Your Potential is Limitless

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.

Friday Inspiration: Susan Bein

From ‘Slightly Bonkers’, Susan Bein

Susan Bein is a teacher, graphic designer and photographer based in Portland, Oregon. I first came across her work on Instagram, although how I found her there I’m not sure. I think I was following links from one person to another to another. On Instagram Susan is @Wizmosis – check out her work!

In her bio she says:

I was an art kid who began photographing as a teen because I couldn’t paint or draw what I could see in my mind’s eye. I took classes from many of the photo giants of the time; Ansel Adams, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, and Paul Caponigro. I used black and white film and large format cameras.

What an amazing opportunity to learn from the masters of photography a veritable who’s who.

Susan drifted away from photography and into graphic design and teaching. Falling in love with photography again with the advent of the iPhone.

I love her iPhone work that is on Instagram and featured in her book Slightly Bonkers. The book is more magazine-like which gave Susan an opportunity to include a large number of the images that she made during the craziness that was 2020. I’m glad she did. Take a quick look in the flip through below.

Check out Susan’s presentation in the video below and learn more at her website here.

Dark of the Moon: A PDF, A Zine & A Chapbook

Dark of the Moon

I’ve enjoyed looking at chapbooks and zines over the last couple of weeks, especially as an alternative to ‘prints on the wall’ as a finished product. To begin exploring the practicality of this I thought I would pick a small set of images and make something.

I had been playing with my iPhone at night just to see what it was capable of doing in low light. Over the course of a couple of weeks – usually when I was taking out the trash cans – I made a series of images of the moon. I then wondered whether I could actually get a crisp image of the moon with my Sony A7RIII.

I pulled these together in a Lightroom catalog, picked the ones I liked the most and then started in.

I have also had ‘learn InDesign’ on my list of things to do, so this was an opportunity to do all of this at once.

I started simply by making the chapbook using square museo cards. These are double sided so it was easy enough to set up a print template in light room for the card and run them through for the front and back. It was a bit of a brain twister to make sure the the right image was in the right place, in the right orientation but I figured it out eventually.

Not everything went to plan!

I then moved on to the zine which I had decided I would make on regular photocopy paper using my laser jet printer. I made a project for this using InDesign and was able to relatively quickly assemble the images for printing. My laser jet printer has a duplex option which means it automatically prints on both sides of the paper. It did take me a while to get all the settings figured out and by a while I mean a lot of paper! I finally realized what the issue was and got the zine printed.

Finished zine printed on photocopy paper

For binding, the zine was stapled using a long reach stapler – what a cool toy that is! – and the chapbook was sewn using the three hole pamphlet stitch. I was happy with how they came out.

Take a look in the video below.

Finally using the InDesign file I made a pdf of this project – check it out here.

I was quite happy with how this came together. I still have a lot to learn but have a number of ideas for other mini-projects that I could do in a similar way which will build into something a little more substantial.

Final Chapbooks and Zines

Friday Inspiration: Josef Sudek

In my poking around on the web I recently came across the photography of Josef Sudek. Sudek was based in Prague and actively photographed until 1976 when he was 80. He had lost an arm to shrapnel in the First World War which makes his work produced with a large format camera all the more impressive.

Prague was occupied in World War II which meant that Sudek’s photography business ground to a halt. During this time he continued photographing mainly shooting from his studio. These images and more from later years can be found in the book ‘Josef Sudek: The Window of My Studio’.

Sudek is often referred to as the poet of Prague and I can understand that. I find his images to be quiet and contemplative. I get a sense of loneliness or melancholy from many of the images. Perhaps that’s just me. The images shot in and around his studio reminded of Saul Leiter’s photographs – largely because of shooting through the condensation on the windows.

Learn more about Josef Sudek in the videos below.

When is a Project Finished?

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.

Friday Inspiration: David Carson

I’ve been taking a wander through the world of book making which has led me into book design and graphic design. It’s not a world that I’ve deeply explored previously and I’m learning a lot.

On this journey I came across David Carson on the Masterclass website. Check out the class trailer below.

