For a quick look into the vast world of daily artistic challenges, all you have to do is check out Facebook or browse the never-ending idea box known as Pinterest. “Photo A Day” challenges have been filtering through social media for some time now, taken on by both amateur and professional artists who put their own spin on taking a photo a day. One artist took on a project in January of 2010 and has continued the project to this day, claiming it as the longest running in the world. Clark Mishler’s ongoing “Portrait A Day” series consists of over 1600 portraits, one photo taken daily for 4½ years and it has opened up his world in ways he never thought possible.
Photographing a portrait a day has become as routine as eating breakfast for the Anchorage-based photographer. However, in its infancy, the project proved to be very difficult. The biggest challenge for this project was getting through the first year, during which Clark would often forget to do a portrait and would squeeze in a self-portrait at 11:45 p.m. He explained that living in Alaska offered its own obstacles, with the biting cold weather and six months of very limited light. He also faced the task of finding the appropriate equipment for the extreme conditions. While it was a struggle, these unique challenges taught him to operate in all kinds of conditions, from blowing snow to -40 degree temperatures.
Sticking to the Portrait A Day project means that you do not have the luxury of waiting until tomorrow to produce your portrait.
At the end of his first year, and after many difficulties integrating his Portrait A Day project into his everyday life, his wife exclaimed, “Well, I’ll bet you are happy to have completed that project.” Clark’s reply was: “Heck, anyone can do a year of portraits but how many photographers can complete a decade?” Clark is now closing in on the half way mark to his goal of a decade of daily portraits.
My main reason for beginning my project was to simply master my tools. Like a musician who practices every day, I believe a photographer needs to practice his or her tools every day. The lights, wires, cameras, lenses all need to work together and the photographer needs to know how to interchange these tools quickly, with confidence, and with a complete understanding as to what the final product will communicate.
The reaction to my project has been very satisfying. My recent book Portrait Alaska (2013 Independent Publishers Gold Award) and one person show at the Anchorage Museum contained some of the portraits that were produced in the first four years of my portrait a day project. The other day I was photographing some neighborhood kids at their lemonade stand when an eight-year-old asked me if they would appear in my next book. It doesn’t get any better than that! It is difficult to find anyone in Anchorage who is not aware of my project and I often hear from my subjects that they were hoping that I would, someday, make their portrait. While I have been interviewed by a number of national blogs regarding my project, I am more thrilled by the positive reaction of those in my own community.
While the community’s reactions has been something Clark has greatly enjoyed, the project has also been a learning experience.
I have learned to work quickly and to walk away with a portrait that says something about us as human beings on this planet. The clothes, haircuts, tools, architecture, landscape and other details document who we are at this time and place. In the process, I have become more confident and more prepared for my next assignment.
With 4½ years of daily photos under his belt, Clark has refined his tools and hopes to put them to use in his commercial work. He believes a photographer’s personal work is the foundation of all other work he produces, and is excited to see how this project influences his future assignments (and so are we!).
To see more of Clark’s work, check out his website!