The Power of Community

In more than a couple of portfolio reviews the folks that I was sat down with have asked me about my community.  Who are the people around you that are able to share in the trials and tribulations of creating work?  The people that can support you when you venture beyond what is safe and encourage you to go further.

What does your community look like?

Hopefully it will be diverse.  You will have the never ending cheerleaders who will support and encourage you regardless of what you’re doing.  You’ll have the people who will pick you up when you’re down.  The ones that know just what to say to penetrate the negative self-talk that many of us can slip into all too easily when we’re way outside of what we think we know is good.  Finally you’ll have the people who will give you straight forward and direct feedback.  Having a good balance of these groups in your life really helps.

As an aside are you like me and hear the whisper of the critic more clearly than the shout of the supporters?  I’m not sure why that is but it does seem to be a pattern repeated time and time again.

Having regular interactions with your community so that you all benefit is what makes communities work. Mostly you need to show up and participate.

I’m also finding that if you are to grow from those interactions you need to ask good questions.  Perhaps this is an obvious to you, but it hasn’t always been to me.  As I’ve grown more sophisticated as a photographer I wish that the questions that I’ve asked have also grown in sophistication but they haven’t.  All too often I look for approval – is this good? do you like it? Does that sound familiar?

Better questions lead to better answers which in turn allow you to move forward.  The simple question ‘Do you like it’? almost demands a simple yes or no answer. A more involved question such as ‘what do you think of when you see this image’ or ‘what could make this stronger’ requires more of the viewer and may well result in more informative feedback.  The associations that people may surprise you and suggest ways in which you can extend the work.

I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on community – how to build community, how to sustain it for the long term and anything else you want to add to the conversation – add them in the comments section.

Friday Inspiration: Arturo Chapa

Horse and Rider

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about, and continue to think about, book design. What are the elements of a good photobook? I have lots of photobooks to look at and I continue to work through them identifying the elements that work and don’t seem to work.

I was very interested to hear the discussion that Michael Reichmann had with book designer Arturo Chapa regarding the preparation of Reichmann’s 20 year retrospective book, the proceeds of which will be used to seed the charitable foundation ‘The Luminous Endowment for photographers’.

Chapa has a number of interesting things to say about his philosophy of designing books. The most pertinent for me was his assertion that you shouldn’t see the design. If the book is well designed you just see the images. You don’t see the design, you don’t notice the quality, you just see and remember the images. It’s all in support of the content. Check out the video below for more about how Arturo Chapa thinks about book design and manages the process of getting the book printed to the standard that he demands.

Making the Book: Michael Reichmann – a 20 year Photographic Retrospective from The Luminous Landscape on Vimeo.