Developing muscle memory and fluid technique is almost as important as developing a sense of purpose.

Each race teaches us something new.
If you've been reading the blog for a while you probably know that one of my other passions, beside writing and photography, is swimming.  Which seems like something quite different from the other two activities.  But it is and it isn't.  All three depend on technique.  All three require practice.  Daily practice if you are to really master the crafts of swimming, writing and photography.  And to do all three at the level at which I'd like to do them requires discipline.  But more than anything else they all require a sense of purpose.  Why do we do these things?
What do they mean to me?  I don't photograph because I love the feel of the industrial design icons in my hand, I photograph because I see things that are interesting to me in the world and I want to share them.  I see faces that have emotions in them and I want to make the faces visual touchpoints in my ongoing dialogs about human nature and cultural existence.

I don't photograph landscapes because they rarely inform my running internal dialog about what makes people tick.

                                                                             I photograph people to share a point of
view about our shared existence.  I find the human condition, and growing old within the context of a constant cultural evolution fascinating.

If you are in photography because it seems like a "neat" hobby where you get to play with "cool" toys and show off technical mastery of one sort or another then you may have chosen the wrong hobby.  Or maybe you've just chosen to read the wrong blog about                                              photography because I will gently and         not so gently chide you to focus on only photographing in the service of
that which really interests you.  If it's beautiful woman I will respect you more than if it's to show off how sharp your camera and lens combinations are at 100% on your monitor.  The first just means you are attracted to feminine beauty.  No great sin.  But the second category means you are boring and that's just inexcusable.  Because the world around you/us is so rich and well stocked with things to be passionate about.  I'm in the camp that believes in the practice of photography as passionate sharing.
 So what does this have to do with swimming?  Swimming, at its core, is the mastery of dozens of interlinked techniques, an integration of interdependent movements, the understanding (both viscerally and intellectually) hydro-physics and a commitment to both mental toughness and commitment. (No,  I didn't write that wrong).

To compete with the people in these photographs you also have to be committed to doing hard daily work.
 Exercise.  The only way to swim well is to practice all the mental techniques and physical techniques every day.  And if you want to use these techniques to swim fast then you have to practice swimming fast, everyday.

Just as photographers only get better when they find more profound intersections between risk and immersion.  Immersion and technique. What made Avedon one of my favorite image makers was his relentless drive not just to photograph
but to push the boundaries of known
photography and to bring his vast technique (honed daily) to bear on things that he feared not being able to capture.  In essence you see better by looking harder and in different ways.  And all of that takes discipline.  And as you get older and life gets ever more fractured it takes more and more commitment to discipline to keep moving forward because there is always a temptation to attempt too many other things and to rest on your laurels.

When I look at these photos of the 2008 Masters National Meet, held at
 UT I see faces frozen in concentration and resolve.  I see people who've gotten up every morning for a decade or two decades or, in some cases, six decades and gotten themselves to a chilly pool in the early hours while everyone else stands in line at Starbucks waiting to slurp down some candy coffee and maybe a big scone and then get in their "couch on wheels" and head to the office to settle into a soft chair and work through "processes" all day long.
These are the people who've never
surrendered to the idea that it's okay        just to give up.  To give up on finding new ways to juggle time and energy that makes it possible to achieve.

I recently watched several people in my swim team pound out five thousand yards of hard swimming on a typical saturday morning.  They were swimming at an aerobic level that might do in people who are out of shape and half or a quarter of their ages.  I watched sixty year olds swim practice times that would have qualified them for Olympic trials in games a few decades ago.

And they pounded out (I should say, "powerfully glided through...") 140 to 180 laps of the pool before hopping out and heading on to start the same full days as everyone else.

And, in the end what is the benefit?  Well, statistically, if they are still swimming in their sixties they will live at least eleven years longer than the general population.  While they are living they will be more mobile and more fit.  Better able to deal with physical and mental challenges and they will have manufactured enough of their own self-discipline to master just
 about anything they decide to do.  And with mastery also comes confidence.

Again, what does this have to do with photography? Plenty.  Pushing through to a daily practice means making technique second nature and seeing with more focus and discernment.

