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Why Time-Lapse Photography Is Like Writing

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

In 1999 the Dutch artist Frans Hofmeester started filming his newborn daughter for a few seconds every week, usually on a Saturday morning. Struck by how fast she was changing, he "was desperate to keep the memories intact." The result is Portrait of Lotte, a 4.5-minute film that became an Internet sensation after Hofmeester uploaded it to YouTube. When I saw the film this morning for the first time, I was reminded of the advice I so often give to my students: Write for 10 minutes every day and you will see results. The key, of course, is the "every day" part of the equation. Portrait of Lotte is for me a striking example of what can happen when an artist dedicates himself to a subject and pursues it with discipline. It seems so simple: film a few seconds of video of your growing child each week, then put the bits together to make a film. But it's the discipline--the sticking with it--that counts. When you apply discipline to your work, something magical and unexpected happens. Hofmeester's film is not just about his daughter, it is about the two of them, father and daughter, the invisible photographer and his subject, and the relationship between them. Each segment of Lotte is composed of a few seconds of video shot against a white backdrop, framing the girl's head and shoulders. There is no sound other than a musical sound track, but often she is in conversation with her father, the invisible photographer. "Each week, it gave me an opportunity to talk to my kids," Hofmeester told The Guardian. "People are touched by it because it conveys a feeling of the soul. They've written to me about their own children. The film makes you realize what life is about, in a direct way."


True confession: I swiped that post from my blog Sadie and Company, where I posted it on December 30, 2015, and reposted it here because I suddenly remembered it as I was writing a press release about the diary project I'm doing with Kimball Library and the Randolph Herald.

We're asking people who live in Vermont's White River Valley to keep a diary every day for at least a week, or every week for at least a month, and to share it with at least one other person. In my notes, which I wrote up following brainstorming sessions with Lynne Gately, I wrote, "Record what matters to you. Show us the world through your eyes. If it matters to you to look good for school, then get up, get dressed, and take a selfie. Do this every school day for a year. Put the pictures in an album and call it ‘My Sophomore Year and What I Wore.’ We’ll love it.”

The name of the workshop series, which I'll lead and Kimball will host, is the Homebound Diaries. For me, “homebound” has a double meaning. It can mean confined to the home, as many of us are right now, or it can mean homeward bound, like the Simon and Garfunkel song. That song is about longing—longing for home, longing for someone you love, tired of the monotony of life on the road. It plays in my head a lot these days.


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