I often fall into the trap, as I suppose many people do, of being generally dissatisfied with the work that I’m producing. I make images that I like just often enough to keep me engaged but it can be tough to keep going especially when we’re surrounded by an onslaught of great work on social media.
The guitar teacher Tomo Fujita tells his students ‘Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare, Don’t Expect Too Fast, and Don’t Worry.’ Good advice for anyone whether they are trying to learn a new skill or to be creative.
The other advice that I turn to when I’m struggling is what Ira Glass said about ‘The Gap’ (see video 3 below). He’s describing the difference between what you know is good and want to be able to do and what you’re currently able to achieve.
Check out the illustrated video below.
The solution of course is to do a lot of work. Bang it out even if you don’t feel like it. Just keep going. You will get better, you will evolve and you will close the gap.
Checkout the full interview ‘Ira Glass on Storytelling’ in the following videos. This should be required viewing for anyone in the creative arts.
I learn all kinds of stuff by listening to my kids talk to their friends. Some of it immediately, some of it takes me a while to unravel.
It’s snowboard season here in New England which means trips to and from the slopes with groups of high school age kids for me. They are very much into making videos of their exploits to get feedback on how they are doing with learning tricks but also to post on social media. ‘Doin’ it for the ‘gram’ was the phrase used in a rather derogatory tone.
That got me thinking about what I post on social media and why and what are my expectations. I am playing a game with my posts on Instagram, or at least I have some simple rules that I am following. Must be shot and edited on my phone. No wireless transfer of files from any of my ‘fancy’ cameras, no transfer of files from the phone onto my computer for editing. All has to be done on the phone. Also the apps that I use can’t be mobile versions of Lightroom or Photoshop.
This of course is less of an amazing feat now that the phone cameras are so incredibly capable and produce high-res files. It goes without saying that phones themselves are way more powerful computers than the first desktop computers I worked with but then I grew up with a single rotary dial phone in the house if you catch my drift.
The result is a set of photos that are in effect sketches or studies. I’m trying out composition ideas using the phone and quickly processing using filters and effects in a small number of apps – typically Snapseed and VSCO. I’m often accused of being heavy handed with the processing – probably true, certainly lacking the kind of finesse possible on a desktop. Are these the high impact, portfolio best images that will garner lots of ‘likes’ not at all. But that’s not the point.
I’m having fun playing and don’t mind letting people look over my shoulder see my sketchbook develop.
The answer for me is the same as if someone was looking and was listening. It’s about staying true to your values and having integrity.
About making the things that you want to make because those are the things that you need to make.
There’s freedom and opportunity in such a space. No constraints resulting from the expectations of others. No ties or obligations to what’s gone before preventing you from striking out in a new direction.
Certainly something to think about as we get going this week.
How about you? What you you do if no one was watching or so say if no one was listening?
In the spirit of picking up old interests I’ve been making a lot of bread over the last few weeks. Starting with the tried and true recipes in Ken Forkish’s excellent book – Flour, Water, Salt Yeast. The picture from last week was his Overnight Loaf. When I was making this bread regularly it would stick to the cloths in the proofing baskets and generally would be a nightmare for me to deal with. However picking things up again the recipe was easy to follow – no ambiguity – and I had no problem with getting the bread out of the baskets.
With that success under my belt I decided to try the signature loaf in the Poilane book I recently came across. Poilane is of course a marquee name in the bread world. The recipe was a little more involved than others I’d made – requiring a natural yeast starter and also makes a substantially larger single loaf. Going through the planning I realized that I didn’t have a proofing basked large enough nor did I have a Dutch Oven large enough. In all honesty who would? The loaf is ~ 3 times larger than the ‘normal’ home loaf size. I had things that were close enough though so off we went. It was frustrating to not have a good sense of what I was aiming at and I ended up disappointing the in house food critics. Scaling the recipe back gave better results but was still not the wow expected by the local critics.
With a natural starter bubbling in the corner I thought I would try out a final recipe, this time from ‘The Baker’s Year’ by Tara Jensen. When I mixed up the dough it was very wet, a bit tricky to handle and the timings proposed in the margin completely misleading. I should have realized that I would be in for a bumpy ride when the instructions for mixing up the leaven – a foundational recipe for any bread book – were corrected in the form of errata stuck in the front of the book. Oops! Nevertheless I persevered, leveraging the understanding from working through the Forkish recipes many times and also the Tartine bread recipe which is similar. If a dough was going to stick to the cloth in the proofing basket it would be a wet dough like this one – nope, not at all. Came out of the proofing basket nicely, into the cast iron Dutch oven and baked beautifully as you can see at the top of the page.
