I was reminded of the Bruce Lee quote ‘Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless like water if you put water in the cup it becomes the cup and water can flow or it can crash’ last week. I was in California and had expectations of what I was going to photograph. I believe that it was Ansel Adams spoke about previsualization, having a sense of what the image is going to be before you make the exposure. I think that Ansel was probably previsualizing as he stood in front of what he was going to photograph. I on the other hand was guilty of previsualizing from thousands of miles away.
As I stood looking at the pounding surf, 3 feet above a normal low tide, that hid the rocks that I had imagined photographing for the previous 2 years it would have been a natural reaction to be frustrated. I’m not sure why I wasn’t but I just let it go, enjoyed the magnificence of the fury of the Pacific Ocean, and then moved on to photograph other things. I don’t think that anticipating and being prepared to get a specific shot is a bad thing but it is bad not to be flexible enough to recognize other opportunities that come your way. While they might not be what you’d prepared for they could be equally, or more, enjoyable.
“Inspiration Is for Amateurs—The Rest of Us Just Show Up and Get to Work”
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how small changes in habits can have a profound impact in what we are able to achieve across all aspects of our lives.
Mason Currey‘s book ‘Daily Rituals‘ is an interesting collection of observations of the daily routines of many of the great creators and provides an interesting insight into the lives of people who need to develop a body of work. What is apparent across almost all of these examples is commitment to showing up and getting to work. Not too much lolling around waiting for the muse to visit, just simply a matter of putting in the time whether they feel like it or not.
This attitude of ‘show up and do the work’ makes me realize that doing something every day, regardless of how small it is will could eventually yield substantial results. The simple act of writing 500 words everyday will mean that you will have written over 25,000 words for the year. Not too shabby.
A photo a day projects were very popular a year or two ago and seem to be unsustainable to me but doable for a month or one photo shoot a week for a year would both result in a body of work that you could do something useful with.
Changes in other parts of your life would also mean potentially useful changes. 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up had a big impact on my weight loss. Meditating before your day gets going or journaling at the end of the day could lead to more positive changes in your outlook and getting more done.
What small change could you incorporate on a daily basis that would move you in the direction of your goals?
Jump to minute 19:00 of the video below to hear Mason Currey talking about his book ‘Daily Rituals’
Not being ready to be done with a minimalist approach to life I decided to dig into a few of my favorite resources and wanted to share those here.
Zen Habits – Leo Babauta share’s his thoughts on living a simple life, quite a challenge given that he has six kids! I find the story of his transformation to a simpler, more frugal way of living began in 2005 to be truly inspirational. Check it out here.
Becoming Minimalist – Here Josh Becker shares the ups and downs of his family’s journey to ‘rational minimalism’. This link is a good place to begin finding out about Josh.
The Minimalists – I’m relatively new to The Minimalists and have been enjoying reading about their 21 day journey into minimalism. Check out their recent presentation at TEDx in Whitefish where they discuss community, consumerism, and living a rich life below. Some of the answers in the Q&A video, also below, definitely gave me hope that I’m on the right path.
It is surprising to me that in the UK there is a TV series that answers the question “What Do Artists Do All Day?“. Perhaps we really are living in the era of the creative as Chase Jarvis tells us. Having blown the best part of a day watching these videos my favorite had to be the one that shows printmaker Norman Ackroyd producing one of his large scale prints. In reading about David Hockney I was fascinated to learn more about the etching process to prepare prints and to see a master in action, in the videos below, adds another level of understanding. It’s amazing to me that such delicate watercolors can be produced by working on a copper plate with the added level of complexity that the work on the plate has to be done in reverse. Ackroyd has his reference image set up in a mirror to facilitate this seeing in reverse.
I was struck by the nature of Ackroyd’s project – to make images of the outlying islands of the British Isles – and that he tracks where he’s been using push pins on a map of the british isles. This of course has parallels with the Atlantic Basin project of Thomas Joshua Cooper. His work references watercolors that he’s made on location which is quite an undertaking in itself. A collection of his watercolor sketches from the Shetland islands is available and this work will be the subject of an exhibition later in 2014.
Check out a day in the life of Norman Ackroyd in the videos below.
Many of us experience new places to photograph in the context of workshops or tours. In those cases there’s often little forethought or planning needed. You book the trip, bring your gear and photograph. Making the most of a trip that you organize for yourself can take a little more work. Here’s the process that I typically use applied to a trip to Iceland.
What have other photographers made of Iceland?
Looking at what photographs others have made can be a touchy subject for some. I know some people who don’t want to be contaminated by the work and ideas of others and prefer to go into a location ‘cold’, which they believe positions them better to make original images. I want to know what the cliche images are for a particular location, what the postcard shot looks like. I know that I’m going to be drawn into making the obvious photograph and accept that, take the photograph and then try to push beyond it to make something that is my own.
