Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right!
I’ve been having one of those weeks, as I often do. I’ve had a couple of things happen that have really made me challenge my assumptions, especially about what I’m capable of.
I think what you are capable starts with what you believe. So it’s definitely worth asking the question ‘what beliefs do I hold that prevent me from achieving what I’m capable of?’
Sometimes you can’t see this for yourself and need to talk this through with others. Sometimes you’re pushed out of your comfort zone and this changes your perspective.
Obviously just believing that you can is not enough. It requires work and effort to close the gap between your current reality and what you know you can achieve. There will be frustration and disappointment along the way but you have to stay the course and keep at it.
I am crossing my fingers and hoping I don’t jinx myself by saying this but I have impressed myself with my ability to keep up with posting on Instagram. I had set a creativity challenge for myself earlier in the year – originally it was to post on Instagram everyday but instead I decided to post every other day. Remarkably I’ve kept up with it!
Like photography and all forms of social media there is a good deal of editing involved. I am not showing everything that is going on for me only when I’m moved to use the camera. Nevertheless I am capturing my life one frame at a time.
Many of these photographs have special meaning for me but I wonder whether they connect with an audience. Certainly none of the images have ‘gone viral’ so that’s one kind of answer to this question.
One question that I’m returning to is ‘who are you creating for? Is it for yourself or your ‘audience’?’ I have always been advised to create for yourself but market to your audience.
How do you think about this? Where is ‘audience’ in your creative process? Not considered or front and center? Or somewhere in between? Is that working for you? I’d love to hear about it.
I’be been thinking about projects over the last few weeks. You might call it a series, others might call it a portfolio but for me all of my photography sits as part of at least one of a number of on-going projects. I picked up this way of working from one of the earliest workshops I did online with Bill Neill.
I had been thinking about initial ideas and how to develop them into a rich body of work when I started to think about what’s the goal? What would success look like? When would I know that I was done?
I must admit though that I never feel like I’m ‘done’. I just keep looking for images that will either raise the standard of the work that’s in my project or that will extend it in some way. But I had never thought about it being done.
It was encouraging then to listen to an interview with Michael Kenna who said something similar. That he’s never really done but an exhibition or a book deadline line will cause him to bring a group of images together that suits the need. He keeps working though and extends the work beyond the exhibition or book.
Other people that I’ve been listening to have discreet projects – I’m going to photograph here for a week, a month, a year and then after that time I’ve got what I’ve got and I’ll move on to the next project. Even then some of these photographers look for a milestone event such as an exhibition or a book to signal being done.
I like the idea of getting your project out into the world as an exhibition, a pdf, a chapbook, zine or larger book as a signal that the work is done. If only that means that chapter of the work is finished.
How about you. How do you know when you’re done with a chapter or the whole project? I’d be interested to hear about it.
It’s amazing to me how quickly the days go by and how little I remember of them. A little bit like the conversation with teenagers at the dinner table – what did you do today? Nuthin… it’s so easy to let the day go by and not hang on to any of it.
This has been especially so in the last year where every day has felt like the same. To combat this I have gotten into the routine of logging my days. Nothing spectacular just a few notes at the end of the day to capture what I did. It’s a little bit Austin Kleon and a little bit bullet journal.
I also like to capture my energy level and focus and also what was the highlight for the day. I have a template that I made for Evernote that makes setting all this up pretty easy.
I find that on the days where I have taken a photograph I can reconstruct what I was doing, what mood I was in, what the weather was like and on and on effortlessly. The photographs immediately take me back. I can’t help but think that this is because I am usually very ‘present’ when I’m photographing while I’m thinking about what’s next, racing ahead through my day, when I’m not.
How do you slow time down to relish and remember your days?
While I was recently poking around on the Royal Society of Photography website I was curious to come across the genres of photography into which you could categorize your body of work for assessment. Of the eight categories only three really appealed to me:
Contemporary: Photography that communicates a visual realisation of a stated argument, idea or concept.
Landscape Photography: Photography that illustrates and interprets earth’s habitats, from the remotest wilderness to urban environs
Visual Art Photography: Photography which communicates a creative vision.
These are quite broad and give you a lot of space to work in. Never quite satisfied. And because all three appeal to me, I wondered about the intersections of these genres and what’s there.
I had fun putting together the graphic above to explore this a little bit. Also fun to learn a bit more about the history of photography in this way.
I think that ‘contemporary’ could be interpreted in two ways – it could mean ‘of our time‘, it could also mean ‘conceptual’. I’m going with ‘of our time’.
My new types of photography then are:
Contemporary Landscape – think Robert Adams or Edward Burtynsky
Fine Art Landscape – think Hiroshi Sugimoto or Michael Kenna
Contemporary Fine Art – I’m thinking of people such as Arno Rafael Minkkinen or those doing composites such as Jerry Uelsmann or John Paul Caponigro or what Jeremy Cowart is doing with photography, light projection and painting.
