I chatted to digital marketer, photographer and film-maker, Charl du Preez, about the photo-a-day challenge he set for himself this year. He's just passed the halfway mark so it was a good time to pause and reflect on topics like perfectionism and letting go, the role of self-discipline in intentional creativity, as well as the daily grind of 'starting again' in order to finish something worthwhile.
Claire: Hi Charl, would you mind telling us a bit about yourself?
Charl: Hey Claire! I’ve lived in Stellenbosch my whole life and still think it's one of the most beautiful places to be. I’m privileged to run my own business, Inheritance MG, focusing on digital marketing, photography and filmmaking. I love using digital media to share beauty and creativity, and to build community, so getting to work with clients like KAMERS/Makers and Shopstar online is a great match.
Claire: What led you to start this challenge?
Charl: I take a lot of photos. As in thousands that constantly fill my phone and computer and never make it to the outside world - not an ideal situation if you want to grow a skill. So to give myself a well-needed kick in the pants and to practise a bit of self-discipline I started thinking of doing my own #photoadaychallenge for 2017.
Claire: What was your goal in undertaking this challenge?
Charl: I really love Instagram. I love the creativity, the community, and the inspiration that surrounds it. I was getting frustrated by the fact that I got to share content on my clients’ platforms regularly, but not on my own. So my goal was to reignite my passion for sharing my own creativity through photography.
Claire: How would you describe your emotions on starting out?
Charl: Slightly intimidated by the length of the challenge, but determined not to give up. I made the decision without giving myself too much time to back out! I also felt hopeful for what might come of it personally as well as publicly.
Claire: Was there anything you did for accountability's sake - something to help you stick to your plan?
Charl: I announced my project via my Instagram feed. The public nature of this challenge and that very first post where I explained what I was setting out to do has kept me accountable. I was even bold enough to challenge people to call me out. (So far that hasn't been necessary!)
Claire: Tell us a bit about the challenge from a day-to-day perspective.
Charl: Whenever I go somewhere interesting, beautiful, or exciting I usually take lots of photos, so the challenge is not to take a photo every day, but to edit and publish some of these I’ve stored up. So the process involves a lot of scrolling through my phone gallery until I (finally) find the right photo to post next. I’m quite particular about what my Instagram gallery looks like as a whole, so sometimes this takes unnecessarily long. I then edit the photo on my phone using Snapseed and VSCO. Hopefully by the time I’m ready to post I’ve already figured out what the caption will be, but often finding the right words can also take a while. I enjoy playing with words or sharing insights, so sometimes the whole process starts with something I would like to say that day and then the challenge is finding the matching photo. All of this can take anything between five minutes to an hour, depending on how much time I have and how long I get lost among old photo memories.
Claire: Have there been any challenges along the way?
Charl: The biggest challenge is to get it done every day. I keep count of these posts with #charlddpphotoaday and a number at the end of each post, so as soon as I started seeing those numbers stack up it became less and less appealing to give up. I’ve already posted 10 photos… 56 photos… 98 is so close to 100… 183 is halfway through a year… giving up is just not worthwhile anymore. But to find that bit of time to do it in a busy day has been tough. Too often it’s past 11 at night and I remember I still haven't posted. The late night sessions have been tough and now my challenge for the second half is to break that rhythm, because it really isn't helpful.
Claire: Did you ever hit a ‘dead end’ or feel stuck?
Charl: Yes, often! In my gallery I try to make every second post a “big sky” shot. I like the way it plays out between other photos. This sometimes makes choosing the next photo really tricky. It feels like I have all these invisible guidelines I’ve created for myself to make things look a certain way when you see it all together and it can really draw out the process. Often during those late night sessions I’ve felt like I just can't find the right photo. But this has actually been a rewarding struggle, forcing me to let go of some really unhelpful perfectionism. When I don't have the luxury of spending ages on getting the photo “just right” I simply have to tell myself to let it go. It's better to keep going than to mess up the challenge in pursuit of an unreachable “perfect photo.”
Claire: Did you struggle at all with procrastination?
Charl: Yes! Especially when I get lost in photo-memory-land, or on Instagram itself. But then the letting go has been very helpful. Convincing yourself to just start and then just finish is the best way through it.
Claire: Was there any sort of community aspect to your challenge - an online forum, or meet up? If so, how did that help?
Charl: Of all the social networks I know, Instagram is the most community driven. I’ve made some good friends through this app and our Instagramers Boland instameets (photo meetups or walks). Doing a challenge on such a public forum allows for comments and encouragement from friends, as well as people on the other side of the world. Those kind comments are always encouraging and I enjoy checking out the galleries of people who respond to my photos.
Claire: What was the most exciting part of this process for you?
Charl: Seeing that I am actually achieving something that I set out to do. And the prospect of finishing something so big. Also seeing how my editing skills are developing into my own style. And of course the fact that I haven't missed a single day! (There have been lots of after midnight posts, but until I switch of my light I still count it as the same day. It's my challenge, so I get to make the rules!)
Claire: What was the most daunting or challenging aspect of the process?
Charl: The duration and public commitment was definitely the most daunting. It is challenging to keep going on when the day has run out and I still haven't been able to get to the photos yet. It's definitely an exercise in self-discipline!
I recently traveled to the UK and Ireland and really wasn't sure if I would be able to keep up the daily posts. Our days there were very long (it only gets dark around 22:00!) and crammed full of adventures, so most nights I only got to posting when everyone else was already in bed. Far too often I fell asleep with my phone in my hand and the lights still on. Try to write sensible full sentences after suddenly jolting awake with a stiff neck - it's really not that easy!
Claire: What was the most surprising part of the process?
Charl: Discovering that I have much more perseverance, determination and self-discipline than I believed. And that I can actually let it go and do something in five minutes when I don't have the luxury of spending an hour on it.
Claire: What, if anything, did you learn about yourself through this process?
Charl: I can't count from memory! Recently I discovered I had three day 173’s for a while!
Claire: Do you feel this challenge changed you in any way? If so, how?
Charl: Yes, I am more determined to get things done and believe I can apply the self-discipline I’ve practiced here in other areas of my life and creativity. I think creativity paired with these characteristics can take us much further than we thought possible. I've realised that I can be organised and disciplined about my creativity. I’ve seen how intentional creativity can be much more fruitful than just doing something when I feel like it.
Claire: What was the end product? And how did/do you feel toward it?
Charl: Every day has its own end product and often I don't feel all that satisfied with it, but that's when I’ve learned to let it go, because the project as an end product is more important than the daily bits. I’m learning to sacrifice perfectionism in order to have something finished that I can show for my efforts.
Claire: What would you say to someone who wanted to sign up for a creative challenge?
Charl: Just start! If you need that kick to get you going, or need to overcome “creative block,” or just need to practise some self-discipline, just start your challenge and then keep “just starting” every day until you're done.
Claire: Are there any resources you would recommend for other artists and creatives?
Charl: I follow a lot of amazingly talented photographers, designers and other creatives on Instagram. If you need visual inspiration, this really is a great place to go.
I recommend heading over to Charl's Instagram account for more beautiful big skies, architectural symmetry, Sunday car pics, and his #wikjeandbuildings series.
If you enjoyed reading this interview, you might also like to read some of these...