12 hours, 12 themes, 12 exposures

Let’s see if I can remember how to do this…


Finally after a busy summer I managed to squeeze in a day to challenge myself on a personal level. The perfect opportunity came up at the last minute as I was told about the Vancouver Photo Marathon. I often shy away from taking part in these big events, but upon reading the premise for this photo contest I knew it wasn’t something I could pass up easily. The day was to go like this: Arrive at Blenz in Yaletown between 7-8am on Sunday 12th September; bring a 35mm film camera of any kind, some supplies and any other equipment that might be needed for the day. Every hour on the hour there’s a new theme drawn, it’s up to the individual to interpret the theme and go out and take just one shot for that theme. Every theme has to be shot in order on the 12 exposure roll of film provided for the entry to qualify. Every roll of film has to be handed in at 8pm completed. Other than that there were very few other rules or guidelines.


I won’t lie. Leaving the house before 7am on a Sunday morning was the first challenge of the day. Okay, okay, it’s really not that bad. I awoke to a dark morning and torrential downpour. It’s no secret that I love the rain. Being English a little rain never scared me, I mean, I may even dry up and blow into dust if I lived without it. On top of it I know how beautiful the rain can be in photos. Vancouver is a city of rain and it seems to me that the architecture and general glow of the city is so suited to it that it’s a shame to waste that by complaining about the rain. Not only this it really was going to add to the cinematic aesthetic I had planned for my series (about the only thing I could plan ahead of getting the themes).




There were around 60 different participants all with different backgrounds and professions; overall a really pleasant crowd full of incredibly interesting people. Throughout the day I saw some of the same faces and got talking to a few fellow marathoners. It’s always such a good feeling to meet people with a passion for photography even if it’s not their profession. Just to see the spark that creativity brings to people’s eyes when they get talking about their ideas. Most were being tight lipped about what they’d shot, of course, since there’s no way to tell where anyone is in their series of photos.


First thing in the morning Global TV were there doing a piece for the midday news, they grabbed me as I walked past and asked me a few questions. I stumbled a few words about film being my roots and something to do with the number 38 (my entrant number) being lucky for me since it was my hockey jersey number as a goalie. I watched the segment yesterday and luckily they cut me so I didn’t really look like too much of a bumbling fool. Dan Jackson was (un?)lucky enough to have them follow him around for the first theme. I can only imagine how difficult that was since there’s so little space or time to think creatively as it is that having a reporter over your shoulder as you’re dashing around town and trying to refine your idea within an hour and get the shot must have been extra difficult.


I found the more specific the theme the more difficult it was for me to come up with something interesting, unique and that fit my overall cinematic aesthetic. I preferred the generalised themes because it gave me the opportunity to not be too literal, which was a personal challenge for myself during the day. I really wanted to get away from the “norm” and do something that was mentally challenging. I dashed all over downtown to get to the places I knew that I could get the shots I wanted. I tried my best to come up with the ideas before I even went too far from HQ (the coffeeshop) so that I didn’t waste too much time aimlessly wandering.

Luckily I’ve walked all over downtown to take street photos in the past so I have a very good visual memory of many parts that I could use to my advantage. I had a few hiccups in the shots I wanted to get, but I must be honest I had a couple of lucky breaks too. Around the 5 hour mark I wanted to head over to Richmond on the skytrain to grab a photo for the theme “Ultimate” but unfortunately my boots had been waterlogged for the whole 5 hours. When I took them off to make some quick repairs my feet were in a very sorry state. It took an hour and a half to refuel and repair damages during that pit stop which put me behind three themes. I’d been aiming to get every theme shot within its own hour so that I could give the same focus to every photo and do the absolute best that I can.

Unfortunately, being human 12 hours is a very long time to keep going with no stops to attend basic needs. I always seem to forget this fact, but onwards I went and I wasn’t ready to give up the ghost just yet. Just as I was loosing faith the next theme that came up was ‘persistence’. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person feeling the irony at that point in the day, but it was the kick in the bum I needed. A bus ride in the wrong direction and an exasperated hike later and I managed to catch up on the themes within 10 minutes in the same block of Chinatown. Told you I caught a couple of breaks, right?


I made it out alive, looking like a drowned cat with crippled toes and a ridiculous smile on my face. I honestly cannot wait to do it all again next year, and I may even set similar challenges for myself over the next little while. I have no idea how well my photos came out, and no one will find out until the big reveal at the exhibition being held on October 16th. I’m filled with anticipation just to find out if I screwed any of those photos up in any way. Who knows! Of course I will post scans of the photos once I have them back in my hands and we can all find out together.

By the way… the piece of equipment I am so glad I dragged with me on Sunday? My reflector. I only used it for one shot… the very first but without it that shot would have been impossible to expose correctly. It’s always been my favourite investment, over any other lighting equipment it has saved my bacon numerous times.


Of course, as sod’s (murphy’s) law would have it the minute we all handed our film in the heavy rain stopped dead in its tracks. I may have gotten wetter than I’ve ever been before, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I can honestly say it added so much to the photos I took and I haven’t even seen them yet, I’m just sure of it.


Take a look through the gallery below for a small round up of the various stops I made to HQ throughout the day. The icing on the cake for me was the wonderful and inspiring people that organised this event, without people like this the world would be such a dull place.

If you see yourself in my photos below and would like a link to your website/twitter/flickr please leave a comment and I’ll add you all in a list below. Thanks again to everyone I talked with on Sunday. You guys are awesome!

PS here’s a 40 second time lapse video of the whole day put together by John Biehler

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  1. Posted September 14, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Fabulous Photos! Love the photo of Angela, it’s priceless!
    Thanks for participating, without people like you there would be no 12×12!

  2. Kissoon
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks !!!!! Really fabulous !

  3. Angela
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    What in the world was I so shocked about?! You could have stuffed a whole cake in that mouth! Gorgeous visual account of the day. Thank you so much for sharing Cherry!

  4. Posted September 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    People like you are the reason I wanted to put on an event like this in the first place. And I’m glad I did. Can’t wait to see all the developed photos and hang them in the gallery for all to see. And I have to say you are one of the few people who managed to take a decent photo of me. I usually look like a complete nutjob.

  5. Posted October 4, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Wow! What an amazing project! I would love to participate in something like it. Can’t wait to see everyone’s photos. Thanks for sharing!

  6. miker
    Posted December 1, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    What a cool event. The mystery of not knowing for sure what you just captured is one of the best (and worst, of course) things about film. I need to go on a similar high-energy photo outing soon – several rolls of Kodachrome in my fridge that have to be sent in by the end of the month because the idiots at Kodak stopped making the film and the last lab is closing down for good.

    Look forward to seeing your results!

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