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.

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.

Friday Inspiration: William Neill

William Neill: Dawn, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada 1995

I’ve been spending sometime with Bill Neill’s new book ‘Light on the Landscape‘ which is a collection of the essays from his column in Outdoor Photographer magazine, paired with his magnificent images. It’s a fantastic resource for those of us who are more interested in the creative aspects of photography, the why rather than the how. Have a quick glimpse in the flick through video below.

For those of you not familiar with Bill, he got his start in photography working at the Ansel Adams gallery in the ’80s where he got to know Ansel and some of the people that were in his orbit – John Sexton, Alan Ross and Joel Meyerowitz to name but a few. Although he has been based in the Yosemite area for the last 40+years his photography has avoided the potential cliches of the area and shows what is really possible when you are true to your own sensibilities.

I was fortunate to take a portfolio development class online with Bill a long, long time ago. It was excellent! He was patient, engaging and a wealth of information. I was just starting my journey into photography at the time and was just entering what has been a long and steep learning curve. He introduced me to photographers such as Ernst Haas and the seminal book The Creation and to Eliot Porter and his intimate landscapes. I learned from Bill how much you can get from having subjects close to him that you can return to at different times of the day, different weather and different seasons. How to really work a scene; how to find not just the obvious shot but to really explore what the scene and subject really have to offer.

I was delighted then to come across the recent interview with Bill on Alister Benn’s YouTube channel. Many of these topics come up in the discussion between Bill and Alister and others that I hadn’t heard Bill talk about. So check out the interview below and to learn more about Bill visit his website here.

Deconstructing Vision

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.

Wherever You Go There You Are

I doubt that I am unusual in having an almost continual running conversation with myself.  One of the topics of conversation with myself when I travel is is to manage expectations for the photographs that I’ll create.  ‘You take you with you wherever you go’, I told myself.

Playing with that phrase over the weekend I came to ‘Wherever you go there you are’, which felt too familiar for me not to have seen it somewhere else.  A quick search came up with the most likely place that I’d seen it before – the title of Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s book of the same name that deals with mindfulness.  Other sources were fun though, particularly Buckaroo Banzai, a cult film from the ’80’s.

The chapter in Kabat-Zinn’s book that is titled ‘Wherever you go there you are’ the problem that I was coaching myself through is described perfectly.  Namely this – we have a tendancy to flee from things, if it’s not good here it will be better there.  The problem of course is that many of the things that we’re running from have an uderlying root cause and that is us.

Not being happy with the photographs you’re taking at home doesn’t mean that the photographs you make when you travel to an exotic location will be too much different.  They will inevitably have your signature all over them, they will be you, that it if you’re doing anything right at all.  For me this means that I won’t suddenly channel Michael Kenna or Michael Levin when I travel to Hokkaido.  I may go to the same places and see the same things but the photographs will be different, either dramatically or subtly.

In fact you should be striving to take ‘you’ photographs, those photographs that are a unique expression of how you see the world, and being doing that whether you’re at home or not.  I, perhaps we, need to get comfortable with that, own it and milk it for all it’s worth. 

Be Present and Do Your Best Work

If you’ve been following along with the Wednesday series of posts you will have worked on identifying the big why in your life, the purpose that pulls you forward and with that as a guide you can easily decide between the options that life puts in your path. Is this aligned with my values and support my purpose. Yes or no.

If you’ve done that you’re already ahead of the game.

If you’re like me, even with clarity around purpose you will still have an enormous amount of stuff to deal with and it’s easy to become bogged down to the extent that you’re not fully present and in the moment and as a result not doing your best work. it’s a sort of grey state that lacks the pop and punch of what you could achieve if you weren’t thinking about what you needed to prepare for your next meeting or what you needed to get from the grocery store and the multitude of other things that have our attention for much of the day.

How to handle this? A trusted system where you can park all of the things that you don’t need to be thinking of so that you can free yourself up to focus on what is important. Many of us have such a system for part of our lives – our calendar – and yet have failed to integrate other tools to manage the rest of the balls that we need to keep in the air. For many years now I’ve used David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) system which is truly an effective method for not only capturing what is going on in your universe but clarifying meaning and deciding on next actions. Click here for more about GTD and if you have a lynda.com subscription check out David Allen’s course here.

