EAST COUNTY — For the three creators of the 52-Week Challenge, life is a running theme.
On a recent vacation to England, Patricia Reed, her camera’s strap wrapped around her neck, ordered her husband to hit the breaks on their moving car.
She saw a field of hay — an ordinary sight to most — and thought her camera could capture the image to meet one of 52 themes, which guide the type of photographs she takes to follow the rules of the challenge.
“All day I see themes,” said Mindy Towns, another of the challenge’s creators. “You get that list of themes in your head, and everything you look at becomes a theme.”
Reed, Towns and Mary Nell Moore constantly participate in the 52-Week Challenge, the web-based, photo-sharing project the East County trio created a year ago this month to unite faraway photographers.
Over caffeine and giggles, the ingredients that stir their ambition to tell stories visually, the friends discussed the progress of the challenge a year after it began — and shared how its addictiveness guides their lives.
Moore, a real-estate agent at Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate on Longboat Key, got the idea for the club after reading about a similar 365-Day Challenge, during which bloggers post a unique photo each day and explain their inspiration for it.
Wanting something less demanding, Reed, Towns and Moore, who all are members of the Lakewood Ranch Digital Photography Club, decided to expand on the format but slow the pace of new photos.
Every week from Aug. 1, the day this year’s challenge started, more than 50 active participants — from East County to Dubai, United Arab Emirates — post a photo to their own WordPress website.
The catch is that each photo must fit one of 52 themes, all of which must be photographed during the year.
The list, with themes such as “holy smoke!!!” “pretty baby” and “hair it is,” allows for a variety of photos.
“It’s interesting to see how others interpret each theme,” Towns said. “It’s about your imagination, not your skill.”
The project does offer some flexibility, because themes are not assigned to a specific week.
So, although Moore might take a photo that she decides fits the “juxtaposition” theme the week of Aug. 1, that same week, Reed might snap a shot that she uses for the “foggy” theme.
If that’s still too constraining, photographers can pick from a list of five alternative themes.
Towns has always been developing her photography skills, but the type of photography the project requires — more expressive and less direct — challenges her. The most experienced of the trio, Towns runs a portrait photography studio in her home.
“I’m that nerd who still has photos of all their friends from high school,” Towns said.
When she lived in Panama, Towns visited an indigenous village and taught children how to use a disposable camera.
Each year during Christmas, Towns’ husband dressed as Santa, and she took photos of the children sitting on his lap.
For Moore, the challenge gave her camera purpose.
For years, her bulky Nikon D300 sat on a shelf and accumulated dust.
“It was a reason to take my camera back out,” Moore said. “A lot of times, you take pictures but think, ‘What are these really for? Who will actually see them?’ This is photography with a purpose.”
Now, Moore carries her camera in her purse.
Its presence pushes her away from the ordinary.
On the way to her Longboat Key office recently, Moore decided to take side roads.
She got lost and ended up driving by a homeless camp.
She pulled over.
She saw a man sleeping under a no-loitering sign.
The man became a photo — and a theme.
“I thought, ‘Here is juxtaposition!’” Moore said.
For Reed, the photo-gathering process is jumbled, like the inside of scrapbooks she’s known for making.
Reed remembers getting her first “dirt cheap” camera when she lived in Hong Kong in 1969.
Until five years ago, while she spent her creative time teaching scrapbooking classes, her Olympus carried no film.
Today, she keeps a list of the challenge’s themes in her car, purse and camera bag.
Her husband supports her new obsession, even when a photograph becomes a roadblock on vacations.
“People think I’m weird,” Reed said. “I don’t want to have a plan. I want to just see it (something that would make a good photo). But then you over-think it and say, ‘I don’t want to use a theme up on this photo.’ You take it anyway and hope it fits a theme.”
The process deepens their friendship and creates new ones.
Sometimes, the three friends will meet in downtown Sarasota, with the cooperative mission of finding photos to match themes.
“We’re not competitive,” Moore said. “Though, sometimes you don’t see things that others do, and it opens your eyes.”
Together, the trio taught a Wordpress workshop for the less-savvy.
The challenge embraces amateurs and veterans alike.
Some capture photos from an iPhone.
The buzz of the 52-Week Challenge has caught on through word-of-mouth and through the more fast-paced clicks on the Internet.
Last year, 34 people participated in the challenge. That list has grown by 20, but the intimacy of the challenge has not changed.
“You learn about people’s personal lives, and you feel you know them better,” Towns said. “You meet people you never would have. And you see the world through their eyes.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].