Each morning, John Bonick wakes up at 5:30, makes a cup of coffee and heads outside with his Canon 5D Mark II camera. The Napa artist returns to the same spot he shot from the morning before and once again captures the first few moments of daybreak. The composition of his photos are eastern facing and envelope the Carneros vineyards that blend into the Vaca mountain range and created a backdrop for the rising sun.
His project, titled “Daybreak Napa Valley,” began one sleepless November morning when Bonick happened to catch a glimpse of what he said was “a magnificent show.” He grabbed his camera and snapped a few photos. The next day his wife, Dona Bonick, also a professional photographer, posted one of the pictures on her husband’s Facebook page. He went back and added the caption “Another average day in paradise. Doo, doo, doo, looking out my front door.”
The response from the couple of dozen Facebook friends he had at the time was enthusiastic. Some people added lyrics. Others stated their envy for Bonick’s fortune to live in such a beautiful place.
The next morning, Bonick was up again and repeated the process of taking a picture of daybreak and posting it on his Facebook page. Like the day before, the comments on his Facebook wall flooded in. Enthralled by how engaged his friends were and inspired by “the simple act of watching the sun rise,” Bonick decided to keep going for a full month.
After three weeks of getting up each morning, capturing the “gift of a new day,” as he called it, and sharing it with his growing Facebook community, Bonick decided he was going to commit to photographing the sunrise every day for an entire year.
He said the decision to pledge himself to 365 days of a
5:30 a.m. wake-up call was not a difficult one to make. Bonick explained that he was inspired by “that sense that every day’s a new day — a new chance to start again.” He acknowledged with a little laugh that he knows it sounds “corny and trite,” but nonetheless, he said he feels it’s true.
The photographer, who is also a painter of abstract art, said one of his goals for this project is to change the way he sees things. “As a visual artist, I always need to challenge myself, my assumptions, my habits.” He described the act of getting up every morning and photographing the same spot as “both repetitive and infinitely varied.”
Some mornings, Bonick admitted, he is still sleepy when makes his way outside wearing a warm hooded sweatshirt and sipping his coffee. Tired or not, he said the whole experience is meditative. “There’s nothing out there but me and my camera, the birds and the sunrise. I try not to think.”
In addition to pushing himself as an artist, Bonick hoped to use the project to answer the question “Does familiarity breed contempt?”
Six months into the process, he said he believes the answer is ‘no.’ “As time goes on, peoples’ language is becoming more poetic,” he observed of the comments his now 500-plus Facebook friends leave in response to the photos.
To be sure to capture and share the most accurate portrayal of “what the moment is really like,” the photographer said he will often shoot three times over 30 to 45 minutes. Bonick described the feeling of waiting for that perfect moment as “a huge rush of energy and anticipation.”
Although he said he loves the vibrancy of a bright sunrise and unique cloud formations, he is just as intrigued by gray days because “you start to see stuff you didn’t think you would see. The gray is just a different kind of expression. ”
Whatever color palette the sky offers up, Bonick is effusive when he speaks of each photo’s ability to start a conversation that connects people. The idea of connectivity has always been a prominent theme in Bonick’s career as he considers his paintings “a study in connectivity.” He acknowledged the notion that the images he posts each morning are a catalyst that gets people interacting is “really cool” and he’s “blessed and quite lucky.”
“The goal of an artist,” he said, “is to have the leading edge of your emotional, spiritual, intellectual intent converge in your art.” And that is exactly what Bonick said he feels “Daybreak Napa Valley” achieves.
Although the project still has five months to unfold, Bonick said the response from his Facebook friends, as well as people across the country, combined with his own enjoyment of the journey, have him thinking about the future. He is formulating plans to display them in large form rather than on a computer screen in an exhibit and consolidate them into a book.