In many ways this is a companion piece to making things with meaning while at the same time was written as a kick in the pants for me – to have something to remind me that pursuing the things in life that seem to create their own energy to pull you forward is much better than chasing after something in a lackluster fashion. Anyway here goes…
Once you’ve found the thing or things that resonate with you and not only want to photograph but can’t help but photograph it seems like all issues with writers block, resistance or what have you should evaporate.
It doesn’t though does it? Here’s the deal, if you’re struggling with the resistance, writers block or whatever people are calling it this week you’re either working on the wrong thing – something that doesn’t raise you to the level of white hot and passionate and cause you to become an unstoppable force – or you’re thinking too much about the product, the audience and how will this thing that your pouring your soul into be recieved.
In both cases stop right now.
Stop working on things that you aren’t deeply commited to, that don’t pull you forward into action and more action. Time is short you need to put your energy, and I mean all of your energy, into those few things that you are truly passionate about.
I don’t think that there’s a place for audience while you’re creating the work. Shut out the chatter. In fact my experience is that if you’re truly working on the things that you’re passionate about you won’t have space to think about your audience.
You can figure out the role of audience later – in many ways this is a separate creative act. It’s called marketing.
Your goal initially is to make a lot of work and to do that as best as you’re able. Does this mean that everything that you make will be wonderful? Of course not. By cultivating a circle of friends that you trust to give you straightforward feedback on your work you can get a second and third opinions to help sort the wheat from the chaff after the fact. The more you make the better what you make will become. Keep at it, keep making. This is not a theoretical pursuit.
Sometimes I catch myself and otherwise others give me a helpful prod but if you’re going to use the ‘creative’ moniker then that means, or at least should mean, actually making things rather than thinking and talking about the creative act. I’ll give you that pushing the button and making the image could be the creative act but for me the end product of creative has to be some tangible thing. To keep my feet to this fire I have been using my iPhone more than ever before to play and make images. I’m pairing these experiments with Artifact Uprising’s printing service to make little prints and now books all without leaving the iOS environment.
I was very happy with my little book part one of what I hope will be a four part series, one book of images per quarter, and perhaps a ‘greatest hits’ compilation at the end of the year. And perhaps I will pair the images with a collection of essays that describe the journeys and experiences and maybe make a slipcase to put them all in and, and, you know how it goes. I have to remind myself one step at a time. Small doable chunks.
Around the same time I got my little book I got Magda Biernat’s little book ‘Adrift’. Biernat’s project Adrift begins a dialog about climate change in the pairing of images of icebergs in antarctica with abandoned hunting cabins of the Iñupiat eskimos in the Arctic. The natural and the man made are both adrift in increasing numbers as the poles warm, causing more icebergs to be cast off and the hunting cabins to be abandoned as the animals the subsistence hunters pursue either dwindle in number or their migration patterns change.
What blows me away about the book is how creatively well done it is. There are a number of ‘what if’s’: What if we prepare the book as if it were a Japanese accordion book? What if we have the accompanying essays bound as a separate text block. What if the book opens on the horizontal, bottom to top, rather than the vertical right to left? All of which work and all of which serve to draw me in further.
It’s worth keeping these things in mind when you’re working on your own book projects, perhaps using templates from some of the big on demand publishing services, that you’re getting locking into a standard format. How can you work within that box and yet break it so that you have something that better serves the work and that is uniquely your own. Daniel Milnor photographer at large for Blurb continually is pushing at the edges of what is possible with the Blurb format and is well worth paying attention to as you think about developing your own projects.
I first came across Robert Adams when I was looking for the answer to the question ‘why do people photograph’ and found his book ‘Why People Photograph‘ and then later I came across his book ‘Beauty in Photography‘. These small books are collections of essays covering topics such as collectors, humor, teaching, money and dogs and discussions of Photographers such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Laura Gilpin, Judith Joy Ross, Susan Meiselas, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Minor White. I have enjoyed reading these books and get something new out of them as I reread them with a deepening understanding of photography as an art.
