Online photography group widens the focus

52Frames is launching a website that will allow more amateur and professional photographers to join its weekly project.

New York photowalk (photo credit: LES GOLDSCHMIDT,LEONID PADRUL)
New York photowalk
‘As cameras have become ubiquitous, photography has become the folk art of our generation,” says Shai Davis of 52Frames, an international community of photography enthusiasts who take time out of their busy lives each week to step up to a photographic challenge.
“Our mission is to bring together passionate people from around the world, to help them bring their photographic skills to the next level,” says Davis.
52Frames is the brain-child of Yosef Adest, a self-employed videographer. In 2010, with the purchase of a new camera, he decided to take on a “Project 365” on Facebook, in which he would post one photograph each day for a whole year.
“At Day 173, ‘life happened,’ and I realized just how challenging it was,” he says.
But he didn’t give up entirely. “I saw the concept of a ‘Project 52’ and decided to start one with a friend.
We reached out to a few other people, and before we even launched Week 1 of 52Frames [in] January 2011, we had over 50 people from four different countries.”
The project kept growing. In 2014, there were about 130 “Framers,” with over 100 people on a waiting list.
Seeing potential, Adest, 34, partnered with Davis, 31, who has been working in the start-up world since earning a degree in Visual Arts from Harvard. With the upcoming launch of a brand new website that offers advanced functionality and innovative technology, 52Frames has become a full-time passion.
Recently the two partners opened registration, and as of this month, hundreds of people from over 38 countries have joined the project. There is no cost to participate.
Adest and Davis have managed to create a cohesive community. Framers range in age from 13 to 70, and their level of experience varies from beginner to professional.
Some have the latest cameras and lenses; others use only their smartphones.
“Sure, amateurs have a steeper learning curve than pros, but there’s always something to learn,” insists Adest, who says he is always finding something new.
“It’s amazing to see the creativity in each album. I’ll see a photo and think, ‘Wow! I never would have thought of that.’ It’s a true collective, creative exercise.”
The project is structured around a weekly theme, or “challenge.” Each year begins a new list of subjects that are wide open to interpretation. Some might be more technique-oriented, such as “Forced Perspective” or “Macro” (extreme close-up), while others are more subject-based, like “Red” or “Home.” The one hard-and-fast rule is that the photo has to have been taken and uploaded during that week, between the Sunday deadlines.
“The guided weekly photo challenge gives everyone seven days to come up with an idea, shoot, edit and submit,” Adest says. “This is an amazing way to carve out a slice of creativity in your week and improve your photography at the same time.”
For many Framers, finding the time is an issue. Susie Mayerfeld, an outpatient oncology nurse and mother of five, lives and works in the Center of the country. She writes a blog regularly, but wanted another positive, creative outlet. She joined 52Frames during the last week of 2013.
“I like being part of a community; I get inspiration from the group. I haven’t missed a week since I joined. Sometimes it’s an intrusion,” she says, laughing. “Everywhere we go we have to stop and take photos. My family is at the point where they say, ‘Okay, she’s bringing her camera again.’” As with all art, life events can inform the photos. Mayerfeld’s son was married in 2014, during Week 45, when the challenge was “Trees.”
“I thought of roots – of putting down roots – but my first idea didn’t work out,” she says. “On the morning of my son’s wedding, I woke up and told my husband to give me his wedding ring. I went out to a forest and photographed our rings.”
Each week’s photos are grouped into “albums,” which are open to the public. Constructive comments are welcome, as they contribute to a learning environment where people can benefit from reading critiques of their own photos and others’. Newer Framers, who might be less confident about offering opinions or suggestions, are encouraged to join in.
One photo is chosen to be the album “cover,” while two other photos are runners-up. Toward the end of each week, three photos receive an audience award according to the tally of “likes.”
“In the coming months, we’ll begin to offer prizes,” says Davis. “We’ve been talking to companies eager to get in front of our community. We’re holding off for a bit, to allow our community to coalesce and to focus on refining our technology and user experience.”
Behind the scenes is an active discussion group for Framers only, where they ask questions, offer tips and share photographic failures and successes. Although some participate more than others, Framers can’t help but get to know each other on a more personal level.
“By developing this safe space for creative exploration, we foster an ever-growing community of mutual support, inquiry, and respect,” Davis wrote for the website. “What results is a visual conversation that crosses boundaries.”
English is the main language of communication, but having a good command of it is not obligatory.
“There are contributors who don’t have a strong grasp,” says Adest. “But photography is an international language, and we personally reach out to photographers struggling with the English.”
FRAMER KÁI Jài of Barbados joined in 2013 after a friend shared a 52Frames album on Facebook.
“I was at the time doing a personal 365 photo challenge.
When I took a look at the theme and how many interpretations of it there were, I was intrigued,” he writes in an email. “Photography is life. It’s forever been a learning experience, and that’s what I like about it.... I’m attracted to the possibilities of what I can potentially create; art with my camera. That, too, is exhilarating and exciting.”
