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 thought I’d try out a video of this set of notebooks check it out:
The smallest of the notebooks that I have is a passport size notebook from Travelers Company. It’s an odd size at 5.2 x 3.8 inches, about the same size as a passport, small enough to easily be able to put in a pocket with you to carry around. You can set it up to have a max of three different inner notebooks at the time I got this notebook I didn’t really see the point and so had a diary as one and a notepad as the other insert.
I somehow got into the notebooks from Field Notes. They are too big for the Travelers company leather cover which was a frustration for me. I eventually decided to forgo the cover and switch to the Field Notes notebooks. They were easier to get in the US at the time. The Field Notes books are pretty interesting with a new design appearing every quarter or so.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Vienna several times and somewhere along the time I got introduced to Paper Republic. I had been looking at their Grand Voyager XL planner, an A5 leather cover and notebook set as a replacement for the Moleskine notebooks that I use. By mistake I ordered the Grand Voyager Pocket. Turn out that the Pocket size is the perfect size for me. I can finally use my Field Notes books in a system similar to the Travelers Company notebook. I now use one notebook for a ‘bullet journal’ rapid logging section and then the second for notes and ideas. ‘Collections’ in the Bullet Journal lingo.
When I want a little bit more real estate than the Field Notes size books can provide I work in the Baron Fig Confidant notebook. This notebook stays in my desk at home. Ideas get transferred into this from the Field Notes books.
Finally when I really want to stretch out I have this A4 size notebook that I picked up on Amazon. Quite often I’ll go over and over the same topics in several places – a habit that I appear to have. I will press on topics until they yield to my meager understanding.
In addition to these analog notebooks I use Instagram as a digital sketchbook where I try ideas out. I limit my Instagram posts to iPhone only efforts. And I use this blog to document the things that I’m thinking about and looking at.
I have been thinking about a framework that I can use as scaffolding for my on-going and future projects. In other areas of my life I have found that having a flexible road map for what you’re working on to be enormously helpful in actually getting projects out of the door. As part of this process I have been deconstructing some of the basic assumptions that have served me well up to now and trying to reassemble them. Unfortunately I have parts left over which means either I’ve found a better way or broken something.
I started with vision, which I had interpreted as the way that you see the world. Looking at a dictionary definition of vision I found that vision was described as:
the faculty or state of being able to see.
the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.
mental image of what the future will or could be like.
Or to put it another way vision is the change that you want to cause to happen. For instance it could be telling the story and raising awareness of a disenfranchised group of society, shining a spotlight on the growing crisis of climate change, or mobilizing people to stop using the ocean as a dumping ground.
Vision therefore is not really unique, I know there are many others that are concerned about the state of the oceans and share the vision of clean oceans that will be able to support a diverse population of marine life. How you express that vision and work to effect change most certainly could, and should be, if you draw on and incorporate the experiences that have shaped you.
Growing up I spent an awful lot of time at the pool and it looks as though I’m going to be doing so again, although not in the water this time.
While sat watching my kids do laps I wondered whether I could use the time to develop a project, one that goes beyond the snapshots of the kids at the pool. It’s fun to start these projects, I find finishing them much harder.
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.
I am continuing to enjoy hopscotching through ‘contemporary’ photographers, spending some time in the last week looking at the work of Richard Misrach. Until recently my exposure to Misrach’s work had been the image above and few others in this series. This series of images are striking but I didn’t dig deeper into the origins of this work something which Misrach gets into in the video below.
I have yet to deeply explore the work that Misrach is perhaps most well know for – his on-going project called ‘Desert Cantos’, photographs of the deserts of the american west – spending more time looking at his work associated with hurricane Katrina and of what he calls ‘cancer alley’. These two projects resulted in the books ‘Destroy this memory‘ and ‘Petrochemical America‘.
While it could be argued that all of his work deals with man’s rather complex relationship with the environment the Petrochemical America project really struck home for me. Will we ever put long term sustainability before short term gains? I’m going to continue digging into Misrach’s work. For now watch Richard Misrach talk about his work in the videos below.
