Ever heard of Vivian Maier? A nanny with a keen eye for street photography, she shot her first photograph in the late 1940s and her last in the late 1990s. Though she amassed more than 100,000 negatives in her lifetime, nobody knew about them until she was two years from her deathbed. That’s when she lost a storage locker to public auction after getting behind on payments. Whether by luck or providence, that locker fell into the hands of a historian. Realizing he’d found a treasure, he later shared the photographs with the world. That was in 2007. Maier died in 2009.
Photographers and critics from sea to sea have been buzzing about Maier’s work for several years now. One thing I can’t help but consider when I look at it: She shot with a medium-format camera. Though medium-format cameras produce higher-resolution and higher-quality images, that’s not why I keep thinking about this. What gets me is the average number of shots that can be taken on a single roll of film. We’re talking 12. I bet she really took her time choosing her shots. You know: waste not, want not.
Today, we don’t have to be so choosy. We can burn a thousand images into a memory card, so what’s to lose? Well, it’s great that we can increase our odds of getting the great shot by making a bazillion attempts. But liberty comes with a price. And I think our price is this: We move at the speed of the world around us rather than slow down—think Matrix slow-mo—and really look hard at what’s worth photographing. And because we can, we let luck play a bigger role than it should.
So, today I’m posing the 12-shot challenge to all you photographers out there. Forget you have that memory card and pretend that the next dozen shots you take must really, really count. Slow down. Think harder. Imagine there’s no delete, no Photoshop, no bazillion tries. Put your very best effort into every click of the shutter. Just 12 shots. What will you create?