The other day I opened my mailbox and saw a few business-related envelopes that I'd normally throw in the trash, but then I took a second look at the business name under mine; it said SUMMER OF ICE CREAM SANDWICHES. I can't even begin to comprehend how the internet works, or how it creates something as majestic as fabricating a business name that I'd receive legitimate physical mail, but it was certainly a magic moment.
For those who already don't know me as 'that ice cream sandwich guy,' I embarked on a big personal project this past summer called the Summer of Ice Cream Sandwiches. This blog post is what I've learned from spending an entire summer with a childhood treat.
It kicked off back in June, right at the start of summer. Everyone asked me as the project continued what was my purpose or reasoning for creating these photos and it comes down to something really simple: I wanted to introduce more play into my work.
No, this wasn't a brand pitch, it wasn't created in order to get featured on blogs or Instagram, but quite simply it was put in motion so that I could push myself to open my head to the most creative ideas I could.
Ryan McGinley was interviewed this year in a VICE column. One quote that stood out to me
"Find something to be obsessed with, and then obsess over it. Don't compete; find what's uniquely yours. Take your experience of life and connect that with your knowledge of photographic history. Mix it all together, and create an artistic world that we can enter into."
That was it. I wanted to create a world in which ice cream sandwiches don't melt as easily, and the common sight of seeing them shoved in a mailbox would be perfectly normal. Ice cream sandwiches as currency, secret clubs, party games, hidden away in secret spots.
What were the big takeaways on this crazy journey? In no specific importance, here they are:
Ice Cream Sandwiches Melt Fast
It seems pretty obvious, but doing these during the summer, and sometimes I had mere seconds before they would melt, fall apart, or just look downright un-photographable. I became an expert on planning everything ahead of pulling the sammies out of the cooler.
Sticking to Real Ice Cream Sandwiches Only Was Hard, but Worth It
Everyone asked if I used any fake ones, or how many I went through. The first answer is I didn't use any fake ones: they were all real. The second is I think (I lost count) that I went through about 300+ ice cream sandwiches over the summer. The project could have been a lot easier if I had created sammies from clay, or if I simply photoshopped sammie into crazy situations. The part of these exercises I learned the most from was trial and error of positioning these sammies or getting them to look how I want. The stunt of composing tens of sammies in some of these raised the stakes for myself, too. Looking back, there were a million frustrations and do-overs, but I don't regret going all out on real sammies. Don't photoshop what you can pull off in real life.
Photo Ideas I've Kept In My Back Pocket Came to Fruition for this Project
Here's something I didn't expect; all the failed photo experiments I've tried over the last 2 years lended a hand in this project. Little ideas that didn't quite feel fully formed or ideal for past photo experiments suddenly became obvious for ice cream sandwiches. I know, for a fact, that I wouldn't have been able to complete this project if it weren't for all the failures that came before it. One important behavior I've taken away is to keep a constant journal of photo ideas, because you don't know what you'll come back to and when it's the right time to do it.
Push It As Far As You Can, Then Scale Back
When developing ideas for this, in my sketchbook I'd write down the furthest I could take a particular idea. For example, I really wanted to fill a car up to the brim with ice cream sandwiches and then take a picture. That's the extreme. With most of these ideas, I took it as far as I could and then scaled it back to something that was executable, realistic. The result of that was shoving over 40 sammies inside of a mailbox (which is illegal, but why should it be?) and snapping that shot.
Execute Quickly, Treat as Exercises
I can't say I always held to this standard, but the idea was that I would execute these quickly. Since the platform that I would present this over was Instagram, I started without the intention that these would be anything serious, but an exercise in creativity. Then I got carried away tracking down suitcases and designing and printing money wrappers for sammies and making them all fit without melting. I often found some of the images I loved the most were the more simple ones, that took 10 minutes or so to put together. Users attention on Instagram gives you about 2 seconds for them to "get" the concept you're throwing across. It has to be quick and it has to be clever.
People Won't Always Understand This and it's OK
I've gotten more puzzled faces than I know about this project, and that doesn't discourage me from continuing it. I know how it can look from the outside, and it was more likely assumed that it was a waste of time, resources and people didn't see what the point was. I don't believe even my family understood what I was doing. I pushed back those notions, and continued to explore this, and for the people it resonated with, it was absolutely fantastic. I heard from so many people about how it put a smile on their face, how it made them go out and buy a box of sammies, and how it brought back childhood memories for them. At one point after the summer Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief for Food and Wine Magazine, came up to me at an event and asked me if I was that ice cream sandwich guy. She had said that my project had made her go out and buy a box of Good Humor bars that she remembers so fondly from her childhood. If every post I did put a smile on 10 peoples faces, it was worth it.
That's it. There's loads of other takeaways, but at the end of the summer the ideas that sparked in my head exponentially grew. I found myself writing down and concepting tens more creative ideas, both silly and serious. I want to always feel this inspired and ready to create. I want people to come up to me and tell me how much my work resonated with them. I want to keep pushing ideas and getting better at execution. Let's hope next summer I can learn as much as I did during this one.