What if anything you may well ask does this have to do with photography. Well not much if I’m being honest but it did make me think about how I had retained the bread making skills from 3 or 4 years ago. Not only that but some of the things that had been a struggle now seem relatively straight forward. As I re-engage with photography I’m hoping that I will at least have retained a foundational set of skills. It will be interesting to see how the passage of time has changed my thinking and perspective as I get behind the camera more frequently.
While I’m thinking about the subject of photographing close to home I thought I would share a couple of book recommendations.
I’ve talked about photography close to home before – remarkably in 2011, where does the time go. Then I was talking about a recently published eBook by Stuart Sipahgil ‘Close to Home’. Sadly it’s no longer produced by Craft & Vision but you can find it here at least for a little while. Well worth a look.
The other book that I was looking at, and the one that I think of when I think of photography at home, is ‘Home Photography’ by Andrew Sanderson. Andrew is a UK based photographer who found himself tethered to home as he and his wife navigated raising their young family. Picking up on the Home Photography theme again during lockdown in the UK Andrew Stuck at Home Photography. There are lots of ideas in the book (and blog) for how to shoot in and around your home that I will be digging into more deeply in the coming months. I’ll share the results here and also on Instagram. Send me a link to what you’ve been doing while Stuck at Home.
What a strange year 2020 turned out to be. Turning the page it looks like 2021 will also be fraught with challenges – the hope for an orderly transition of leadership in the US was thrown into chaos with the events of yesterday. We can only hope that this is a low point from which the country will move forward from.
More virulent strains of the SARS-CoV2 virus appear to spreading throughout the world after first making an appearance in the UK. I have had a ring side seat to how we are responding to this threat and have been fortunate enough to work on therapeutic interventions one of which is now in clinical trials. From my vantage point it looks like we are a long way from being out of the woods, with more lockdowns to navigate.
All that leads me to think that I’m going to be working at home for the foreseeable future. I put my fancy cameras down a couple of years ago now and have used my iPhone exclusively since. The camera in the current iPhone is a sophisticated tool much more so than the camera that was in the phone when the ‘The Best Camera is the one that’s with you’ movement got going. At the time I was always impressed with what people were able to achieve with just their phones, now that’s much less of a novelty. With an expectation that the iPhone is as good a camera as many DSLRs. Perhaps I’m stretching that a bit but I’m sure if you’ve seen the evolution of the iPhone camera you know what I mean.
Perhaps because of the lockdowns and social distancing expectations or maybe it was just the right time, my desire to re-engage with photography in a deeper way has been growing over the last couple of months. I will probably post more here although it looks very much like the world has moved away from Blogs to Vlogs with everyone and the dog now running a YouTube channel. Not for me. Not yet at least.
For me just as the beginning of summer is when we get the boat in the water, the end of summer is when we pull the boat out of the water. This weekend marked the beginning of that process as we made the trek from our mooring to the marina in Norwalk where will be hauled.
This year we were accompanied by Jay our buddy from TowBoatUS who gave us a tow to the dock. If you have a boat a BoatUS membership with on water towing is an amazing insurance policy. I highly recommend it!
It’s starting to feel as though Winter is finally receeding in my neck of the woods. I still have snow in the garden but it’s less and less every day. How about you?
I feel as though I ought to have been out to photograph while we had all the snow and certainly now that the weather is getting better I should be getting out but I’m not. It’s all too easy to stay in bed for an extra hour or to have dinner with the family rather than making the extra effort to get out with the camera. Getting back into the routine of taking time one morning a week to get out with the camera when I’m at home is taking some doing. I’m trying though.
I’ve had my eye on this little stream for a while now with the idea that I would photograph it when there was more water in it. With the recent snow melt the water flow has gone from a trickle to a torrent in a very short space of time. Increasingly I felt that if I didn’t photograph it now I would have a long wait and so I got out with the camera at the end of last week and had a fun hour or two poking around.
Originally I had thought that I would like the reds in the weeds at the top of the image but when I got the image into lightroom didn’t really love it (the color version is below) and so made the switch to black and white. This is still a work in progress, the first stopping point before I reevaluate and decide where to take it next.
As always, thoughts and comments more than welcome.
It certainly feels like Winter is upon us here in the New England. Even though we didn’t get thoroughly dumped on by the recent Nor’Easter as some parts of the region did there was still enough snow to get out and play a little.