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  • Writer's pictureSuresh Naganathan

The 24-Hour Project

A little over two months ago, on September 10, I took part in this year's 24-hour project. It was my 3rd time participating. After last year's troubles with Covid and curfews that forced me to do only 18 out of the 24 hours, I was eager to complete the project this year.

24 July 2021, 4:52PM

The 24-hour project is an important day of the year for me. The first year I did it, in 2018, I experienced something special. I knew it would be a good day photographically from the moment I took my first shot of the night.

April 07 2018, 12:21AM - my first shot that year

Any photographer who has shot for a number of years probably has experienced this type of day a handful of times. Days when the Gods of Photography smile on you and you know from the moment you lift your camera that you will get good shots. It's like you've peaked behind the curtain; you are seeing things from a higher dimension. You anticipate things better, your hit ratio is higher than usual.

April 07 2018, 7:31AM and 8:00AM

On April 7th, 2018, I experienced one such day. Call me superstitious but a part of my brain made an association between these glorious days and this annual event. I firmly believed that from that time onwards I would have this experience every year during the 24-hour project.

Although 2021 (my 2nd year doing the project) wasn't really up to the mark, I approached this year's 24-hour project as if it was going to be a special day and boy did the day deliver! I felt connected with the world around me like very rarely before. It was akin to a spiritual experience. And like all spiritual experiences, I learned a lot about myself and my relationship to photography.

10 September 2022, 12:25AM, 1:05AM, 2:13AM, 2:33AM

Here are some of the things I have learned. (I may write more detailed posts about some of them in the future):

1) Your mindset plays a huge role.

Here's a little story that happened to me a decade ago. In 2012, I decided on a whim to run a full marathon. Up until that time, I had never run more than 10km but I wanted to challenge myself. Unfortunately, I was completely undisciplined during the months leading to the race and almost didn't train for it. The sage decision in this situation would have been to drop out of the race but I was younger and way dumber at that time and decided to run no matter what (Please don't do that! Marathons are tough). I completed the race in less than 4 hours and 45 minutes.

But this story is not about the race, it's about the few hours leading to it. During those hours, while I was thinking of how I was going to run, I didn't think of the struggles I was bound to face. I didn't think of dropping out or not being able to finish the race. In my mind, there was only one outcome: I was coming back wearing a medal. And somehow it worked! The mind took over and brought me across the finish line.

My marathon days (long behind me now)

Why am I telling you this? Because I have experienced something similar a few times while shooting, and most recently during the latest 24-hour project. On those rare occasions where everything connects, I am almost able to be in "the zone" willingly. I reach a place where I know that I will take good pictures.

I find that if you're able to build a mindset where failure is not an option (not by putting pressure on yourself but by believing in yourself unconditionally), you will get to a place, once in a while, where you can almost manifest pictures out of thin air.

Give it a try once.

10 September 2022, 4:26AM

2) Photography can be a great way to practice mindfulness

During the 24-hour project, there was no time to distract myself on social media. I had to shoot, select, transfer, edit, and upload a picture every hour; stay focused on the present moment for long periods of time. As the day progressed, I learned to let go of the pictures the moment I uploaded them: there was no time! I either had to focus on the next hour or tried to recuperate some energy so that I could go on for one more hour. In short, I practiced a form of mindfulness.

Reaching this state is not an easy thing. On a normal day, my thoughts tend to flutter around and I am not able to stay focused all the time. It takes practice, but I feel that if you approach photography from that angle, you can not only elevate your work (you pay more attention to your surroundings, you are ready, camera in hand) but also reach a state of mental relaxation, a point where photography becomes a form of therapy.

10 September 2022, 7:19AM

3) Rely on muscle memory

For those of us who've practiced a sport, we are all too familiar with muscle memory; this capacity that we have developed, through countless hours of practice, to go through the motions (whether hitting a tennis ball or kicking a football) without any conscious effort.

The same applies to (street) photography. On the days when you have shot for so many hours that your brain cannot organize the scenes in front of you anymore, your muscle memory can kick in and put you on auto-pilot. Shots will come at you unconsciously. You don't stop to think anymore; instead, you use your instincts and react much faster to the visual cues happening in front of you.

Much like flow writing, stream-of-consciousness photography, where you rely on your instincts and muscle memory, can unlock some very interesting doors and give you novel directions to explore. It might be worth practicing it without exhausting yourself first.

10 September 2022, 5:18PM

4) Understand your relationship with your city

A day like this makes you really explore your city in depth. Maybe, in a megalopolis like Mumbai, one only scratches the surface but even that scratch can run deep. Street photographers who endeavor to shoot in one city for most of their careers basically document their relationship with it. It itself becomes a living being, one that's composed of thousands, millions of little stories. As I was shooting from instinct that day, I didn't let random thoughts veer me in a specific direction. Instead, I shot everything around me. Looking back at the pictures I took that day brought me an awareness of the ambivalent feelings I have towards Mumbai. Understanding those feelings can bring new meaning to your work.

10 September 2022, 3:14PM

5) Preparation is everything!

We, street photographers, tend to shoot for a few hours at a time (half a day or sometimes from sunrise to sunset). A couple of batteries is usually enough for one outing. Having made a mistake last year (I took only 4 batteries!), I came prepared this year for all eventualities:

My bandana, towel and extra t-shirt are missing from this image

If you want to take on this project, just make sure that you are prepared for all weather situations, have extra batteries, keep some bananas and, most importantly, wear a very comfortable pair of shoes.

10 September 2022, 11:59PM (be like this car, stay prepared)

I feel that this is a project that every photographer should do at least once. It will teach you a lot about photography, and your relationship to it.

And if you pay a little attention, you may even learn a thing or two about yourself.

Here are my 3 favorite images from that day:

10 September 2022, 5:40AM
10 September 2022, 9:30AM
10 September 2022, 1:50PM

I have also published an album with my 24 favorite shots of that day. You can see it here.

Thanks for reading and see you soon!


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