Back from an extended summer (Down Under) break and I am thinking about all the things I have to get done. Then I came across a great article by Rebecca Greenfield on Fast Company about how the Creative Director at ETSY uses lists for everything so he can concentrate on creative stuff. (Read Rebecca’s article here) Now I have used Things for some time but not as extensively as the article suggests is a good idea. It also drew my attention to interesting features of OmniFocus. So we are going to get this in and in use by the team here and see what we think about both OnmiFocus and capturing EVERYTHING into ToDo lists. Stay tuned.
I’ve been the last two days at the University of Melbourne for a documentary film making course, and in my spare time I shot some infrared images of the university. Here is a selection of them.
They were taken with my converted for IR Canon 350D using a 720nm IR filter in the body and minimal processing (and no dust spotting, so if you see some, I just haven’t got to them yet :).
I was introduced to Byte magazine in 1978 by one of my tutors at university. It was a very core part of my life for the next 20 years.
Byte was a magazine focused on microcomputers, though it did also cover other interesting developments in the world of computing. Its first issue was September 1975. Back in those days personal computing required electronics skills, as well as the ability to program in machine code and assembly language. So the magazine had a lot of how to articles – building computers, accessories, writing code and reviews of the very early personal computers (some of which were in kit form).
One of my tutors, Mike Bauer, introduced me to Byte in 1978 when I was a second year undergrad computer science student. I became an avid reader immediately. Byte embodied the maker, problem solving and do it yourself ethos of the early microcomputer industry and I loved it.
My first published article was printed in Byte in 1980. It was about adding a full sized keyboard to an English personal computer called the Sinclair ZX80. That was the first money I ever earned from writing and started me on freelance magazine writing.
Byte was part of my life for so many years. I eagerly awaited each new issue and the reading of many books was interrupted by such an arrival. The two times I tried reading Lord of the Rings, a new issue arrived when I was lost in the mountains of Mordor in the middle book and I never finished. Byte was more attractive.
In the early 80’s I would buy Byte in my local newsagent. I went in one day when a new issue should have been there and there was no copy. I went to the counter and asked the girl “excuse me, but has a new issue of Byte magazine come in?” Her reply had me laughing my head off “Have you tried looking in the sealed section down the back?” This story had many a class of computer science students laughing for many years to come. I guess if you didn’t know Byte sounded like some sort of S&M magazine.
Byte ceased publishing in July 1998. By that time I had almost every issue and they took up a lot of bookshelf space. I eventually sold the whole collection and did quite well on it.
No other magazine was able to create such a fanatical loyalty in me. Sure others did for a time, but particularly with the photography magazines I was also an avid reader of in the same period of time Byte was published, I discovered quickly that after two years all the articles started looking familiar. With Byte it was always something new, perhaps because the industry it covered was always so dynamic and changing.
Byte was a part of my life for a very long time, started my writing career and aided my parallel career in computer science. I miss it.
Photography is sometimes art and art sometimes uses photography. But what is the determining factor?
The answer is that photography is art when it mirrors contemporary art concerns. So just what do I mean by that? Well tough as it might sound, contemporary art moved beyond just being beautiful or representational back with surrealism, futurism, and all the other ‘isms’ of the modern age. Now of course we are past modern art and into post-modern and post-post-modern. But a common thread in all the modern+ art movements has been to move beyond beauty and representation. What matters is meaning, having something to say, going beyond appearance to some deeper levels.
Now that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with beauty and representation. In fact contemporary art practice would certainly be all the better for some interest in beauty (IMHO). But it does mean that a work that is mostly concerned with beauty and representation is not contemporary in an art sense.
Another characteristic of contemporary art practice is a lack of interest in process. It doesn’t matter how you do something, all that matters is the final result and the meaning conveyed by it. This is another problem for a lot of photography to get past – much photography has an overwhelming concern with process. This is perhaps exemplified most by the alternate process people – those using gum bichromate or gumoil or some other long surpassed process. These processes appeal because of the beauty of the resulting prints and perhaps a sense of nostalgia for the believed simplicities of the past.
And I have to say that the absurdity of much of this alternate process work should be obvious to all. Not only can the look of most of them be reproduced quite well using the latest inkjets but so much emphasis is put on wonderful papers that are then matted and hidden behind glass for exhibition so it can never be really appreciated. It is what I would call process masturbation at its worse.
Does that mean that I would argue that you should not make beautiful images? No, of course not. Just don’t think you are making contemporary art necessarily. I make two completely different types of images – my contemporary art work which does not have a primary aim of beauty (though I do aim to make it so) and my landscape photography work, which is primarily produced to be beautiful but that I don’t fool myself is art.
This is what it all comes down to – what pleases you and what your priorities are. But don’t fool yourself that it is more than it is.
Be Courageous In Your Photography, and Life
Doing good photography is risky. Living a full life is risky. But can you really be happy doing anything less?
The Oxford dictionary defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery” and as “strength in the face of pain or grief”. If you think about it, both these definitions apply when it comes to making great images.
