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.

A Line in the Sand

I recently signed up for the Fitts & Wolinsky portfolio review at the South Shore Art Center in early January.

With the review event as a deadline, I’m now working though my archives for a set of photographs that hang together as a cohesive set. I think that I have a reasonable nucleus of images that would work and I’m considering including the one above in the group. I believe that this was taken on the morning that I ended up in the water with my camera. As is the case with many of the photographs that I ultimately end up liking, this was a throw away shot. Not something that I tried hard for or thought too much about. I saw the wave, thought it was pretty interesting and made the photo. It took me longer to type that last sentence than it did to go through the process. I like the motion blur that I got in this image and also that the horizon is ambiguous.

I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say about it too.

Finding your Focus

One of the ideas that I’ve been kicking around recently is whether it’s better to invest time in developing areas of weakness or to put those same hours into enhancing strengths.

I’m increasingly of the opinion that most people can learn to do most things if they are willing to commit the time and energy. Granted, some people may have more of an aptitude for one thing over another (languages aren’t it for me!) and so may not have to work as hard or as long to achieve a basic level of proficiency as someone who doesn’t have the same aptitude.

To get beyond that initial level of proficiency, to achieve mastery, requires a more significant investment of time and energy.

Mastery = time + commitment

It’s been said that mastery of a skill requires approximately 10,000 hours.  This is the equivalent of about 5 years working 40 hour weeks.  It sounds about right to me.  It’s about the length of a traditional apprenticeship or the number of hours that you would be expected to put in during a typical PhD, or MD training program.

So where to invest your 10,000 hours?  In some regards as an ‘amateur’ photographer I’m in a luxurious position in that I can spend time working on what appeals to me rather than developing a skill set that is going to meet the needs of ‘the client’.  In turn this means that I have developed a very lop-sided skill set, as I have focused on the things that appeal to me.  That’s not to say that I’ve been successful with all the subjects that appeal to me.  In fact one of the things that has helped, and continues to help, push me forward are portfolio review sessions with people that want to see me improve and will give me solid frank feedback.  These review sessions have helped me steer away from those subjects that regardless of how hard I try I end up making ‘record shots’, to allow me to focus on those subjects that truly resonate.  It’s taking some time and effort but I’m finding my focus.