School’s Out For Summer!

I’m shocked to find myself in the summer holidays. Where did the year go? My kids are now rattling around the house looking for things to do. If I were them I would want to spend my time in The Music Shed with David Morgan.

Instead I’m finding myself swamped with multifarious commitments and obligations making doing the things that I want to do a challenge.

Photography seems harder in the summer, trees are less interesting when they are fully clothed and blogging is taking a back seat.

How about you? Ready for a summer break?

Doing it on Purpose

My days are packed, I’m sure yours are too, which means that I often find myself wondering is this the most important thing that I can be doing right now. Prioritization is both a chore and something that I find painfully difficult because I don’t like saying no.

I was recently reintroduced to Ikigai a Japanese term meaning ‘having a direction or purpose in life, providing a sense of fulfillment and towards which they the person may take actions, giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning.’ Take a look at the graphic below for a sense of what were talking about but also realize that this isn’t quite ‘it’. See here for an explanation.

If you’re interested in digging into your own purpose check out this work sheet from Dandy People here.

Being clear about my sense of purpose has really helped remove some of the big items from my plate leaving me clear to focus on a smaller set of things where I can really make a difference. How about you? How do you make sense of the myriad of things that you could do?

Mid-Year Goal Review

It’s hard to believe that we’re in June already. Where did the first part of the year go? I’m taking a breath this week and with that comes a reflection on what I’ve managed to achieve in the first part of the year and set myself up for the second half of the year.

While the first part of the year has zipped on by I’ve had some successes and some misses.

In the successes category I’ve got a new computer and restructured my catalog and back-up strategy. I’ve started posting regularly on instagram and used some of those images to make a small handmade book. Which in turn gave me a project to learn more about InDesign. I’ve gotten clearer about my why for photographing, something that I have wrestled with and continue to wrestle with. The struggle is real! As a result of my regular posting on instagram I’ve photographed more, all with the iPhone, and found myself hitting the limits of the iPhone as a camera.

There are lots of things that I haven’t done of course. I had plans to photograph and compile a family cookbook. I started taking pictures for that but haven’t gotten very far with it. Perhaps for Christmas 2022? There are many other things that have been pushed to one side to make room for photography, blogging and instagram. As I look now towards the next 6 months I’m thinking about what do I want to achieve by the end of the year.

Elizabeth King tells us that ‘Process Saves us From the Poverty of Our Intentions‘ which really resonated when I first came across it and still does. Having a daily practice of creating is the only way for me to accomplish all of the different things I have up in the air.

It is also fitting because I’ve been thinking a lot about intentions vs goals. They can seem like the same thinking but are subtly different. I like to think that intentions describe a desired end state, The Why. Plans are where the process fits in and are the How. Goals are the things that will need to be achieved in order to get there – The What.

Still some work to do to nail down intentions for the second half of the year but it’d definitely coming into focus.

How about you – Goals? Intentions? Plans? None of the above but just see where the breeze blows you? I’d love to hear about your process.

Managing Expectations

I continue to think about and torture my friends by asking them about making Art and making photographs specifically. What is it for? Who is it for?

There are so many ways that we can use our time why make art if it’s not putting food on the table? Why make art if there’s no waiting audience for it?

The answer that I keep coming back to is that for me, and I suspect many others, creating things is an internal drive. I just have to do it. The world gets out of balance without the ability to create things. Nice if there’s and audience for what we’re making but it’s not the reason for making it.

Where things get a bit wobbly is when you have expectations for what you are creating. Whether it’s the standard that you set for yourself for quality? Whether it’s the ‘likes’ on Instagram or the number of pieces sold. Focusing on these things as measures of how good the work is will inhibit your progress as an artist.

Instead it’s much better to focus on the process of creating. Thinking about how many days did I get out to photograph this week, this month, this year or how many photographs did I ‘finish’ – take through the edit process and print? Seems to me a much better way to measure our creative output.

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.

Spring Cleaning

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.

The Gap – Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare

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.

Doing’ it for the ‘Gram

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.

How about you? How do you use social media?

Are Small Steps Everyday Better Than a Big Push Once in a While?

In the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you. — Hindu saying that Steve Jobs was fond of 

I tend to circle topics until I get a satisfactory answer – something that makes sense to me, is actionable or is a definitive end. It’s a funny trait that I didn’t realize I did until someone pointed it out to me recently. One of those topics is how to learn. I’ll certainly come back to this a few times here.

I was thinking about a story that I read in the book Art & Fear about a pottery class that was split into two. One group was told that their grade would be based on the quantity of work that they produce during the semester while the other group would be graded on the quality of work they produced. At the end of the semester the group that produced the most work also produced work of a higher quality. The act of making, making mistakes, correcting and making again had lead to a deeper understanding.

How can we apply this thinking to our photography to push ourselves forward? I am contemplating a project where I would post an image a day to Instagram and then review my progress at the end of a year. Would this spur me forward to actively create and finish more images? Would that help me get out of a rut and move me forward? I think it may be fun but would be an immense challenge for me. At the moment I rarely leave the house makes it a challenge or at least pushes me in a different direction.

Carrying a camera with me is not a habit that I need to adopt – my phone is always with me. I’m often mentally taking photographs – I still see the American flag, framed on 3 edges by fall leaves that I looked at for a week when I was dropping my daughter off at school but never took the photo – but I don’t take enough photos to be able to post one a day. Not yet anyway.

How about you do you carry a camera with you all the time and do ‘visual push-ups’ every day? Want to join me in the challenge? Need an accountability partner for your project? A year too long? How about a sprint? Everyday for a month? Let me know here or tag me on Instagram.