Commitment to a showing the rest of us the beauty of your vision allows you to distill your vision down until it gains maximum power.  And like most

pleasures in life the daily habit means it's easier to change gears from other commitments back to photography without everything being a big deal.

I shot commercially yesterday and I have another job booked for tomorrow.  Today I've been doing pre-production on a two day food shoot for next week, but all through this schedule the one thing I want to do is walk with my camera, meet people and shoot for my own pleasure.  It's not the same doing jobs.  It doesn't matter how much you like the project or
client.  And so I resent not being able to leave the desk and shoot today.  Because that's part of my daily practice.

How do swimmers do it?  They decide they want to swim strong and fast and they make time for swimming.  If they can't swim at the crack of dawn they find an evening program.  The really committed ones jot down a workout on an index card and head to the local lake, pool, river and go.  I swim at 7am.  But I cheat because I have to drop off my kid at
cross country practice at 6:45am and
the pool is just around the corner from his drop-off.  I only miss a swim if I have a job booked.  And usually I head back to the pool when the project is over and make up the lost yards.

Photography is even easier once you've settled on what it is you love to look at.  What it is you feel compelled to share.  You don't need to get wet.  You can bundle up against the cold.  You probably won't get and ear infection....
But it seems harder to get started.
Remember when you made a New Year's resolution and you decided you were going to loose those extra 25 pounds.  You did it by starting an exercise program.  And it hurt at the beginning.  Your muscles were sore and you were out of breath.  The only way to make it work was to go out every day and do as much as you could.  Then you came home sweaty and tired but you liked the results so you resolved to do it again the next day.

Photography is like that. So is writing.
People are always amazed when I turn out a seven or ten blogs a week but really it's all practice.  It's writing practice.  And I get to experiment with words and structure and pacing.  And the more I write the faster and (I hope) clearer I become.  The more direct and focused my messages become.

Enough.  What makes photography fun? Learning what you love to show and learning how to craft an image that really shares that love and reaches out and makes a connection with a viewer.
 And how do you get there?  Once you know what conversation you want to have you re-write and re-write.  If you are a photographer you work on shooting and shooting again.  If you are a people photographer you work on getting out of your shell and learning what makes people tick.  And then doing it again but getting closer this time.

Funny thing about swimmers.  They can't really be gear heads.  It's basically just a set of goggles ($20 max) and a
swim suit (men $25, women $50) and
 you're done shopping for the year.  So that part of the technique doesn't get in the way.

One camera.  One or two lenses and you're done.  The important thing is how you use them and how often you use them.

I'm going to suggest: Daily.

Intention?  That has to come from you.  But I would suggest that, as a functional person, you no doubt find things in life that spark you up.  Give you pleasure, satisfaction, happiness.  That inflate your will to live.  Distill down to those things and make them the base of your art.  Then the intention will drive everything else.

I intend to be swimming well into my 90's.  I intend to have a camera along with me for the ride.....

Daily practice.  After work.  Before work.  All you need is your intention and the simplest of cameras.
But every day, rain or shine, world class athletes practice their craft.  How
can you expect to gain remarkable vision without daily practice?
When you leave work you might grab your camera and go out to explore.
And when you do you might find the thing you love to shoot.  And then you
can spend your life joyously making your message more and more
beautiful and easier to transmit.  The camera is meaningless without a
focused passion.  Find yours.


Anonymous said...

Most people wish swimming long distances quickly was easy. They also want to write novel. And they'd like to be better photographers but they all have one thing in common, they are afraid to work hard. That's why fewer than 1% make it to the top in anything.

Anonymous said...

I swim competitively and I also photograph. But I divide the world into athletes and non-athletes and I only want to work with the athletes. They know how to work hard and they have better focus. Everyone else is a wimp.

John F. Opie said...

As always, outstanding. :-)

I'm stuck on 1 km three times a week, but given that I've been lazy the last 20 years, I'm happy to be able to manage even that. It's been a major improvement and as you say: you just have to do it. I leave the house at 20 to 7 in the morning and am in the water by 7 (but this morning, there were 12 people in the water with me...), do my 40 laps in less than 40 minutes (25 m pool), and am work before my colleagues.

