Inspired by Buster Benson, I commenced my own 8.36pm project in September 2009. You can read more about Buster’s own inspiration here (which includes the incredible Jamie Livingston – if you haven’t seen/heard about Jamie’s own project, you really must check it out).

The idea is simple – every day you take a photo of whatever you are doing at 8.36pm. No matter how boring, no matter how many times you’ve done it before…. The arbitrary time constraint (8.36pm) means that you’re not hand-picking the special moments to save, but rather, as Buster suggests, you’re capturing what’s actually there when you aren’t editorialising your life.

Since I’ve started the project I’ve started and stopped several times (sometimes there are months with no photos), but have managed to document over 350 8.36pm moments.

Some thoughts/observations/questions/insights that I’ve reflected on throughout the course of the project…

  1. Who are the photos for? I think about this a lot, but am still somewhat confused… Obviously, they’re for me – both the ‘now’ me and the ‘future’ me. But I also post them to Flickr… are they for my friends, family, strangers (does anyone actually care that I was doing laundry at 8.36pm on Saturday September 26, let alone want to see a photo of it?). Are they for some social researcher in 5, 10, 15, 50 years time to use as part of some longitudinal study? Are they for my children (‘mummy, why was your TV so fat?’)? Does it even matter?
  2. To what extent does knowing that you have to take a photo at 8.36pm (and publish it) change what you’re doing at 8.36pm? The whole idea of having an arbitrary time is to capture ‘real’ moments. But more often that not, I am still very aware of 8.36pm approaching and as such I wonder if there is some ‘observer effect’.  Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it prompts you to live your life (or at least spend your time at 8.36pm every day) in the way that you’d like others to perceive you. However, I wonder if taking a photo when an alarm goes off at a random, unanticipated time may mean that you build a more honest, diverse picture of your life (kind of like the random alarm system that Track Your Happiness uses).
  3. Snapping a photo on your phone camera at 8.36pm project is a quick and simple way to capture a moment and provide a memory-jogger as to what was happening in your life at that time and it can be fun and inclusive if you happen to be engaged in doing something with someone else at the time. But sometimes when I can’t be bothered or feel uncomfortable explaining the project to others, I just silence the alarm and skip the photo.
  4. 8.36pm seems to be an in-between time for us… Usually it’s after we’ve eaten dinner, but before I’ve commenced any substantial evening activity (whether that be a walk, phone call, reading, watching TV etc) and as such I seem to be doing a lot of domestic chores at that time!
  5. I think that the value/patterns/insights that will come from the photos will change over time. There may be something captured in the photos, or something to come out of participating in this exercise that I am not able to see now and that will only be apparent in the long-term. So, I’m going to just go with it and try it out for a while, and not worry too much about explaining it or looking for answers/patterns in it. But it does feel kind of odd (but also kind of exciting) to be doing something now without any way of completely knowing what value it may yield in the future (but yet trusting that there will be some).

An iPhone does make this project really easy, but anyone with a camera and an alarm could get involved. Give it a go….