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?

Friday Inspiration: Paul Strand

Tir A'Mhurain, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, Paul Strand | Mia

One of the great things about being ‘self-taught’ when it comes to art and photography is that it is a choose your own adventure type of experience. I have, and continue, to explore the things that capture my attention. I will go on deep dives into particular areas until I hit the limit of my attention span and then move on to a different topic. That’s the great part. The not so great part is that this approach leaves large areas not just unexplored but untouched.

I recently rediscovered Paul Strand. I say rediscovered because I’ve certainly heard the name before but couldn’t think of a single iconic image of his when his name recently came up in conversation. I thought that I would spend a few moments this week to have a bit of a read and exploration and share a bit of that here. As an aside, the Metropolitan Museum has a good set of essays on the History of Photography, important movements and photographers including Paul Strand.

Strand was born in 1890 and died in 1976 and as such his photographic career spanned almost all of the 20th century. His early work was very much in the mold of his mentor, Edward J. Steichen – pictoralist – focusing on life in the city. Fascinating to realize that this was at the time when the use of cars were on the rise and so it would have been a period of great change.

Paul Strand: Portfolio Three | Aperture

His later work focused more on communities. I’m currently looking for a copy of ‘Time in New England’ to complement the book he created from his time in the Outer Hebrides – Tir A’mhurain: The Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

I was surprised, or rather amazed, at the quality of the reproductions in this book. Digging further I learned that Strand was committed to the print and worked hard to be able develop technical expertise that allowed him to capture images with good tonal range. Learn a little more about Paul Strand in the videos below.

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.

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

Life is Just a Series of Moments

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.

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.

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.