A Public Examination of a Private Process.

I'm thinking thru things today, weighing a new venture and the new intersections on the great ven diagram of my life.  The process started me down the prickly path of self-exploration that we usually leave untrodden because we have to confront a topology that's at odds with our unexamined version of self.  And that implies making real choices based on our higher vision and against our default positions which usually represent the paths of least resistance around the more interesting rocks and boulders in the streams of our consciousness.  And sometimes just becoming very clear about the things we know we should be doing is a red flag invitation to nervous anxiety, stress and internal rationalization and pain.

But when I chug my way through the contents of the thought process and then examine the dregs at the bottom of my cranial container, in yet another attempt to read my own tea leaves, I'm left with the same old questions:  What am I doing?  What do I know I would rather do?  Why aren't I doing that?

I'm pretty well convinced (and I'll admit it's easy to sell myself on ideas and rationalizations.....) that, on some level, I'm trying to do what I consider my art.  But I feel like a baker whose core business is mixing the cake batter and baking the cake only to find that I can't concentrate on, or finish with any panache, any part of the baking process because I'm too busy answering the phone, meeting the flour delivery at the back door, rushing a check over to the gas company to prevent the untimely interruption of my fuel supply....and just as my cake mix hits the perfect consistency and needs to be hurried into the greased pans and married up with the ovens the process is interrupted by the metaphoric tinkling of the bells over the front door and in comes that customer who always needs more than just a cake.  They need a tangible, fungible affiliation and bond with the artisan baker.  Then I'm torn between batter separating and the necessary massage of the littered, languid egos that also need artful attention.

In the end the resources that promise an ultimate confection are squandered and diluted.  The timing is off.  The resources misallocated.  The cake is "okay", the frosting "serviceable".  And the customers, who were partly culpable, overlook the mediocre product because they've convinced themselves that they are part of the process and that, by extension, we are all bakers and all part of a confectionery team.

The emotional need to defend the choices of their patronage assures that the doors stay open so we can go another round and the ragged process will continue....but always at a level of distraction and dilution....until the only time I can really make a cake is when the shop is closed.  Where there is no customer for the cake but me.  Baking in the early hours of the morning before the heroin-like cellphones compel my patrons to share into the process and keep me multi-tasking while the milk curdles and I ask myself "why the hell did I open a bakery in the first place?"

Most of us have too many choices.  Too many ways to communicate.  And face it,  if you are paying hundreds of dollars a month for your smart phone don't you feel guilty about wasting the money you pay if you don't use it?  And we have so many choices in PhotoShop.  Don't you always try working with an image in two or three ways before you finally commit?  Just because you can?  You could eat a sandwich on the loading dock of your studio and then get back to work on that project or you could break up the momentum and rationalize that lunch with the intriguing but long-winded colleague.  Of course you need to run out for coffee.  Of course you need to compulsively check messages and e-mails and "research" that next camera, on the web.  You could also write a novel while you are at it.  Or bake a cake. Or climb Mt. Everest.  But the reality that really bites you on the ass when you reach your 50's is that you can't do all these things and do them well.  In fact,  I've met very few people who can really do more than one thing at a high level.  I mean a really high, kick ass, level.

Where do we get the hubris to think that we can do so many things and keep any proficiency at all?  So, why am I writing all this?  I told you in the title that I'm making a public examination of a private process.  How do I decide what to do and what not to do?  Everything sounds pretty cool when it's presented.  All invitations are both a logistical communication (where and when and what) as well as a gentle, seductive touch on the ego (they really want me!).  A manipulation. But if you are the least bit presentable and sociable the invitations and opportunities to fragment and dilute are nearly endless.  So how do you choose?  What to do and what to leave?

You need some quiet time to figure out your priorities.  I recently turned down a book project.  It sounded fun.  But it didn't move my process forward.  Didn't have anything to do with MY art.  It was another project that was really an attempt to monetize a knowledge base.  To squeeze some extra profit sharing stuff I found out the hard way.

I know that some people can compartmentalize stuff so they can have their cake and eat it too.  But I'm way too linear. I can't just do a project for the  money anymore.  At least not projects that will take four to six months out of my life.  If I'm not shooting for clients I want to write stuff that I'd love to read and I want to shoot images that I love to look at.  I may be out of touch with the times but the idea of monetizing everything is as appetizing as cake frosting from a can.  But every time I accept a project that branches off from my core I resent it, I regret it and I vow never to do it again.  Until the next time someone tells me that I am smart and creative and we should do a project together.