Why People Photograph must have been on my bookshelf for almost as long as I’ve been taking photographs, almost 10 years now, and yet it was only last year that I realized that Robert Adams can not only write but he is a well know photographer too! How many other holes in my appreciation of the history of photography could you drive a truck through?
I’m at my beginning of my exploration of his work, and I’m doing so by starting with his most recent projects first. Photographs taken around his home near the Oregon coast of the forests, coastline and meadows, very different subjects to the photographs of the American west increasingly spoiled by the urban sprawl that brought him to prominence. This work can be found in ‘The New West‘ a new edition of which will come out in the summer.
I’ve been taking a dive into the world of JMW Turner in recent weeks. I still have not managed to see the new film although hopefully I’ll get to see that soon.
I’ve seen Todd Henry of ‘Accidental Creative’ fame discuss a model that describes the phases of creative growth – discovery, imitation, divergence and crisis. The phases are just what you would expect: A growing awareness of an interest in an area; copying of the masters; making work that is their own; and finally a recognition that to move forward the old techniques will need to be abandoned.
There are clear echoes of this pattern of growth in Turner’s work. A major inspiration for Turner was Claude Lorrain, born Claude Gellee, 1600-1682, and sufficiently famous to be known just as ‘Claude’. John Constable described Claude as ‘the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw’. The book ‘Turner Inspired – In the Light of Claude’ explores the relationship between the work of Turner and that of Claude from a century or more earlier and provides many examples of Turner’s recreations of Claude’s images.
There is a distinct evolution in Turner’s style with time. His early work closely resembles the paintings by Claude but slowly he drifts away from the precision embodied by Claude to something much looser. Eventually of course Turner’s work becomes very loose indeed, perhaps the result in his passing into the crisis phase?, which gave us work that was in turn to inspire generations of artists to come including the Impressionists and the case is made in ‘Turner, Monet, Twombly’ that the reach of Turner extended to Cy Twombly.
In this dive into the work of Turner I was struck by some of the comments on his use of color and in particular incorporation of ‘new’ colors into his work that gave it a sense of vibrancy bordering on gaudiness. As an earlier adopter of new paints that set him apart from his contemporaries I couldn’t help but wonder whether Turner over did it a bit with these paints in the same way that early adopters of HDR technology did initially (and still do in some cases!).
I do find it amusing that for someone like me who has largely ignored history I’m finally coming around to the recognition that there is much to be learned from those that have gone before us. Spending time looking back at the work of the masters can indeed help to propel us forward. Or as Mary Oliver put it in ‘A Poetry Handbook‘:
‘To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like fire through the mountain. Only a heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air.’
I am generally happy to remain ignorant of the latest bells and whistles that the camera manufacturers have added in order to sell another piece of gear that no-one really needs. However, of late my head has bean turned by lots of new doodads. The latest in this parade of head turners is the updated version of Canon’s 100-400mm lens. I had the original ‘dust pump’ version of this lens which I eventually retired because it never saw much action and following it’s use I ended up spending a while cleaning the sensor on the body that it was used on. Having said that, there was a certain novelty factor to the way that the lens extended to change focal length. For the weight and number of times I used the lens I decided to leave it on my desk at home and make do with my very much lighter 70-200mm lens.
There are times however when the extra reach can allow you to make the photograph that you have in mind. The image above is a case in point. I’d tried with my 70-200, it really wasn’t working, click on the image below to see what I mean.
While getting closer was certainly an option I had an opportunity to use the new 100-400 lens and made the image below using the same settings as I had with my 70-200mm.
Immediately noticeable on the LCD screen on the camera was that the image made using the 100-400 was sharper than that made with the 70-200 even though all the camera settings and lens settings were the same. This in inevitably led me to wonder what if I dumped the 70-200 and replaced it with the 100-400 lens. That way I’d have a nice sharp lens capable of the extra reach when I need it. My only concern is the weight – a chunky albs. We’ll see how I get on!
It never ceases to amaze me how small our world now is. That we can easily get on a plane and travel to almost anywhere, even some of the most remote places in the world, is something that continues to fascinate me. Many of my photographer friends have been to the polar regions of the world, particularly Antarctica, and the discussion between them is when they are going to go back.
