Your Focus Determines Your Reality.

Perception and reality are intertwined.  And what is reality for one person isn't necessarily a reality for the person standing next to them.  The way in which you think about things determines the outcome.  If I know a technique will work, it works.  If I think being nice is hard then it becomes very difficult.

I find that many people have a thought process based on a search for a magic bullet or magic series of steps or charms or products that will unleash that person's creativity or allow them to live forever.  In their minds there is a need to do "research."  They cloister themselves in a library created from materials they find in the orbits they search and they proceed to read everything they can get their hands on.  They put off exercising or practicing or enjoying making art until they've accrued the "critical mass" of knowledge.  And it becomes like peeling an infinite onion because with every layer they peel back another layer of knowledge and detail is revealed.  And when that layer is dissected they move on to the next layer.  And when that layer has the juice wrung out of it they progress to the next layer.

The layer peeling in photography is prodigious.  And I find myself doing it in every facet of the business that I find frightening or unpleasant.  I don't like going out of the studio to show a portfolio.  Few people really do.  Instead, I spend time researching new ways of reaching out to clients.  We all do.  We rush to do e-mail blasts because it's easy and it gives us the impression that we're doing something smart.  We're reaching all those people on our list with an example of our work.  But we know that everyone else who fears rejection and face to face encounters to ask strangers for work first and then money is doing exactly the same thing:  sitting in their office, facing a screen and wracking their brains trying to think of something clever to say about a photo that's topical and hopefully interesting to a stranger.

When we finish with the e-mail blast we know we can't do it again for a few weeks so we "research" other ways to circumvent the stuff we fear = the face to face portfolio show.  Next we might turn our attentions to a postcard or start peeling the onion about presenting materials on our iPads.  We'll research which iPad to buy.  Which programs to make our portfolios in.  Which leather cover conveys the right message of coolness and affluence?  And, if we do our research right it should take up enough of our time and attention so that we've sliced thru a few weeks and we can now go back and start working on that next e-mail promotion without fear of saturating our audiences.  Of course we have no idea of how many people sent e-mail promotions to our intended victims yesterday or earlier today or the day after we do our.  And, really, all marketing is contextual.

When we tire of the "marketing onion" there's always the "gear onion" to fall back on.  We might convince ourselves that our current equipment is no longer competitive with the rest of the photographers chasing the same clients.  We resolve to differentiate ourselves by "upgrading" which takes a lot of research....because, of course, we want to make the right investments....So back to the websites and the books.  Once that injection of courage is absorbed and we find ourselves still stuck by our own fears and our focus that tells us we don't know enough about the magic bullets, we take the next step which is to find a mentor.  Usually at a workshop.  We focus on the mentor's success and hope that by spending time and energy with him a process of osmosis will occur that causes the mentor's creative powers to undergo a mitosis that allows him to share that power with us.  We'll learn not only what the magic bullets are but also how to aim the creative gun and go "full automatic" on our prospective clients.

But that will drive us back into research in order to find a new order of clients who are perceptive enough to share the vision you siphoned from the mentor.  It's a cruel and endless loop.  And in the end your lack of success will probably lead you to reject the mentor and his arcane magic and go off in search of a "real" mentor.  And that might mean getting some new equipment which will, of course, mean new research.

But by changing the focus from "learning" to "doing" we change our reality.  We stop looking for subjects that will resonate well with our technical tool bag and start out with the magnetic attraction to things we love to see and love to look at.  And then we'll figure out, through trial and error, how to share, visually, the point of view we alone have that makes the subject magical to us, personally.

When we have a focus that comes from curiosity about the subject that focus drives our unique vision.  Impediments fall and we become so enthralled by being able to share our version of the story about that thing or event that we get over our reservations about showing our vision to the right people because we allow ourselves to become invested in the story not in the material reality of the book.  The book is just one vehicle for the story.