New rules:

1.  Projects should be an extension of your long term artistic goals or you should leave them on the ground for the person you are not.

2.  Life is short.  Do real work.  Not work about work.

3.  Photography is about the creative process.  Teach that and stop teaching the plumbing side of it.

4.  Money isn't everything but creative freedom almost is.

5.  Time is more precious than anything but love.


Anonymous said...

Lewis Hyde, "The Gift"
Joseph Campbell, "The Power of Myth.
To name just two of many.
Follow your bliss.
Thanks for the wide open look into your head.
It isn't easy being consciously conscious.

Robert said...

Wow cant say much else but I would love to learn about your creative process. And I'm sure that you know that you are probably harder to please than the client that wanted you to fix the shadows in ps, but when you do please yourself it will be worth it.

Daniel said...

# 5 is dead on correct!

I was thinking of opening a facebook and twitter accounts, but you have reminded me why I haven't to this point.

BTW, you are not smart or creative...AND we should do a project together. WHY? Because you have experience and time is precious, pass on that experience to someone who will keep the knowledge flowing to others. Be a Mentor! (to someone, absolutely! me? sure, if you wish.)

Does this mean no more books?

Kurt Shoens said...

These thoughts crystallize some things I've been thinking about in my work as well. Maybe it's part of hitting the fifties and losing patience for diversions from what matters. I'm not retiring any time soon, but I sure want to work on things that matter rather than things that "meta matter." No time or energy to put into the getting ready to work on something. Let's just work directly on our goals.

Regards photography, so much of what is discussed is indeed the plumbing. The plumbing is pretty much fantastic these days, as it was 10 years, and 20 years ago, and so on. Is it only now that we have the tools to realize our individual visions?

Now when someone waxes eloquent about a lens or a camera or a sensor or a film, I'm thinking, "Just show me the pictures."

kirk tuck said...

Kurt. It's kinda bittersweet. Now I have people tossing projects at me that I would have jumped on ten or twenty years ago, book projects and teaching and what not. But all I want to do is shoot.

Daniel said I should mentor someone. Nice idea but it just cuts into the shooting time or the time spent with close friends. Let people mentor other people on something practical like how to stitch people up or set up a corporation. Photography is a field where learning how to do what you want is part of thrill. And it's a lot like writing a novel. It's NOT a team sport.

Kurt Shoens said...

It's a different phase of your career. A very wise person told me years ago that the hard part is figuring out what you want to do. Back when you hadn't made your choice, all those other projects would have been great. Now that you know what you want to do, you don't need the other projects.

Likewise on the mentoring. There's so many books, videos, workshops, and free websites that explain photographic techniques. That stuff's easy. The real challenge is figuring out what you want to do with it.

When you get that fast 85mm prime you want, be sure to label it "do not sell!"


Thaks for sharing what's important to you. I'm a new guy venturing into what you've gone through almost as long as I've been living. Those are wise words. Will keep them with me as I go through this journey myself.

Poagao said...

All of this is oh-so-very true, and reminds me why I am so reluctant to try and make a career of photography.

Dave Jenkins said...

As the great Kosti Ruohomaa once wrote, "Some of my pictures, such as that of Stanley Powell, of Washington, ME, a New York editor would caption, 'typical Maine farmer.' This is not so at all; he is a rarity, the exception. He is among the last of a breed. When his type is gone, they will not come again. The world as we know it is forcing out individuality. The only ones left resisting this change are creative people -- artists, writers, sculptors. The farmer and the fisherman also fight hard to remain individuals and it is my feeling they are more successful at it than the creative person."

kirk tuck said...

Dave, Thanks for a really great quote that I have never seen before. It's the battle against homogenization. It's selfish, I guess, but I want to do it my way. Jeez, now I sound like Frank Sinatra. Someone explain who that is to the newbies.....

Dave Jenkins said...

Kirk, as a working photographer I have nothing to sell except my taste, vision, and judgment. I'm a good craftsman -- a really good craftsman, in fact, but so are lots of other people and some are better. If I let my taste, vision, and judgment become homogenized, I find myself with nothing to sell that can't be bought for less on every street corner. We must fight, fight, fight to keep the faith with ourselves.