The New Year: Resolutions, 365 Projects, and the Calendar Frame

New Year’s seems to consistently signify at least one thing for certain, regardless of the year it is turning: New Year’s Resolutions. Meanwhile, modern technology offers us a new kind of resolution.

I don’t make resolutions. On purpose. But I do make a small “Wish List” of things to accomplish or do or change. Honestly, they’re probably a little like resolutions (okay, essentially the exact same thing), but resolutions have such a reputation for being broken and forgotten. It just seems so ambitious to say I’ll do something immeasurable and abstract over a year’s time, and most Americans don’t cross the finish line. But today, the Internet offers us a New Year’s Resolution extended (and high resolution) edition: the 365 Project.

The idea behind the 365 Project is to take one photo each day for 365 days. In most cases, project participants upload these photos to a blog or image sharing cite like flickr. The project, of course, can be adapted to just about anything you’d like to do each day of the year. Write a song. Go for a walk. Invent something. Again, most 365 Projects have a corresponding blog or record of the journey (which is just as much a process as a product). A variation of this is the 52 Project, in which you do your thing once a week for a year.

The popularity (especially in recent years) of such projects demonstrates the ease with which our culture can photograph, upload, and share. Developing film used to be something our family did once or twice a year, back in the 90s when digital cameras were yet to be mass produced and affordable. Today is the first time in history that 365 Projects and 52 Projects have ever been, well, doable. Of course, in any century you might have committed to doing one thing each day of the year, but you couldn’t blog about it and share it with the world. Publication itself was reserved for the elite.

And what is a more perfect time to begin such a project than during the first of the year? It’s when we begin our calendar, and calendars are the way cultures understand their world, a framework for it. We in the United States are very calendar-, time-, and holiday-driven. Party Cities and other party supply stores survive, and it’s not just because they’re selling streamers for your son’s fifth birthday party. It’s because they sell seasonal, holiday-related items.

We see our season-driven spirit most clearly beginning in the fall. August through September, they have all the teacher-y posters and school supplies. As soon as October hits (sometimes earlier), the shelves are filled with Halloween costumes and trick-or-treat pumpkins. Just after that, it’s Thanksgiving, which by this time, radios are already playing Christmas music. (And I am not lying when I say that this past year, Walmart already had out all their Christmas decorations and displays the first week of November.) As soon as Christmas is over, it’s time to celebrate the New Year with resolutions, parties, and the big Ball Drop.

Calendars are somewhat arbitrary things. Who’s to say that this ought to be January 1 instead of December 32? It is a lens for our view of time, and nothing more. But calendars also become a framework for our culture. The holidays that fill its pages speak of the history and values of our culture.

Resolution. Frame. View. They all happen to be photography terms as well.

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