Being in the presence of ‘big ice’ has yet to capture my imagination in a way that pulls me to the ends of the earth. Until the time that it does I’m happy to enjoy the work of photographers such as Camille Seaman who have spent time in these places.
Camille is part Shinnecock Native American Tribe and is using photography to explore her connectedness with the world, which in many ways is an extension of the things that she was taught by her paternal grandfather. Her 10 years of visits to the Arctic and Antarctic have been collected into a book ‘Melting Away‘ that is well worth spending some time with.
See Camille talking about her polar project ‘The Last Iceberg’ in the TED talk below. Also see Camille share a few few thoughts on her process as well as a longer talk that gives more detail on her background as well as her projects.
It feels to be that I have a very delicately balanced existence. It doesn’t take much to throw everything out of whack. A demand for extra time in one area of my life has repercussions everywhere else, leaving me scrambling to pick up the pieces. Of course if the kids are sick, my wife is sick or I’m sick, all of which has happened essentially continuously for the last month, chaos ensues. All very much part of life’s rich tapestry and something to be embraced rather than to get frustrated about. He tells himself through gritted teeth.
The ability to know what to do and when in order to be maximally effective is one of the ultimate aims of David Allen’s GTD methodology. An updated version of the GTD book came out this week and I’m very much looking forward finishing working my way through it. While it looks very familiar but also with enough new stuff to make it worth taking a look at. The last full chapter deals with GTD mastery, what does it look like when you’ve got this GTD thing down? It looks like mastery in most other fields, a freedom to add value without getting bogged down in the mundane.
While I get back to good health and back on track bear with me. If you’ve commented here and not seen a response I apologize. I can assure you that I read the comment and will respond soon.
One of the projects that I set for myself this year is to create 250 ‘instagram’ images. Not necessarily to post 250 images to Instagram but to finish 250 images taken on the iPhone and processed using apps. That means ~ 60 images per quarter. It’s been an usual start to the year which was the major driver for me reaching the 100 mark last week.
Looking back over the images is see that I clearly have a preferred color palette as well subject matter. My 100 a images are an eclectic collection of mostly color abstracts and landscape images.
The image above, taken on the last day of a short trip to Portland, is a clear outlier. Without exception the other 99 are all of subjects outside, even if they were taken from the warmth of a coffee shop the subject was outside.
I doubt that there will be more like this – never say never – but it does make me wonder why I haven’t been shooting indoors more and what it would look like if I did.
When I first saw the work of Natalie Dybisz aka Miss Aniela a number of years ago now I was absolutely floored. At the time I was still relatively naive with regard to the possibilities of what could be created in Photoshop and had imagined that her surreal imagery were not just a product of a fertile imagination but also prodigious camera skills. The fluency with the tools is certainly there but it a solid understanding of how to shoot so that the required elements are available for the final construction in photoshop. Take a look below to see Miss Aniela at work and to hear her talk about her process.
“If you want to make more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person.” – Jay Maisel
If part one of making things with meaning is to learn more about yourself then part two has to be all about leaning in and connecting with the world.
For me a deeper understanding of what resonates with me helps me get myself into situations that I more likely connect with. Even then I feel that the camera can be a barrier which makes me more an observer, rather than a participant in the world.
The answer to the question of ‘how to break down that barrier’ is seemingly obvious. Take time to experience the place and people that you’re going to photograph and build a relationship before rushing to grab a few shots.
Michael Kenna says that he takes time to talk to the land before he photographs, I suspect that this is his way of ensuring that barrier is broken down. It’s a good practice to take time to wander around with out the camera and see what’s grabbing your attention before racing in to photograph. Not advice I always follow myself and I can tell when I do and when I don’t.
The same goes for people too. I can’t imagine why you would want to photograph people, to make their portraits, if you’re not genuinely interested in who they are and what’s their story. Again, I think that you can tell when you look at the work from people who ‘stole’ the portraits and those who really took the time to engage.
Make photographs about things you care about and make me care too.