David was not formally trained as a graphic designer but as a sociologist and taught high school sociology before making the leap into graphic design. This means he doesn’t have formal training but a great instinct for design and a willingness to go with what feels right.

This approach manifests itself in work that is free and unstructured. Work that has really challenged my notion of what is ‘correct’. It clearly has worked out for him. Starting with magazines such as Surfer and RayGun he’s worked with an ‘A’ list of clients as diverse as Microsoft and Nine Inch Nails.

David is an advocate of putting yourself into your work, an ethos that all of us should embrace since this is where the innovation lies.

Check out more of David’s work at his website here and get a sense of his work and the fun he brings to his work in the Ted Talk below.

Chapbooks As A Vehicle for Your Photography

Time to finish the thought about zines and chapbooks this week.

I had never heard about chapbooks until I came across them through Brooks Jensen. Chapbooks have a long history as a way for artists to self publish smaller bodies of work. This seems to mostly have been a way for poets to get their foot in the publishing door and to pave the way for publication of a larger collection.

With the advent of inkjet printers we photographers can get into the game too! I had said previously that for me the real difference between a pamphlet, zine and chapbook is really the production value. With a chapbook being at the top of the heap, requiring more hand work – i.e. sewing of the signature than a zine which I would typically expect to be stapled.

I have included below a flip through of a Brooks Jensen chapbook ‘Worlds Within Worlds’ which I think illustrates the chapbook concept nicely.

I really do like this idea of small handmade books as a way to get my photography out into the world and will be exploring these more in the coming weeks.

The Power of Presets

I noted recently that most of the images that I’m posting here and other places are made, and finished, using the iPhone. I enjoy the way of working it’s fast easy and I can do it anywhere. If I have 5 or 10 minutes to kill I’m likely to scroll through the recent batch of images that I took and run them through one of the apps that I have on my phone.

I’ve generally been pretty happy with what I’ve been able to achieve although I have received some criticism of the processing of some of the images that I posted – mostly ones from a while ago when I was heavily using presets to process the images. Phototoaster overcooked my images! As a reaction to that feedback I’ve migrated to using Snapseed to adjust contrast and saturation and not do much more to the image if it were color. For black and white I finish the image up in VSCO using one of the black and white film emulations.

In the last week though I’ve started to play with the presets in Instagram. I’m starting to think that I’m not pushing the images as far as they can go, or at least fully exploring the possibilities. I’ve been surprised that some of the filters in instagram achieve a better result than the one that I decided was ‘done’ in Snapseed. Why is that?

I think it was Brian Eno that suggested we go to an extreme and retreat to a more useful position. I don’t think that I’m going to the extreme – pushing saturation a little harder to see what is possible, pushing contrast to see what effect it has – and that is limiting the visual impact that my images have.

How about you? How do you process your images? Do you use presets to explore the potential in the image before setting to work in earnest? I’d be happy to hear about it.

Finding the Image

Tripods are a blessing and a curse. Have you ever watched a group of photographers arrive at a location and set up to take some photographs. I would bet that at least had of the group immediately set their tripod up at about eye level and then start making pictures. It’s a natural thing to do and I’m not saying that it’s bad to do that just that it locks you into a particular way of seeing.

I’m just getting back into using a DSLR after a hiatus where I only shot with my iPhone. I’m still reluctant to drag all the gear – the tripod, the bag of lenses, the filters etc. around with me and so at the moment I’m still 95% iPhone. Everything you’ve seen here or on instagram in the last 2 or 3 years has been with the iPhone.

What i’ve realized before and I’m noticing again is that there is a fluidity to shooting with a phone that is lacking with a larger camera. I tend to explore a bit more, move around, explore different angles, get closer, get lower and just generally be more creative. I find this exploration of a scene helps me move beyond the obvious image and get closer to something that is more me.

I plan on still using the phone before I even get my DLSR out of the bag to explore and then once I’ve found the composition pull out the DSLR, tripod and paraphernalia to get the final shot.

How about you? How do you go from initial seeing to final image. Do you mage sketch images to help work through the scene in front of you? How do you do that? Do you use a viewfinder like the painters use? An old slide holder? Your camera like I do? I’d be interested to hear about your process in the comments.

Visual Fatigue

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.