Finally spending some time on Flickr could also be instructive. You could also connect with local photographers and ask for advice regarding locations, weather conditions etc. this kind of local knowledge can be invaluable.
What are a selection of potentially interesting locations?
From looking at the work of others I’m looking for locations that look like they have potential for the kinds of images that I like to make and then looking for where these places are on a map. I’m a big fan of large scale paper maps that I can lay out on the living room floor, but you might prefer google maps. For Iceland there’s a great paper map for photographers and an accompanying eBook (eRoadbook). I’m not sure what the map is made from but paper doesn’t do it justice, perhaps a tyvek like paper? In any case it’s very resilient, and waterproof ideal for taking with you on a trip to Iceland.
How to connect these into a workable itinerary?
With a list of places to visit how best to connect them? For me this is the most attractive part of making up my own schedule. I’m not going to be jollied along from one place to the next to the next without having an opportunity to explore each location. Again I don’t think that there’s a right answer here and my bias is obviously showing through. I like to visit and revist locations to learn about a place and how best I might photograph it. Being rushed from one spot to another doesn’t work for me. How do you prefer to work?
General travel logistics?
For general travel planning I use all the resources that the internet has to offer. I will also spend a lot of time with the Lonely Planet and, if they cover where I’m going, the appropriate Moon travel guides to where ever I’m going.
I was poking around on the Phase One website recently (more about that in an upcoming post) when I came across a pair of videos (here and here) of Albert Watson working with a Phase One camera system to make landscape images. I felt as though I knew the name but it wasn’t until video 2 that it dawned on me from where. Albert Watson, as I’m sure you’re well aware, is perhaps best know for his fashion and celebrity portraiture. The photograph that kicked his career into high gear was of Alfred Hitchcock holding a plucked goose and the photograph that I was most familiar with was the photograph of Steve Jobs. It was surprising then for me to see this icon of celebrity portraiture out in the wilds of Scotland taking landscape photographs and a reminder of how important it is to sustain a long a fruitful career to find the things that are out of your everyday, that energize and push you and make the time for these things.
I also found an additional documentary that features Albert Watson’s landscape work that was shown on BBC4. I must admit to scratching my head a little about that one – I can remember when there were only 3 tv channels in the UK and BBC2 was a little out there. The documentary has lots of take aways including: “Always have two assistants, that way if one falls off the mountain you have a spare” more seriously was his way of having a series of words that he uses as an intellectual framework for what he’s trying to achieve with the project. Something that we all can use right now. Check out the documentary below:
The people that I feature in these Friday Inspiration posts are artists whose work I enjoy looking at and so it’s natural that I follow what they doing. I particularly enjoy Thomas Joshua Cooper’s seascapes and was quite pleased to find a longer video of him talking about his atlantic basin project. Check it out below:
While I was looking for videos of Cooper talking about his work I found another video, a conversation facilitated by Roger Wilson between Chris Wainwright & Thomas Joshua Cooper about their work, the journeys that they take and what it is to be an artist. Well worth a look.
Sebastião Salgado’s new book Genesis was waiting for me when I got home from vacation. It’s an amazing book, that represents the culmination of an almost 10 year project to photograph mountains, deserts, oceans, people and animals that have so far escaped change the onslaught of modern society. The book, it’s 517 pages !, is organized geographically into five chapters : Planet South, Sanctuaries, Africa, Northern Spaces, Amazonia and Pantanal. As you might expect if you know Salgado’s work the photographs are lush black and white.
Any guesses where this photograph by German photographer Peter Schlör was taken? Any of my British friends recognize a popular summer holiday destination?
I recently came across Peter Schlör’s book ‘Black and Wide‘, a collection of very moody black and white photographs that if you’d told me were of the Pacific Northwest I would have believed you. But no, they were taken on the Canary Islands. I couldn’t believe it. When I think of the Canary Islands I think of it as a summer destination, the ocean, blue skies & bright colors. What you’ll find in these pages are images with very dark shadows, trees, fog and low clouds. It’s an amazing transformation. I’m looking forward to finding out more about Peter’s work.
I was pleased to find the video below of Peter and the team getting ready for an exhibit of the Black and Wide images but very disappointed to find out that it was all in German. Anyone able to help out with a translation?
In any case, it was interesting to see how the images were prepared for exhibition. This is one of the things that you miss out on when looking at images in a book, the scale of the final prints. It was interesting to see what an eclectic mix of sizes and presentation styles that were used and it makes me wonder why he made the choices he made. Worth a look even if you don’t speak German!