At the simplest ‘stuff’ is processed by asking the question ‘what is it?’ and then the follow up ‘is it actionable?’ If it’s not actionable then the path is to dump it in the trash, file as reference material or hang on to it (incubate) for possible action in the future. If it is ‘actionable’ the next question is ‘what’s the next action’ with an eye towards ‘what’s the desired outcome?’ Choices here are to:

* do it – if you are the right person to do the work and if it takes less than 2 minutes to handle
* delegate it – if you’re not the right person for the job
* defer it – if it will take longer than 2 minutes and this is not the appropriate time or if you don’t have the energy for that task

For the things that are deferred they get parked in one of a couple of buckets or action reminder lists. How these lists are set up should align with how you think about the world and how you work. Good starting points are:

* Agendas – topics for meetings with staff, etc.
* Anywhere – actions that can be done anywhere
* Computer – that require a computer
* Office – that require you to be in the office
* Waiting for – actions that have been delegated and you’re waiting for a response
* Projects – an active project list with embedded multistep actions
* Someday/maybe – a list of things to explore when you have the time and energy

I find that one place where it’s easy to get lost when starting this process is not drilling down to the level of the next action, the absolute next thing that needs to happen to move the project forward. We often think of things that need to be done at a macro scale for instance ‘Fix broken light’ is actually a project in the GTD methodology which in our house starts with working out whether we need to have an electrician to do the work, in which case the next action would be ‘call electrician RE attic light’ but could easily be ‘buy light bulb’ for more capable people.

While I’m not perfect in my implementation of GTD and often fall off the wagon, I know that getting back on is as simple as taking 30 minutes to list all the things that have my attention and dropping them into the appropriate lists.

You can engage with GTD at a number of levels, the more you use it the more you get more out of it.  Using it at all will most certainly help you be present and do your best work.

Why Do You Photograph?

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If you’ve been following along here, in the last few weeks we’ve been digging in to identify our purpose, the big why that is the underlying reason for the choices that we make in life. A touchstone that helps guide us through difficult decisions.

Before I leave this topic for a little while I could help but ask a final question. Why do you photograph? Perhaps related is how does your photography support your big why?

Now I’m not thinking about what kind of photography, sports, documentary, editorial, fine art etc., or what you photograph but why do you do the thing that you’ve chosen to do.

There are lots of reasons that people photograph, to capture the essence of a person or a pet, to make other people feel emotion, to preserve significant moments, to create something, as a meditative practice. The list goes on.

Making the connection between your photography and your big why can help identify new photography projects, bring existing photographic projects into focus, give a sense of direction to your work and also a reason to keep going when you’re wondering is it worth it. Additionally, as we’ve discussed previously understand why helps guide your decision making and help make sense of the myriad of options you have for spend your most precious resource of all – time.

The Circular Journey from Vision to Print

It struck me over the weekend that the path to realizing our vision, whether that’s on the computer monitor or on paper for the old school folks, is circular. I’ve been mulling over technical skills and aesthetic choices over the last couple of weeks resulting in the postings last week regarding conversion to black and white and also getting a better understanding of our sense of aesthetics. The final image to me then is a result of combining these with creativity. Simply put:

Realized Vision = Aesthetic Choices + Creativity + Technical Skills

I often feel that many of the initial photographs in a series are the result of happy accidents, either in the field when I just try something for the sake of it or when I’m back in front of the computer when again I play the game of ‘what happens if I do ….’. Taking that experience and then repeating it in different circumstances and situations then allows me to build that series. Whether it’s playing around with toy camera effects, shooting in black and white, or shooting long exposures all have been informed by what’s gone before. Having a better sense of the possibilities, particularly for post-processing of my images, means that I am ever more aware of possibilities for my photography.

There Are Images Everywhere – The Art of Seeing

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There are images everywhere. No really there are.

Regardless of whether you live in an area that people would travel to because of it’s natural beauty, or whether you live in an area that people feel they need to leave to experience natural beauty there are images to be made. The skill that we need to learn is to see them. This is something that takes practice. Freeman Patterson’s book ‘Photography and the Art of Seeing‘ is a great place to start. A new edition just came out – it’s exceptional and should find a home on every photographer’s shelf.

Learning to see the possibilities around you means carrying a camera around with you and using it every day. For me there are days when that’s not an issue at all and then those other days when I’m running to stay in one place, not so easy. But I keep trying.

I’m finding with the iPhone that I enjoy the exploration of image after taking it, at least as much as taking it in the first place. The image above was taken while I was waiting for my son to be released from school the other day. I played with it in photoforge and phototoaster.