Project Diana


What would you shoot if I asked you to take a photograph of “summer”?

That’s a question I posed last June, when I solicited 12 random Twitter followers to participate in a photography assignment called “Project Diana”1

The premise was simple enough: I would load a plastic “toy” camera with a roll of color 120 film (12 exposures), put it in a box with simple camera instructions, a Field Notes pad and pen, and prepaid pre-addressed labels. I’d send the camera off to the first contributor, they would shoot their photo, write a description of it in the notebook, and then re-box the camera and mail it off to the next participant. By the end of summer, I’d have the camera back, process the photos, and see what came out.

I chose a toy camera for a lot of reasons, primarily because there was no way I was going to put anything more expensive in the mail, lest it get lost or accidentally broken. But mostly I picked it for ease of use, and also because I love the lo-fi look it produces. I figured that over the 12 exposures, the quality of the photos would average out; no matter how carefully (or poorly) framed or lit each shot was, they would all produce the consistently hazy and dreamy look that is the signature of Lomography.

The Holga camera used is particularly known for its quirks — light leaks, poor film transport, etc. And though all of the people involved were nervous to some degree about “getting it right”, I was in fact hoping to get some strange results and mistakes. Sure enough, two of the photos taken resulted in a double-exposure. The two folks who shot those frames might not be tickled with the result, but I am giddy about it. The resulting photo shows both a carnival ferris wheel and a summer-sized serving of gelato. Outstanding. Lomography at its best.

When I finally got the box back from the last participant a couple of weeks ago2 and processed the film and read all of the notes, I expected to have something profound come out of it. Something that would generate a larger story and a poignant message. But I didn’t find such a thing. What I found was that the project itself was the point. It started out simply for fun, and that’s how it ended. A tiny creative effort between twelve people around the United States who had mostly never met. They all had fun doing it, and I had a blast as well. I was thrilled just getting the box back in the mail—to have put a camera in a pristine box in June, and have it come back to me on a cold November day, banged and dented and enlarged by obscene amounts of packing tape and layers of labels—and seeing that inside the little box was the same camera I’d sent away, only now it was full of the analog creativity of people I knew only digitally. That in and of itself was the biggest joy for me. To be able to share the results now is simply the proverbial cherry on top.

So, having said all of that, please take some time to go look at the photographs on Flickr. These shots show the summer of 2009, from the viewpoints of twelve great people all over the country, shot on one continuous piece of film.

  1. I originally planned to use a Diana F+ camera for the project, but at the last moment I realized I had a valuable and unfinished roll of film inside of it. I substituted a Holga 120CFN camera instead, yet the name of the project remained the same.
  2. The project took much longer to complete than I’d hoped—I wanted to get the camera back sometime in August, but looking at it now, November is a good time to look back at photos of summer. There is enough distance from the shots themselves to make them interesting on their own, and as a set.
posted 11/24/09 at 1:28pm to Photography · 7 replies · »

7 replies to “Project Diana”

  1. Terry Bain said:

    That. Is. Totally. Awesome.

    And I’m totally jealous that you did something so awesome.

    The good kind of jealous, of course.

    Nov 24, 2009 at 1:44pm
  2. Matthew said:

    This is exactly why you are such a talent! So many great, thoughtful and inspiring ideas. I love this experiment. The resulting photos are so nostalgic.

    I’ve had a roll of film in my Holga for over a year. I have no idea what is on half of it. I’m going to finish it off this weekend and get it developed!

    Nov 24, 2009 at 1:53pm
  3. Valary O said:

    Absolutely stunning in concept and execution. The results of any collaboration are amazing and often unexpected but this takes it to another level. With each person only able to see the field notes of the previous person, it is astounding how the common themes emerged and overlapped (sometimes literally). Thanks for sharing the experience with us.

    Nov 24, 2009 at 1:56pm
  4. Yaya said:

    This is great Tony, I felt like I was reading a story book. Each picture has so much character.

    Nov 24, 2009 at 3:14pm
  5. Beth said:

    Cool idea, Tony. Thanks for sharing!

    Nov 24, 2009 at 5:14pm
  6. Amber said:

    I love photo 10/11. It reminds me of the Michael Sowa picture “Diving Pig”…sans pig. What a great project, it would be interesting to see a photo set for each season. My daughter is finishing up her fine arts photo degree at the Corcoran. I’ll be sending her a link. BTW, there is a great series being rebroadcast on Ovation this weekend – Genius of Photography. It’s six one hour long episodes. My best to you and the missus.

    Nov 28, 2009 at 9:22am
  7. Sue London said:

    “I expected to have something profound come out of it. Something that would generate a larger story and a poignant message.”

    Actually I think you did. Every one of those photos says to me “This is what I see.” In a way it is an old analog way of reproducing our digital connection – each person sharing “this is what I see” and somehow the whole being more than the sum of its parts. If you did multiple topics you would have a really great book.

    Feb 14, 2010 at 11:54am

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