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.

Friday Inspiration: Michael Freeman

With the arrival of ‘The Photographer’s Vision‘ it feels like Michael Freeman has finished his trilogy of books that began with ‘The Photographer’s Eye‘ took us to ‘The Photographer’s Mind‘ by way of ‘Michael Freeman’s Perfect Exposure‘ and finally delivering us to ‘The Photographer’s Vision‘.

One of the first things I do with any book of this type us to scan through to find the sections that look like they would offer immediate value. One such section is seeing differently. I was surprised to find that this short section was almost entirely devoted to a case study from one of my friends and mentors, Cary Wolinsky. Michael’s interview with Cary that includes the case study can be found here. I’m still working through the book but it looks like it will be a valuable addition to the photographers bookshelf, particularly the one who us interested in further developing visual literacy and the language to go along with it.

Check out the videos below to hear Michael discussing professional photography and his books.

Watching the Weather

As a photographer and a sailor the weather has a major impact on my activities. As a photographer I look for weather that suits the style of photographs that I’m currently working towards and plan appropriately. As a sailor I’m watching the weather and modifying the sails to match changes in wind and changing plans to account for storms.

We need to be equally skilled at looking for and responding to the winds of change in our careers and personal lives. We must change and continue to innovate if the hope is to build and sustain our business and career. Being creative, looking beyond the obvious, offering something more than just what the camera is able to bring seems to be the way to succeed. Opportunities abound for those willing to try small experiments, review the feedback from those experiments and try again until something is found that works.

Maine Islands Workshop

Last weekend I was at John Paul Caponigro’s Maine Islands Workshop.  The workshop appealed to me because it was based in a part of Maine I hadn’t previously explored and it was an opportunity to work with John Paul.  For the uninitiated, John Paul is a fine art landscape photographer whose work often blurs the line between photography and painting.  I was initially more familiar with his work as a master printer since he was referenced by many of the photographers I have paid attention to.  After poking around on his website I realized that JP could be the photography mentor that I have been looking for, someone who could help me become more like me.

I was more than a little bit intimidated in signing up since I felt that John Paul attracted people that were already very good and were pushing to be more creative.  I really needn’t have worried.  John Paul’s relaxed demeanor helped to foster a very supportive environment that made for good weekend.

As an added bonus Kevin Ames was part of our group.  I was familiar with Kevin through his book ‘The Digital Photographer’s Notebook’ so this was real surprise to get a chance to meet him and see him in action.  Kevin has a great sense of humor and was fun to be around.  He’s also a great resource for imaging possibilities in photoshop which came in very handy.  I’m looking forward to bumping into him again.

The subtitle of the workshop was ‘Illuminating Creativity’, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that at each of the shoots John Paul gave the group an exercise – shoot a photograph that’s a noun, make the postcard image and then make a more creative one.  What this did was to shift my thinking.  I have a specific project that I am working on that I half thought I would come close to finishing at this workshop but what actually happened was that I tried a lot of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  I made some images that I like, I have a few ideas that I will pursue further and I have a better sense of why my duds are just that duds.

It was an odd sensation but I came away from the workshop feeling the same way I did when I got into graduate school – an ending but also the first step on a grander adventure.

To Thine Own Self Be True

I’m sure that most people recognize the title of today’s post as Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For me, it evokes memories of one of the worst training sessions that I have ever attended and still managed to complete. I was part of a group working with an actor to develop our presentation skills. ‘To thine own self be true’ was one of the phrases that we were using to make sure that we projected to the back of the room.

The phrase of course had meaning in itself – by being authentic you are able to give a much better presentation. Part of the workshop was to explore who we were as individuals, what was our story and how would that impact how we approach presentations. At the time I thought it was utterly hokey and wanted little to do with it. With time however, I’ve come to believe that success, with presentations or otherwise, will follow when you are true to yourself.

This is something that is echoed in Dane Sanders‘s story about his own career as a photographer in ‘The Fast Track Photographer‘. Dane was pitching himself as ‘Santa Barbara’s Premier Wedding Photographer…’ when in fact he had little experience. Once he changed that message to one that more accurately represented him the work began to flow in.

In a culture where ‘fake it ’till you make it’ is the rule, being true to yourself can be a challenge but one that’s ultimately worth it.