Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Block Challenge

One Night Only, Right Here on Atlantic Avenue! 2010

One of the books I liked to read when I was a toddler was “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” the very first book by Dr. Seuss. It teased me with the idea that I could find interesting things anywhere if I was just patient enough to recognize it.

Sometimes heading out to take pictures I feel like that kid in the window overlooking Mulberry Street. I have no specific target in mind. Whatever happens is what I’ll make something of. I used to ride around the region a lot, just seeing what there was to see. But as I’ve become conscious that just riding around like this sometimes does little more than waste gasoline, I’ve tried to explore photo outings that test my creativity while putting less mileage on the car.

One result of this is the “The Block Challenge.” The rules are simple: I use a random method to pick a physical place. For convenience sake, I’ve confined myself lately to the oceanfront resort area here in Virginia Beach. The resort area’s a narrow stretch with streets numbered one to forty running perpendicular to the beach.

So I pick a number between 1 and 40 and that tells me which block I’m going to work on.

The next rule is that I allot myself one hour to study the block and see what I can find to photograph there. I limit myself to one hour because during the summer you might have to pay to park in the resort area. I’m cheap. One hour does a good job of emptying the coin bin in my car.

The last rule is that I take all the pictures I want within that hour, but try to reduce them to just a few decent shots that tell the story of the block.

This process isn’t as dogmatic or technical as it may sound. If I see something interesting on the next corner, I’ll go see what it is. If I have more than five pictures I like, I certainly don’t get upset. But this process does do a good job of getting me started.

This past Sunday afternoon I drew the block between 15th and 16th Streets. There was even a metered parking place available on 16th Street. I was lucky because this block includes not only a little amusement park, but also a fishing pier. Here’s a little of what I saw:

The Block, 2010

The Upper Deck, 2010

Three kids. One tattoo. 2010

Banzai! 2010

Amusement Park 039, 2010

Amusement Park - 035, 2010

Over the Surf, 2010


  1. What a great idea and challenge! I am so used to having a schedule and working within certain perimeters that I find it hard to find creative time unless I have a set time and place or I have a particular assignment that has to be done within a time frame. You have solved that problem and what a fun way to do it. I love the amusement park photo!

  2. Love the series of images from back home and an excellent idea, Chris. I have a trail guide I purchased from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries listing every hiking trail in the state. With the official start of autumn just 2 days away I think I'll use your system, pick a trail a day and see what I can capture as the leaves change....as soon as the last gasp of summer moves on and I can breathe outdoors.

  3. What a great idea! Sounds like it would really keep things fresh, and I imagine even if you basically kind of know what will be on a block, there's sure to be something interesting going on that would be unexpected. Love these pix!