We have all had the realisation of a new direction we wanted to take, whether in life or photographically, and yet been scared to move in that direction. It is natural. The familiar feels safe and comforting, even when in reality it is far from it, whilst the new seems unsettled, risky and scary. Our fears may be one or many, tied up with whether we are good enough, whether we can pull it off, what others will think and a myriad more. In fact fear is a many-headed hydra – cut one head off and two grow back in its place.
As we have seen above, courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. That is really all courage is. It is not anything miraculous, nor supernatural. It is not something that some have and others can never have. It is simply a state of mind. It is simply being able to say to yourself ‘ok, I’m scared, but I’m going to fucking do it anyway’.
Some of our fears are internal and some are developed by people around us as ways to control us. In other places I have written on the importance of being very careful who you listen to. The reality is that there are people out there, in your lives, who will try to hold you back. Some will have the best of intentions, but be misguided. Others will do it with purpose and intent – their own lives are so weak that they can’t stand to see others actually doing something.
I started thinking about this yesterday when having a conversation with a second cousin by marriage. She is nearing the end of high school and is very close to my daughter. We were discussing what she wanted to do at university. My advice was to find a course she could be passionate about and to do that. Choosing a ‘safe’ or conservative course would destroy her, I advised. She has a very outward personality and certain career directions you can just see would suit her. Yet she found others telling her to be conservative, to play it safe. The world really is divided into two groups of people – the risk takers and the risk averse. She is what I would call a studied risk taker – one who needs to be on the edge but does her homework and weighs things before taking the risk. Doing something safe would strangle the passion in her.
Natural chronically risk averse people are unlikely to be reading this. Those who are reading this are far more likely to be suppressed risk takers or risk takers who are fairly comfortable with what we are. A suppressed risk taker is someone who either through upbringing or life experience has pushed their risk-taking nature down and tried to ignore it. Abusive parents or well meaning but fearful parents may have caused this. It can be caused by an inappropriate choice of life partner or friends. And it can be caused by being so beaten down by bad life experiences that one withdraws into a virtual foetal position.
For those of us severely traumatised, we may benefit from professional support. Counselling or group-based therapy can be extremely helpful in working through our blocks. Note that you can get great therapy by being the member of a supportive creative group – it doesn’t have to be a psychological one. My wife is a member of two such wonderful groups – one an artist group for mothers who are very supportive and nurturing of each other, and the other a tight knit artist run gallery that is similarly supportive of its members. The former was very supportive of my wife when she was going through grieving for her parents and brother. I’ve also seen the same thing with some of my class groups in creative disciplines, such as writing or photography. So there are lots of ways to find such support. You just have to be prepared to shop around and do not be afraid to leave a group that is not working for you.
It can also be very important who your life partner is, if you have one in your life at present. I am fortunate that my wife and I share a passion for creativity and growth, and we also share a strong commitment to compensate for each other’s weaknesses and to help each other forward. Sadly, I’ve seen many people where their life partner actively holds them back, often subconsciously out of fear that they will be outgrown. I’ve also seen partners who, rather than play to a person’s better traits, has instead developed a person’s worst traits, to very sad consequences.
For many of us the blocks will not be as major as those we’ve been discussing above. It is normal to have some fear of the unknown – it is a basic survival instinct after all. But being ruled by our fears can not only hurt us, but those we hold dear. So how do we work through some of these issues and move forward?
Here are some ways to overcome fear and try something new:
- Break a big step down into a whole series of small steps that individually are not so scary, then start doing the little steps
- Consider the worst possible real consequence of what we want to do. Think about how likely this is to happen and how you might deal with it if it did. You will usually find that when coldly analysed the worst possible outcome is not really so bad anyway and is very unlikely to happen
- Brainstorm some alternative paths that might get you to the same point but don’t seem quite so risky. Now that you have choice your fears about your original idea may seem to have less power over you
- Talk about your fears out loud with a trusted friend. Fears actually voiced often have less power
- Decide to take the risk and do it anyway
Mistakes are, in fact, good
I am amazed at how we tie ourselves in knots over creative directions. A lot has to do with our programming about failure. Many have come out of childhood with a deep fear of making mistakes. This can be from parents and their reaction to red marks on our schoolwork, or be caused by teachers who do not understand the value of mistakes. The truth is that we have to make mistakes to grow and develop in any area of our lives. Mistakes are, in fact, good. They show that we are working outside of our comfort zone, pushing boundaries. The only problem with mistakes is that we can get so caught up in negative internal dialogue about ourselves that we forget to learn what we can from the mistake. If that happens we often end up repeating the same mistake over and over again. Better to stop the internal sabotage, learn what we can from the mistake and move on to make new and different ones.
One thing that we ‘creative types’ cannot ignore is the strong linkage between our creativity and our general wellbeing. We are often only really happy when being creative. I know I am. I am lucky because I can express my creativity in many ways: my teaching, my photography, writing, parenting and life with my partner. But all that has taken work. Being blocked creatively often means we are blocked in other aspects of our life. Unblocking one thing can create a cascade effect. It is easy to be fearful of this, fearing that our lives will unravel in a cascade of cause and effect. Such cascades can unveil blocked aspects we have been trying to ignore. But rather than be fearful of this we should see this as an opportunity to examine and finally deal with our blocks so that we can move on from them. I know, my first marriage ended in divorce because of this effect. But in reality I am far better off now than I was then, stuck and constipated creatively. Unhappy at a deep soul level, it was not really me.