I'll start 4 times a week (the pool doesn't open Monday until after noon) while my wife is away for a vacation. It's hard to work a 10-12 day after swimming in the morning, but not much more than not swimming, and the most important thing is:

I just feel better.


I picked up the waterproof Lumix for my wife (she's going to Vietnam and Laos, and the Canon she'd normally take wouldn't survive the jungle without serious degradation), and am looking forward to getting some pictures in the pool: I keep on seeing beautiful patterns from sunrise light on the tiles of the pool...

Gordon said...

swimmers that are gearheads are called triathletes...

kirk tuck said...

Triathletes are just confused swimmers. Once the road rash tattoos them viciously and the knees give out from running they all revert back to the exercise of the gods. It's inevitable.

Frank Grygier said...

It is uncanny how you are able to diagnose the myopia and the atrophy that can afflict a certain photographer. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

Dave Jenkins said...

One may or may not live 11 years longer if one swims regularly, but I suspect it would seem like it.

christopheru said...

This "But the second category means you are boring and that's just inexcusable. " just made me laugh so hard I choked.

Thank you.

Exercise of the gods? You mean they dry off and start cycling? :) hehe

Anonymous said...

That Dude is 60?


kirk tuck said...

That Dude is over 60. Honest.

SK said...

I'm a swimmer too.....and it makes me feel ALIVE and happy. Full of energy. Cheers!

Clay said...

I made a list of what I love and came up with a dozen tings in a few minutes. (I counted all the individual people as one item). I see I've been neglecting some of them lately.

Travis said...

Great post, loved the "boring" comment.

Carlos A said...

From a long time reader and an avid photo gearhead... I can describe this post with one word... inspirational!

Thanks to you I am making a resolution today; I will choose a camera and couple of lenses and will start shooting at least one hour everyday, starting right now!

Thanks Kirk. Hope to able to meet you some day and thank you personally.

Mel said...

There's a side benefit from swimming as well - upper body strength. My rock climbing improved significantly once I started swimming.

I try to blog every day but don't have Kirk's rhythm about it. It's really tough to confront the screen every day so thanks, Kirk, for enduring to share with us.

Ezequiel Mesquita said...

Beautiful images, moving expressions and an powerful distillation of ideas. I really reckon you are getting the results of that daily practice! "the more I write the faster and (I hope) clearer I become". You bet! And I loved this statement too: "In essence, you see better by looking harder and in different ways." Thanks Kirk for your sincere opinions, and keep posting the beautiful results of your drills.

Anonymous said...

Once again I have to say that your vision is exquisite. Each shot looks cool. The lighting is impressive given that it seems to be available light and that you can master that as well. You write well but you are a master at photography. No doubts.

'/1nc3nt said...

I would like to comment on the word 'muscle memory':

Our muscle is incapable to memorize certain routine which is believed by some sport theorist. A good brain-muscle and proper mechanic are the keys for consistency and performance.

I found this term in golf too and found there are tons of arguments against it.


kirk tuck said...

Re: Muscle memory.

As you know, golf is a game and NOT a sport. The only real sports are man against time, man against distance or man against man. Anything that requires props or toys (bikes, clubs, balls, etc.) is just a game.

That's why there's a difference in perception about muscle memory by physiologists who study these things.

If you ran distance or swam you would believe.

Καπάτος said...

After the severe economical crisis in Greece, I gave up. Your articles give me courage to go on.

James Weekes said...

A friend of mine, who is 67, just finished second in the Nationals for kayaking. He does just what you say and is on the water, in or near Beaufort, SC, every morning. He doesn't find it that taxing and often quotes his father, who , when he complained of a difficult task, said "Just do it until you get used to it."

I don't swim, or paddle, but if I don't get strenuous exercise every day I feel awful. Since starting this regimen, 9 years ago, at the age of 56, and joining Weight Watchers to put discipline on the intake side, I have lost 75-90 lbs., depending on the time of year and increased my stamina yearly.

I also started to photograph every day whether I was "inspired" or not. That works too. I'm more at ease with the camera and just see.