Your Own Backyard

Moments are everywhere, but it’s hard to learn to see them. It requires constant effort and practice. Getting that practice is always difficult—but it’s absolutely necessary. Taking every opportunity is the most efficient approach.

To achieve the goal of constant practice, the advice frequently is to photograph that which is closest to you. Although that solves the problem of having subjects at hand, shooting in your own backyard can be hard. It's difficult to see what’s familiar. Maintaining an objective state of seeing is an exhausting task, and home is a place where we don’t want to have to work. It’s a challenge, to say the least.

Which is why it’s nice when a photogenic event comes along and presents itself in one’s own backyard. Such was the case with Sam and Lenny and their mission to build a clay oven.

We met Sam and Lenny through a neighborhood app. Sam is a baker, and Lenny is a mason. They were interested in experimenting with design ideas for a clay oven, and needed a place to build. We happily offered, which gave me the chance to document pieces of the build along the way. The process took several months, through the cold and rainy spring and into the summer, giving great opportunities for photographs.

This was a great photo project because it was nearly archetypal as a story—the process of building something out of nothing, with a clear beginning, process, and ending. As a construction project, it happened to take a bit of time to gather the images, but long-term stories are often interesting because of that challenge. 

And that’s one of the secrets of looking for projects close to home. If you don’t have to travel to a location, one of the biggest impediments to a long-term story is eliminated. Sometimes the stories are obvious, as in the case of the clay oven. Other times the story reveals itself only as events unfold. In either case, though, the answer is to embrace the opportunities as they arise. You might be surprised what you can discover in your own backyard.