For a variety of reasons my diet went south at the end of 2020. I indulged in making all the things I enjoy but I’m not supposed to eat – ice cream, pizza (I could live on these alone!), bread, cookies and cakes. A few months of that has left me feeling bloated. Happy but very bloated. Fortunately my choice of clothes can tolerate a 10lb swing in weight. I’m now following my version of the Fast800 diet and back into a zone my doctor would rather I be in.
Thinking about this and the bit of spring cleaning that I have been doing in my office has made me recognize that I need to trim back on some of the stuff.
I love books, so it’s always hard to consider getting rid of them. Low hanging fruit are the manuals for long gone versions of photoshop and light room. I like Scott Kelby’s 7 point processing system which is described for Photoshop CS3 (Wow – that was 2007) while a little dated the thinking is still sound. I’ll hang on to that one until the new edition comes out later in the summer but the others – Lightroom 4, Lightroom 5, Photoshop CS5 and more – will all have to go.
I have boxes and boxes of prints that I made when I was first starting out. While it kills me to do it, these also really need to go. I’m never going to use them for anything – the prints are my first attempts to make art prints, long before I met Bob Korn and had some foundational lessons in how to see color in a print.
I also have boxes of gear that need to be purged. I found recently that the speed lights I have didn’t work because the batteries in them had corroded. Oops! An expensive mistake. How much other stuff that I have that is in danger of going the same way?
How about you? How often do you have a good clear out? Where are you in the scale of minimalist to horder? How do you decide what to keep and what to toss?
In looking at the work of Peter Dombrovskis over the last few weeks I couldn’t help but wonder about how we engage with the work of the ‘photography masters’. My preference of course is through books. Based on my Peter Dombrovskis experience this is a challenge.
Not every photographer has the kind of machinery behind them that Ansel has. What about the others. Is there space for periodic ‘remastering’ of classic books in the way that classic records are remastered. A very different undertaking but certainly possible.
I feel like one of my favorite photographers, Eliot Porter, received this kind of remastering in 2012 when a new edition of ‘In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World’. was published to mark the 50th anniversary of the first edition.
The Getty Museum also published a collection of Eliot’s work at around the same time, ‘Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature’. This book rather than a new edition is a great survey of Eliot’s work and for me is reminiscent of the Peter Dombrovskis book I recently acquired.
I wonder how many of the masters will get this additional chance to reach a new audience through a book, how many will achieve something similar through the internet and how many will fade away.
Wow – how did we get into April so quickly. It feels like winter zipped on by and now we are on the doorstep of the summer boating season. The arrival of spring is usually marked, domestically, by a period of spring cleaning. I rarely feel moved or motivated to pick up the duster but this year is different. After a year at home with no travel my office has gather some barnacles that need to be scraped off in readiness for the next part of the adventure.
I have indulged, splurged would be a better word, on a number of photobooks and art books in general that have yet to find their place on my books shelves. This is also an opportunity to rethink how the shelves are arranged and organized. I also want to get the paper I have for printing organized so that I know what I have and can find it!
Perhaps for once I will get everything off the floor and be able to run the vacuum around. Ha! Wonders will never cease.
How do you come up with new projects? Noodling on ideas in your journal is one way. Another way would be trawling through your Lightroom catalog to see if that sparked anything. I have been thinking about, and pursuing, this approach recently as I rebuild my lightroom catalog and find images that I’d either forgotten or previously passed by.
Another way could be to come up with titles for projects that are ‘generative’, titles that spark your imagination and creativity, titles that can be a jumping off point for the project itself. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.
I was driving around a weekend or two ago on very familiar roads and as often happens letting my mind wander. I drove past a graveyard and made the usual joke to myself, one that I heard from my dad many times when I was little – ‘there’s the dead centre of …’ insert the town you happen to be in. That then led me to think about something that I had heard, perhaps read in Todd Henry’s book Die Empty.
“The most valuable land in the world is the graveyard. In the graveyard are buried all of the unwritten novels, never-launched businesses, un-reconciled relationships, and all of the other things that people thought, ‘I’ll get around to that tomorrow.’ One day, however, their tomorrows ran out.”
That then quickly led me to the evolution of the ‘Dead Centre’ to ‘The Home of Forgotten Dreams‘. This is something that I feel that I could work with and wouldn’t necessarily just be pottering around in a graveyard. Perhaps a Todd Hidoesque set of spooky looking houses at night?
I’d be curious to hear how you start projects. Do you fire the dart into the wall and draw the target around it? Do you start with an idea in mind and build towards it? Have you ever started with a title and used that as a jumping off point?
How do you navigate social media? Do you have a strategy for how you engage with it?
I’ve come to the point where I need to dial way back the amount of time I spend trawling Instagram and tumblr or watching videos on YouTube.
I had started to feel nauseated by YouTube – perhaps in recognition of what I was doing. Filling a void with edutainment.
I know some people advocate for taking a social media break, others will take a digital Shabbat and turn off the devices on Friday and turn them back on again on Saturday.
I’m going to dial things back to be able to read more and create more. I’m going to spend less time having YouTube running in the background and time mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. More time intentionally looking at my photo books and learning why images work for me.