Friday Inspiration: Albert Watson

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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:

Goal Setting, or Not – You choose

One of my friends recently recommended that I read ‘The Antidote: Happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking‘. It’s an interesting read and Burkeman certainly takes a contrarian stand that he also pursues in his weekly columns for the Guardian.

My reaction to the book as I was reading it was that I didn’t realize that I was supposed to be striving to be happy. I’ve been very focused on ensuring that I’m doing things that I want to do, that are engaging and ultimately fun, rather than trying to be happy.

One of the major threads in the book is that goal setting doesn’t work and in fact worse than that, goals can lead people, teams and companies over the cliff like the mariners of old chasing the sirens call. Since I’ve been steeped in a goal setting environment almost since birth the notion of throwing goals out of the window strikes me as a little odd. How does anything get done without someone with the drive towards achievement? Without a sense of what they want to change and going out and making that change happen? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

To me the issue with goals is not the process of setting goals, or even breaking big goals into smaller achievable actions but rather the goals aren’t revisited and revised. ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’ and this is the issue with much of corporate goal setting. A lack of flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.

Most people by now I would expect to have some across the SMART acronym:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time bounded

The difficulty with this approach is that the bigger the goal, and the longer the event horizon the more uncertainly there is in our ability to decide whether the goal is achievable, realistic, and what the likely timing is. It is these factors that need to be revisited on a regular basis and reviewed and updated as more information comes in.

Overlaid on this is the need to make sure that goals as originally envisioned are aligned with your purpose and that this alignment is also reviewed regularly to ensure that this is a goal that you still wish to pursue.

Perhaps a good case in point would be my goal to have a book of my photography out by the end of the year. This aligns with my overall purpose that boils down to ‘make things and get them out into the world’. It’s SMART(ish) and yet with additional thought and reflection I realize that the timing is probably off – it will most likely take 12 months, that it’s not a project that I could complete on my own but will need to engage at least a book designer to help and so will need to be revised, most likely to ‘Release a book of my photographs before the end of 2015′ with many subgoals along the way. ‘Identify and engage a book designer by the end of Q3 2014′ for instance, ‘decide on preliminary cut of photographs for inclusion into book Q4 2014′ and on and on. Each of these of course will also have sub-goals and will be further scrutinized to ensure a high likelihood of success.

Are you a goal setter? What works for you? How do you keep projects on track and moving forward? Please share your best practices in the comments.

A Travel Photographer or A Photographer Who Travels

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I’ve been watching David (the Strobist) Hobby‘s video series ‘The Traveling Photographer‘ on lynda.com over the last few weeks. I’d resisted lynda.com for a very long time for no reason that I can put my finger but given the number of courses available (check out David Hobby’s other courses here) that I wanted to check out I finally took the plunge.

Watching David Hobby’s series I had a couple of thoughts. First I hadn’t put him in the travel photography camp, perhaps I should have?, and second I had a visceral reaction to the thought of ‘travel photography’ as a genre. It was an odd reaction and perhaps I was thinking largely of the cheesy postcard photos that are used to advertise high-end vacation spots, photographs that do little for me.

I’ve been traveling a good bit this year and while I wouldn’t put myself in the travel photography camp, it’s clear to me that I’m a photographer that travels. This was brought home to me when I mentioned to a friend that I was heading out to iceland and they commented on the potential for great photography. While this is true, some might argue that Iceland as a photo tour destination is now somewhat a cliche, what I’ve increasingly found is that regardless of where I go I end up taking photographs that in essence I could have taken anywhere. I’m drawn to particular things, water in the landscape, rocks, intimate landscapes and abstract details. I’m compelled to take photographs of these things, to the exclusion of perhaps more obvious grand vistas. I find that I even like particular colors or combinations of colors and will be more attuned to potential photographs with those colors than others.

Travel for me broadens the range of opportunities to find combinations of the things that I’m interested in that I haven’t seen before. What are the reasons you travel?

Friday Inspiration: Neil Gaiman – Make Good Art

Neil Gaiman‘s address to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts has been on my mind this week. Perhaps the most quoted section of the address is this:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too.

but there are lots of other good bits listen to them all in the video below.

Resources for Finding Your Purpose

I thought that I’d share some of the resources that I’ve been digging into over the last few weeks as I’ve thought about finding your purpose. So here goes:

Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why is a great place to start your journey (also check out the follow-up book Leaders Eat Last. Sinek’s TED talk above is an excellent introduction to the material presented in Start With Why. Additionally there is a good bit of material on his website including some free exercises such as this 5 minute exercise to help find your why.

An alternate to the TED talks are The Do Lectures. The founder of The Do Lectures David Hieatt wrote an excellent book ‘Do Purpose‘ that I found hard to put down. Lots of easily digestible nuggets of wisdom.

In case you haven’t heard of The Do Lectures before you’ll find that there’s a substantial overlap in the intent of TED and the Do Lectures, ‘Ideas worth spreading’ vs bringing together ‘do-ers’, ‘the movers and shakers, the disrupters and the change-makers’ to tell their stories and hopefully inspire others to action, the vibe is distinctly different. Well worth checking out.

In ‘The Way of The Seal‘ Mark Divine both describes an effective way of uncovering your purpose and highlights how being clear about your purpose and what you stand for helps when it comes to making tough decisions. More than a book on how to discover your purpose and deeper than ‘just a book for meatheads’ worth exploring and spending time working through the 8 core principles.

Finally on this very short list is Danielle LaPorte. Having found LaPorte’s work initially through her book The Fire Starter Sessions I’ve enjoyed reading both ‘Style Statement‘ and ‘Desire Map‘ as I’ve been thinking about mission, purpose and why.

Mind The Gap

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

I have a couple of photography related book projects that should see the light of day by the end of the year and need to prepare the files for printing. To that end over the last week I’ve started aggregating the materials that I’ll need to start teaching myself the rudiments of InDesign. Now I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and stalling beginning the learning process.

I love books, so much so that my kids have asked me on more than one occasion whether I’m going to open a library, and being in a position to make my own is an amazing opportunity. But here’s the thing, I’ve spent a long time learning how to make my camera do what I want it to do which meant a long period of knowing what it was that I liked but not being able to get there – the Ira Glass video above is an apt description of this gap.

Does this apply to book design? Certainly, there are lots of tiny decisions that have to be made from small typographic questions such as whether or not to use ‘&’ in the title and what font to use to larger layout questions. Without getting these right the result will be jarring even if you couldn’t quite put your finger on what the problem is. Your work will suffer by how it’s presented.

While the answer of course is to make lots of books and test them in a safe environment, what to do for projects where you don’t have the time for those cycles of improvement?

I’m tempted to look for a book designer that I can work with to help me bring my first projects to life while I learn the rudiments of the software and the design process so that the books that I make present my work in the strongest way possible. What would you do?

Friday Inspiration: Moby – ‘Creativity and Freedom to Fail’

Today for a change of pace I thought that I’d share Moby‘s recent presentation to the LA Creative Mornings group. His topic was ‘Creativity and Freedom to Fail’. Lots of good nuggets here for everyone involved in the creative process.