Sometimes I catch myself and otherwise others give me a helpful prod but if you’re going to use the ‘creative’ moniker then that means, or at least should mean, actually making things rather than thinking and talking about the creative act. I’ll give you that pushing the button and making the image could be the creative act but for me the end product of creative has to be some tangible thing. To keep my feet to this fire I have been using my iPhone more than ever before to play and make images. I’m pairing these experiments with Artifact Uprising’s printing service to make little prints and now books all without leaving the iOS environment.
I was very happy with my little book part one of what I hope will be a four part series, one book of images per quarter, and perhaps a ‘greatest hits’ compilation at the end of the year. And perhaps I will pair the images with a collection of essays that describe the journeys and experiences and maybe make a slipcase to put them all in and, and, you know how it goes. I have to remind myself one step at a time. Small doable chunks.
Around the same time I got my little book I got Magda Biernat’s little book ‘Adrift’. Biernat’s project Adrift begins a dialog about climate change in the pairing of images of icebergs in antarctica with abandoned hunting cabins of the Iñupiat eskimos in the Arctic. The natural and the man made are both adrift in increasing numbers as the poles warm, causing more icebergs to be cast off and the hunting cabins to be abandoned as the animals the subsistence hunters pursue either dwindle in number or their migration patterns change.
What blows me away about the book is how creatively well done it is. There are a number of ‘what if’s’: What if we prepare the book as if it were a Japanese accordion book? What if we have the accompanying essays bound as a separate text block. What if the book opens on the horizontal, bottom to top, rather than the vertical right to left? All of which work and all of which serve to draw me in further.
It’s worth keeping these things in mind when you’re working on your own book projects, perhaps using templates from some of the big on demand publishing services, that you’re getting locking into a standard format. How can you work within that box and yet break it so that you have something that better serves the work and that is uniquely your own. Daniel Milnor photographer at large for Blurb continually is pushing at the edges of what is possible with the Blurb format and is well worth paying attention to as you think about developing your own projects.
One of the projects that I set for myself this year is to create 250 ‘instagram’ images. Not necessarily to post 250 images to Instagram but to finish 250 images taken on the iPhone and processed using apps. That means ~ 60 images per quarter. It’s been an usual start to the year which was the major driver for me reaching the 100 mark last week.
Looking back over the images is see that I clearly have a preferred color palette as well subject matter. My 100 a images are an eclectic collection of mostly color abstracts and landscape images.
The image above, taken on the last day of a short trip to Portland, is a clear outlier. Without exception the other 99 are all of subjects outside, even if they were taken from the warmth of a coffee shop the subject was outside.
I doubt that there will be more like this – never say never – but it does make me wonder why I haven’t been shooting indoors more and what it would look like if I did.
When I first saw the work of Natalie Dybisz aka Miss Aniela a number of years ago now I was absolutely floored. At the time I was still relatively naive with regard to the possibilities of what could be created in Photoshop and had imagined that her surreal imagery were not just a product of a fertile imagination but also prodigious camera skills. The fluency with the tools is certainly there but it a solid understanding of how to shoot so that the required elements are available for the final construction in photoshop. Take a look below to see Miss Aniela at work and to hear her talk about her process.
“If you want to make more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person.” – Jay Maisel
If part one of making things with meaning is to learn more about yourself then part two has to be all about leaning in and connecting with the world.
For me a deeper understanding of what resonates with me helps me get myself into situations that I more likely connect with. Even then I feel that the camera can be a barrier which makes me more an observer, rather than a participant in the world.
The answer to the question of ‘how to break down that barrier’ is seemingly obvious. Take time to experience the place and people that you’re going to photograph and build a relationship before rushing to grab a few shots.
Michael Kenna says that he takes time to talk to the land before he photographs, I suspect that this is his way of ensuring that barrier is broken down. It’s a good practice to take time to wander around with out the camera and see what’s grabbing your attention before racing in to photograph. Not advice I always follow myself and I can tell when I do and when I don’t.
The same goes for people too. I can’t imagine why you would want to photograph people, to make their portraits, if you’re not genuinely interested in who they are and what’s their story. Again, I think that you can tell when you look at the work from people who ‘stole’ the portraits and those who really took the time to engage.
Make photographs about things you care about and make me care too.