Berlin FotoMarathon 2011: defeated by ambition and illness.

Here are the photos I took for today’s FotoMarathon. Click on the image to see the entire strip of photos in a proper size in a new tab, how the would be viewed in the exhibition:

Luke Burrage small strip

The titles of each photo:
1. I am me
2. Big city plant
3. Weekend and Sunshine
4. There are repairs everywhere
5. No beauty without danger
6. The TV tower has ears
7. Sweet life, sour life
8. We met in a garden
9. I want to have fun

And here’s the story of my day (and week)…

Last year I had an awesome time taking part in the Berlin FotoMarathon. I posted about it at the time, though I never got round to sharing my final photos. I should get on that!

1. I am me

Today was the third time I took part in the marathon. It works like this:

1. There’s an overall theme each year. Last year it was “Time Travel Berlin” and this year it was “Music is in the Air”, however, you don’t learn the theme until the 11am start of the event.

2. You then have 12 hours to take 24 photos.

3. Each photo has a theme. But you only learn the individual themes in stages, and you have to make it to series of checkpoints around Berlin to learn the next set of themes. This year all the themes were based on song titles from Berlin-based bands or musicians.

4. At the end of the day you give in your memory card with 24 photos, taken in order, unmodified, and every other photo deleted.

5. There are prizes, I’m sure, but I’m not really that bothered about the actual competition and gallery showing side of things.

2. Big city plant

Last year I turned up with no ideas, but quickly settled on using two wooden dwarfs from a flea market to tell a story of time travel, conflict, revenge, redemption, etc.

This year I had no ideas at the start, but I quickly settled on an interesting take. Here’s how my plan came together:

First, photo number 1 had the title “I am me.” I decided each photo would be a self portrait.

Second, the booklet said “We recommend that you shoot your photos in landscape format –based on how your photos will be shown during the exhibition. Each series will be exhibited as a 3m long strip, uncut.”

“Hmmm, ” thought I, and decided that the join between each photo would be just as important as the theme and the image itself.

3. Weekend and Sunshine

However, the tips on the website said:

“Charge your batteries
 Seriously, make sure they are 100% charged. Bring an extra set of batteries if you want to be on the safe side.
And this goes not only for your camera…have a good night’s sleep and get ready for an exciting, creative and dynamic Fotomarthon day on Saturday!”

See that part about good night’s sleep? About being ready physically? Well, I’ve just come off the most stressful week I’ve had in about two years! I guess it is still ongoing.

Monday: In quarantine with gastrointestinal sickness. Yay, much vomiting and no eating.

Tuesday: not recovered properly, I had to do two hour-long shows on the last night of the cruise. I only just got through them without going back stage to vomit (not due to sickness, but to exhaustion).

Wednesday: missed breakfast, long travel day, got home literally seconds before the first of 16 people turned up to my place for a meeting of creative Berliners. I bailed on a podcast recording with friends after it began, correctly gauging my energy had been completely depleted.

Thursday: visited a friend in hospital when I should have been catching up with sleep, hung out in the park when I should have been catching up with sleep, went to a stand-up comedy show in the evening when I should have been catching up on sleep.

Friday: lots of small jobs to do, and a friend arrived to stay over for 6 days, and I had to make time for an important date. Along the way I managed to slice my finger open so badly that blood sprayed across the kitchen. It is still painful, and still strapped up with plasters.

And I’ve not been eating or sleeping well since getting ill back on Monday morning.

4. There are repairs everywhere

Last year I was cycling and taking photos for over 14 hours in total, and by the end I was exhausted. At 10.30 this morning I was already as tired as was at 10.30pm last year!

I might have made it through the day if I’d just stuck to taking simple photos, but the extra creative challenge made it waaaaay harder.

First: self portraits? Each photo is taken with a remote switch and a 2 second timer. That means I have to frame and focus at the camera, then get into position, take a series of shots, then go and check they are right, and pick the best shot of the bunch. This adds a LOT of time to any shoot. How did I think I would be able to get through 24 of these images?

5. No beauty without danger

Also, I set up all these images myself, including camera, set dressing, props and lighting. If all I did was point the camera my way, that wouldn’t take too long. But nooooo, I had to move mirrors, decorate my kitchen with bottles, tie ropes around trees, position guitars on chairs, program the strobes and shape the constant light, gel the lighting to simulate weather and light from different times of day, etc. The only help I had was a random guy in the park who held the umbrella, and everything else was down to me.

And in each of the photos I had to ACT. As in take on a character for that pose. Which meant that even if everything else about the photo was technically correct, if I wasn’t looking in the right direction in the right way, I had to try again and again. And the moment in the throwing and juggling shots had to be perfect. In the last image I had to press the remote, pick up one bottle and make a “cheers!” motion, then get the timing exactly right to have the camera capture me throwing a second bottle back over my shoulder. But not only over my shoulder, but over the kitchen cabinet. So between every shot I had to get up and find that damn plastic bottle! Fuuuuuuuuck!

6. The TV tower has ears

Does this sound like fun yet? Well, yes, it was a lot of fun, but HARD.

And it gets harder!

Second: each photo “merges” into the next, remember? So at every image I didn’t just have to worry about that image, I had to worry about the one before it to match up the left side, the image I was taking, the image following it to set up the right side, AND some kind of idea what the image two photos later would look like.

That’s up to FOUR photos in my head while composing every frame.

7. Sweet life, sour life

So let’s do the maths. 24 photos in 12 hours means 30 minutes per photo, and that doesn’t include the “marathon” part of the competition, getting between the checkpoints. I thought I’d minimize that by always returning to my apartment after each checkpoint, but I’d also have to eat and drink… leaving me with about 15-20 minutes per photograph.

In reality, I didn’t take the first photo until almost 2 hours were up. And in the following 5 hours I took a further 8 photos.

Around photo 6 I realized I would never catch up, and decided to aim for 12 good photos, then just take 12 more random images to fill out the quota, and submit them anyway.

At the 7pm checkpoint I decided I just wouldn’t bother, and just stop at photo number 9, the one I’d just taken. As soon as I made decided this, a massive weight lifted from my body and mind, and I proceeded to spend the evening resting, eating, and sitting in front of my laptop. And I thought I’d write this, and finish it before the 11pm end time of the photo marathon.

8. We met in a garden

What I learned:

I should rest if I’m recovering from an illness.

I really enjoy planning and executing photographs. I only do it 2 or 3 times per year, and the rest of the time I’m doing much more documentary photography, merely capturing things already there rather than creating the image from my own imagination.

Aiming for something waaaaaaay beyond what is practically possible in terms of time constraints is both good and bad. Bad: I’m never going to win a competition if I don’t finish and submit the photos. Good: I probably would never have spent 6 hours working on images like this otherwise. I could have played it safe and gone for something simple or smaller, but I aimed beyond the possible and learned way more about photography than I would have otherwise.

Next year I’ll either keep it super simple: one camera, one lens, and try to be the first to finish. Or I’ll do something bigger like this, but try to get a team together. A model, an assistant, and me.

9. I want to have fun


4 comments to this article

  1. Caroline

    on 2011/06/19 at 09:55 -

    Dear Luke,

    great pictures! What a pity that you didn’t make it to the end yesterday – the series looks very promising. Hope to see you though at the exhibition 23rd/24th July at Glashaus Arena and next year at the Fotomarathon again.

    All the best to you and keep on with your work!

    Caroline from Fotomarathon

  2. Mateo

    on 2011/06/20 at 15:34 -

    I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to plan this all out in your head, but I really love the result, even though you didn’t get to finish. And to do it all on your own makes it even more incredible!

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