the rain, whether you are watching it fall outside the window, or feeling it drip down the back of your neck as you wait for the bus. Wherever you are as you read this, engage with the moment by directing your attention to what is happening here and now. Focus, and use your senses: observe what you can hear, what you can smell, the textures that you can see and feel, the temperature of the air and the direction and quality of the light. How does it feel to be you, right now?
Finding focus can also be the starting point for developing a creative practice, if we celebrate small moments by observing daily rituals and recording them with a photograph. Something as simple as the impulse to take a snap of your morning coffee can develop into an ongoing creative project with which to record some of the little stories of your life. A cup of coffee is visual shorthand for a quiet morning moment. There may be hands cradling the mug, a posy of flowers on the table, a book, discarded breakfast bowls, a newspaper or a slice of cake. The same little story is told in a thousand different ways, one of which is yours. Record today’s cup of coffee by taking a picture on your phone (or, if you prefer, by writing a description in your phone notes). Tomorrow’s cup – tomorrow’s moment – will be subtly different. If you photograph your coffee every day for a week, you will have created a pause in your mornings and captured a tiny moment from each and every day.
Ongoing photographic projects like this are a way in which to record daily, weekly, and seasonal changes. They can help us to develop our photographic eye, to develop creative discipline and to experience moments mindfully. Other ideas for themes to capture might be: the view from your window, your craft project, your daily walk, or the books that you read. You can share your collection of moments on social media, or you can keep them on your camera roll. Choose a theme and photograph it every day for a week. At the end of the period, take a little time to reflect on any patterns that you see in what you have chosen to photograph. Do you observe any changes in how you feel or the way that you see things after trying this exercise?
“Think of the window as a picture frame and the scene beyond it as an endlessly changing painting”
We find ourselves through our small stories: the fleeting instants, the everyday moments, the tiny interactions, the ordinary days. If we continue to collect them, then even the smallest moments may reveal to us a sense of meaning of which we were previously unaware and can begin to show us who we really are.