Last summer, he made the decision to go professional.
From 52Frames, “I’ve gotten really great photos added to my portfolio,” he writes. “My photo for ‘Joy’ was a personal challenge to actually pull off, given that multiple pictures were taken and had to be edited together. I wasn’t sure if I was capable, but it came together well.”
Not everyone likes to edit their photos, but suggestions concerning cropping or processing make up a good part of the comments.
“Shooting the photo is only half the formula. Photographers have been editing their photos for as long as they’ve been taking them,” says Adest. “We encourage people to put the finishing touches on their photo. Much like in a darkroom, it gives you great creative freedom.”
Adds Davis, “The camera is a device – and any device is limited. It can’t replicate the exact scene your brain interprets.
People can use tools to make seen what they are trying to show. It doesn’t have to be Photoshop. There are even smartphone apps that allow the photographer to process their photo to capture what they saw in their mind’s eye.”
And of course, regular practice helps to develop the eye.
“The most challenging part is when I’m not inspired by a theme and hence am at a loss for what I’m going to shoot and submit,” says Kái Jài. “Once I can think it and it is within my abilities, an idea pretty much comes to life.”
Adest insists that “consistency is a huge factor” and that “this project should be built into your life.”
According to his statistics, someone who skips one week is five times more likely to miss another. Everyone has an off week – or three – but it’s important to keep at it.
One person’s uninspired submission might spark another person’s next great idea.
As to whether the website will take 52Frames in a new direction, the answer is both yes and no.
“The core, which is the weekly challenge, remains the same,” Adest explains. “But we have ambitious ideas.
The site will be more game-ified, with educational content, advanced challenges, more perks.”
He and Davis have also set their sights on sophisticated technological innovations that they say “will change the way people learn art.”
“The website and blog will have tons of educational content,” Davis says. “We will almost ‘trick’ you into learning the fundamentals of photography as you complete your weekly challenges. Over the course of the year, we’ll cover a full syllabus with videos, tutorials and other rich content.”
Both former New Yorkers, Adest and Davis immigrated to Israel in 2004 and 2007 respectively. Until now, this gave 52Frames a definite Israeli flavor. But “the diversification of the group is strong,” says Adest.
“I think people appreciate the cross-cultural aspect of the project,” he says. “People really come together from all walks of life, with the shared passion of photography, and the motivation to broaden their skills.”
PHOTOGRAPHER ANNA Bella Betts is Czech and British, and lives in Cambodia. She does family and commercial photo-shoots and leads photo tours in Angkor and Siem Reap.
“Sometimes these connections result in consultancy jobs in the travel sector, and I also help Khmer businesses with English for their websites and printed materials,” she writes in an email.
“I came across 52Frames through a friend. I was able to start in January 2014 – so I have just completed my full year with all challenges completed,” she continues.
She had tried other online groups, but “people would put one another down and criticize without any positive thought or encouragement.”
That’s not the case with Framers, she says: “I love the community spirit and the kind way of delivering critique – there is no bickering and no big egos despite us having all kinds of folks from all walks of life.”
In fact, there was recently a wedding between Framers who met on a photowalk.
Photowalks are an aspect of the project that can take place anywhere there is a community of Framers.
“They help you get out into the real world. They help people connect,” says Adest. “You learn to see how people shoot, how they hold their camera, what kind of bag they use. They’re a great way to explore your own city.”
In addition, says Davis, “on every photowalk, we take a group photo. This is a way of documenting the event, but it’s also an opportunity for frontal instruction.
As time goes on, the set-ups get more elaborate.
Last summer we had our biggest photowalk yet, in New York. Yosef and I were both there with about 30 Framers, exploring Central Park.”
A photowalk is simply an opportunity for photographers to get together to take pictures. In locations with higher concentrations of Framers, they usually take place about once a month. Anyone can plan them and often non-Framers are welcome to join. Recently, in Tel Aviv, a photowalk was planned around a scavenger hunt. Another took place outside of Jerusalem, on the site of an eerie, abandoned hotel with beautiful views and walls full of colorful graffiti. Later this month in New York, Framers will share the cost of renting a commercial photo studio in order to learn about and use professional lighting and equipment.
The opportunity to meet so many Framers in person was significant for both of the founders.
“Every week, I get an email from someone, telling me that this project literally changed their life,” says Adest. “It affects their creativity, the way they view their surroundings. They’ve made lasting friendships; they’ve tried new things that they never would have done otherwise. 52Frames has had an amazing impact on people around the world. For me, that is a constant affirmation.”
Of course, the 52Frames community is made up of individuals.
“People make 52Frames their own,” Davis says.
“Yesterday someone posted a Google map and invited Framers to ‘pin’ their locations. A Framer in Central America made a 52Frames business card, giving himself the title ‘Managua Coordinator.’ People take pride in what we’re doing. This is a real community that wants to stick together.”
If photography is the modern equivalent of folk art, as Davis claims, then 52Frames is the studio gallery.
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