Back in January I wrote about my reluctant conversion to Instagram. I was one of those people who mocked and jeered the app. I was one of those folks who used a camera to shoot photos — not a telephone with integrated camera-like technology. I considered Instagram to be a platform for cheesy photographers to display cheesy snapshots of their feet, or drunken snapshots of their drunken friends at parties, or sappy snapshots of sappy sunsets.
And hey, there really is a LOT of that stuff to be found in Instagram. But when I started to noodle around looking at photos on Instagram, I discovered there was also a surprising amount of really good work. It was because of that work (along with the purchase of a phone with a moderately decent camera) that I decided to dip my toe into the Instagram stream.
So in July of last year, I created an Instagram account. I was shy about it. I didn’t want something that could be publicly associated with me, so I used an alias for my account: Knuckles Dobrovic. I conceived a really simple (and let’s face it, really contrived) idea for some Instagram-ish photos: I would put something on a glass patio table, and I’d photograph it.
It was intended to be a lighthearted experiment. I was just going to noodle around and see what the cellphone camera could do, and get some idea of how Instagram worked. I wanted it to be something I could delete without hesitation or regret if/when it became too embarrassing or too dull.
What I’d actually done, of course, was unconsciously sabotage the experiment. I didn’t want to like Instagram. And in the earliest photographs, that really showed. I just put any damned thing near to hand on the table — some ears of corn, a baseball, a beer bottle, a random collection of old eyeglasses — and photographed it without much care or concern about the final image.
Sure, there was some minimal attempt at composition, but it remained basically a fairly lackadaisical exercise.
At some point, however, the experiment took hold of me. I found myself being more thoughtful and deliberate about the photos. I began to look around to find things that would be more photogenic on the table. I began to compose the shots more carefully. When I was out and about, I began collecting things specifically for the table. I talked about the project to friends and family. I actually began to care about the photographs.
Things on a Table became an actual project. Almost every day, I put something on the table and photographed it. I began to vary the time of day I shot the photo so I could use different light and catch different shadows. I photographed things on the table in all sorts of weather. I’d shift the table to different spots on the deck to get different patterns of line, light and shadow.
I even considered taking the table to different locations — out into the country, onto the sidewalk, into the city. That idea got tossed fairly quickly, mainly because it would have been a massive pain in the ass. But the important thing was that I’d begun to set specific parameters for limits on the project.
Winter came and snow covered the table, and I still put a thing on it and took a photo. I even began to create ice-things for the table. I’d find a thing, put it in a container, fill the container with water, set it outside and photograph the frozen result. I’d stuff things inside balloons, then fill the balloons with water and let them freeze. I’d shoot the photo, then leave the frozen things on the table and let the snow cover them. Over time the heat of the sun or the force of the wind would gradually reveal them, and I’d photograph them again.
To my surprise, friends and family members began gathering assorted bits and bobs of stuff they thought might appeal to me or look good on the table. An odd rock, plastic bubble wrap from a toner cartridge, an interesting weed, a hubcap found along the road. Eventually, people I know only through social media began to mail me things to put on the table.
I began to re-use some of the things — a piece of driftwood, a half a brick, some dead flower blossoms, an ornamental magnifier — partly because I like their shape or texture, and partly because the idea of continuity of things appealed to me.
Like any project, this one occasionally feels like a chore. I’ve considered abandoning it two or three times. But each time I’d spot something that might be interesting on the table, and I’d find myself out on the deck trying to find an angle that worked.
At this point I figure I’ll finish out the year. I’ll continue to photograph things on the table into July. Then I’ll probably come up with some other sort of project, simply because I’ve grown fond of the name Knuckles Dobrovic.
I realize that’s a stupid reason. I don’t care. I’ve no objection to doing things for stupid reasons. I mean, I’m the guy who came up with the name Knuckles Dobrovic just to photograph random things on a table. Stupid is where I live.