I guess this is my way of saying to many of my friends, and even to myself, that all of us have all the gear we need and all the research we need to be able to shoot just about anything we want to shoot right now.  We need to stop the endless cycle of research because it does three things:  1.  Our focus on "research" creates a comfortable pattern of procrastination from the actual doing.  2.  It robs us of our real power which can only come thru actualization.  Reaching out and doing.  Because it is within the process of doing that we evolve a feedback mechanism that allows us to learn and fine tune what we really like to see.  3.  Research, and it's buddy "the search for the magic bullet," rob us of our power by investing power into the idea that the people/artists that we aspire to mimic  operate creatively by a set and sellable formula and that the search for the formula trumps our search for ourselves.  But if we let go of the edge of the pool we could actually swim.

It's all about the doing.  Not the learning about doing.  I can teach someone to read a meter but I can't teach them how to feel about life and how to translate those feelings into art.  No one can.  It's only thru the process of exercise that the body becomes fit.  It's only thru the process of creating your own art that your creativity becomes fit.  And nobody wants a pudgy creative spirit.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! Absolutely dead-on!

Martin said...

very perceptive and applicable to any avenue in business methinks

Wally Brooks said...

A favorite quote from Paul Taylor the Choreographer on Inspiration: "Inspiration I don’t believe in it. People think some muse comes down and strikes. Well, making a dance is just plain work like anything else. The inspiration is the deadline..."
Learning, honing your craft, then having the mindset to improve as you go alone is what creativity is all about.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

My muse only comes around when I'm hard at work. I think they like sipping the sweat of discipline.

PhotED said...

Another insightful post, Kirk. I bought The War of Art based on your reco; with all due respect to Steven Pressfield, your post summarizes his entire book very well. As already mentioned, your points are applicable to most pursuits, business, creative, or otherwise.

BTW I only started reading your posts last November; as of last night I am fonLly caught up reading all of them (looking mostly for Oly- related entries to be honest, but learning a good deal about other things in the meantime).


Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Ed, stay tuned. I now have a bit of a fascination going on with OM lenses used on other systems with adapters......should be fun down the road.

mike said...

well said my friend

PhotED said...

Super, Kirk, look forward to it. I started using my 50 1.4 and 135 2.8 Zuiko OMs on my E-500 in earnest again shortly before I got the E-P1 last November. The size/weight balance seems to work better for me than using the OMs on the E-P1 (they certainly make the digital Pen heftier compared to using old Leica M3 lenses and the trusty Penf F 38mm 1.8). IQ of the OMs +E-500 is really good, in my view, so I ended up adding a 75-150 F4 OM to my stable (for less than $30 on eBay), and am very happy with the results. Rather than shelling out more dough for an E-PL1 and EVF, I figure I will put up with the weight of the E-500 for now when I need to shoot in really low light or with longer teles.

Steve Dodds said...

”nobody wants a pudgy creative spirit." Ouch! I felt that. Stirring thoughts for a new year, Kirk. At the heart of the dilemma is also the sneaking fear that we just don’t have the desired level of talent we 'knew' we had when we were younger. This, as you know, in the ad biz results in a obsessive internal and external drive to win creative awards—the proof that we still have what it takes.

Unknown said...

Once again, great article. Obviously not advice you follow all the time, nor should one. Your recent (and I think useful) foray into LEDs comes to mind.

But it is hard to find a balance. Better to learn by doing and figuring things out by yourself than following others - yes, to a certain extent.

But for example I'm trying hard to figure out off camera flash right now. At the moment I'm researching online what equipment I need just to make that possible, so that then I can try it out and see what works. Seems worthwhile to me, even if it does make my head ache sometimes.

Caleb Courteau said...

I love this blog. Thanks Kirk.

Caleb Courteau.

Dave Jenkins said...

Jay Lerner the lyricist and Alan Lowe the composer were a team who wrote many of the greatest musicals ("My Fair Lady," etc.). When asked "What is the source of your inspiration," Lerner replied "A phone call from a producer."

Will Wohler said...

*Sigh* I to am guilty of doing the "research," but for what if I don't put it into practice. It's called a craft for a reason. Thanks Kirk for once again providing the kick in the pants I need to get better