Life moves on.
This is a key aspect too – life moves on whether we want it to or not. Sure, we can hold back the waters by sticking fingers in the dam. But eventually we run out of toes and fingers and the whole thing falls apart worst than if we had not resisted change in the first place.
So how do I know if I am blocked creatively? If I’m happily producing similar work for too long then I know it is time to shake something up. And that, my friends, is a topic for another essay.
Boredom plays an undervalued role in stimulating your creativity and improving your photography.
On Saturday my wife had an exhibition opening. We all went there early as she had to setup food, etc. There wasn’t anything for my daughter and I to do and no one had really showed up yet so, given that we were already tired, Lauren and I became bored. So we decided to go for a walk and then come back when people had started turning up.
Since I had my camera with me to photograph the exhibition I naturally started thinking what to shoot while my daughter and I walked. Since the light levels were falling (it seems to be into winter here early) Some possibilities dropped away. So I decided to play with blur. The important thing there is the word play. I had no expectations about result, was just filling time and using it to teach my daughter a part of photography she hadn’t played with yet. We sat down in a cafe and had a hot chocolate and I started shooting. My daughter shot some blur. I explained what was going on. Then we slowly wandered back to the gallery shooting blur on the way. Here are some of the images I took.
The important thing is that boredom led to no expectations and a willingness to just play with the camera. This is really important and we all need to do this more often.
Well, so far my Flash free Mac is working great. I haven’t missed Flash at all. Since a web browser communicates back to a site what technology it supports, what I am finding is that sites that were really annoying with Flash enabled, like the local The Age newspaper and the News Ltd Australian site are much less annoying since, rather than serving up Flash content, those sites just substitute still image ads that are not intrusive.
I have been in the habit for some time now of using my iPad to explore more potentially problematic sites (sites that might host trojans and malware. This includes many of the smaller blogs I visit for articles about photography and writing, as well whenever I am googling for equipment or software suppliers, or indeed googling most things. The list of sites Google returns will sometimes include quite questionable sites. The ones I’ve encountered are often when searching for software and you land on these sites that supposedly offer software reviews but seem more to be a revenue raiser from ads with little really meaningful comment. Discussion forums can also be a problem from a malware perspective. So I use my iPad. It’s less likely to get infected with anything and keeps those problems away from my production systems.
My Mac is noticeably faster without Flash running and the extra memory I installed is also improving things substantially, Photoshop being particularly happier.
Now to continue my quest for a simpler, faster technological life.
Applications like Word and Photoshop are wonderful but frequently do so much more than you need. They also are large applications that hog resources. Now this is much less of an issue for those who tend to run one or two applications at a time, but for what I do it is not uncommon for me to have six apps on the go, sometimes more. So I am going to look for smaller, more focused applications that I can use when I do not need all the features of the big software.
Wordprocessing looks an easy solve. For some purposes TextEdit is fine. I have Pages and I already use Scrivener for my novel work. I will look at this and see what sort of footprint it has on the machine when running. There are also lots of other simple wordprocessor options out there.
An alternative to Photoshop may be tougher, but I will start looking.
I’ll keep you informed.
Since I was recently adding more memory to several MacBooks a friend has, and so had my anti-static mat out, I decided it was time to add some RAM to my MacBook Pro.
Over the years I used various RAM in my computers but tend to prefer Micron (Crucial). They make life really easy on you with a system scanner application (http://www.crucial.com/store/drammemory.aspx) that you download and run. It communicates back to the website and takes you straight to the right page for the memory that works in your machine. I’d order an 8G set last Thursday and it arrived on Monday morning in Australia. Quick install and now a happier Mac. As a bonus the RAM in my MacBook Pro is the same as that in my daughter’s white MacBook. So the 4GB that was in mine went into hers, replacing the 2GB it shipped with. So two upgrades for the price of one. Pretty recent MacBooks make the memory upgrade quite easy. Remove the screws on the back and there are the RAM slots waiting for an upgrade.
On the horizon is an SSD disk drive upgrade, making the boot disk the SSD and the hard drive will move into the optical drive bay. This seems a recommended setup for heavy Lion users. I may up the hard drive to a 750GB 7200rpm drive at the same time. This setup gives you the best of both worlds – system on the solid state drive for fast boots and wake from sleep, swapping, etc and a large pretty fast drive for all my files.
Updating your system is not hard. Some small Philips head screwdrivers and I recommend an anti-static mat, but you can also just earth yourself by touching something like a metal tap that connects to copper pipes. There are videos and step-by-steps you can quickly find through Google for your particular model of computer that will show you exactly what is required. Naturally use common sense and take it slow. And I accept no liability for anything that goes wrong, as I’m sure do the step-by-step tutorial writers. But I have to say that it really is not hard for most people.
While you’ve got the back open gently blow dust out of the machine. I use a rocket blower that I have for my camera gear (big rubber squeeze device that shoots out a decent force of air).