Postcards to the Shore

A couple of months back when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, I shared information in this space about several individuals and nonprofits in this area who’ve been helping out in various ways. Part of the rationale was so that those who needed help might be connected to what they needed; the other part was to encourage those who might want to help, but who weren’t quite sure where to start.

To that end, I’ve launched a project called Postcards to the Shore, which I’ve set up as a means for people to share their stories of the Jersey Shore, in whatever form those stories take. If you’re reading this and you call New Jersey home — or maybe you’re a transplant to or from the Garden State, or you’ve just vacationed here — feel free to head over to www.postcardstotheshore.com and tell your story, in any way you’d like to tell it… through photos, video, fiction, memoir, haiku or koans. The site’s admittedly a bit sparse right now, but with your help (and your stories), it won’t be for long. Then tell a friend, and encourage them to do the same.

We don’t need to wait for the history to be written; we’re in the middle of it, living and writing it day by day. Our stories are our history, our testament, our love letters and our hope.

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Hurricane Sandy Relief: Pics for Proceeds

Pics for Proceeds

Heather Jo Mangum started Pics for Proceeds in 2009 when a coworker lost everything in a house fire. What started as a photo shoot to replace some photos for a friend who lost everything is growing by word of mouth into something much bigger.

“Knowing I couldn’t possibly help everyone myself, I set forth to partner with other photographers to develop a network of people who could join forces and collectively offer the same services but on a large enough scale to help so many who were impacted and leverage our size for help. I’ve just started focusing on getting a network developed for the Sandy survivors in the past week.”

Heather Jo has had offers of assistance from photographers, makeup artists and hair salons, as well as the donation of frames from one of the biggest names in the business. Partnerships with other nonprofits are also in the works, in order to allow deductions to pass through tax deductable. While she says progress has been slow, momentum is beginning to build.

She doesn’t consider herself an artist, preferring to call herself a “heartist”, and says that if she can put a smile on a mom’s face and melt her heart, “then my job is done.” She also, incidentally doesn’t consider herself a professional. “I never set out to be a photographer by career. I don’t want to have a full photography business that takes away from photographers who do this for their sole income source. I have a corporate job that pays well which allows me to subsidize the photography. I believe everyone is given a gift, big or small, that can be used to help others. For me, it’s the opportunity to help others capture the precious memories and moments in life.”

Currently, Pics for Proceeds is recruiting photographers of all skill levels. Ms. Mangum asks that her more experienced volunteers pay it forward by not only helping families in need, but also by sharing their skills with other, less-experienced shooters. She emphasizes that she wants to foster “a supportive, not competitive or secretive, environment.” There are challenges in this kind of photography, and sometimes the logistical issues are the least of it. A photo session for a survivor brings strong emotions to the surface, making it vital for volunteers to operate with patience, sensitivity and empathy.

Heather Jo offers some parting words for those who are amateurs or novices (or maybe just a bit insecure about their skills): “I say, ‘JOIN US! ‘There will always be someone better than you and someone less experienced than you. I will say that we are not the best place for someone who is new to photography. If all of your pictures are always done in “program” mode, I would probably ask to spend some time with you discussing what level of training may be needed and available before having you shoot independently. But I don’t think you can go wrong if your heart is in the right place and you’re willing to learn.” She stresses that it’s less about the camera than a willingness to learn, and to accept assignments based on skill level. And even those who aren’t photographers are welcomed with open arms, since assistance is also needed with setup, makeup artistry, and quite a bit else.

You can now sponsor family photo shoots directly through the Pics for Proceeds website, and the money will go directly to the cost of printing the pictures from the photo shoots. This allows Pics for Proceeds to focus on free photography for families in need. To visit them on the web, go to http://www.picsforproceeds.com/. You can also find them on Facebook, via https://www.facebook.com/#!/PicsForProceeds?fref=ts.

Hurricane Sandy Relief: For Shore Photos

This is just one of the hundreds of photos For Shore Photos wants to reunite with its owners.

One of these days, we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled rumblings and ramblings about photography. Today’s not that day, though, since I’ve come across another photography-related initiative set up to help New Jersey residents after Hurricane Sandy, and wanted to help get the word out. This one’s a bit different, in that you don’t need to be a photographer. In fact, about all you’ll need is a sharp eye, some paper towels, ziploc bags, and wax paper.

Since you’re probably thinking, Huh? to yourself, let me explain.

Jeanne Esti, a Rhode Island-based business consultant and life coach with family ties to the shore, has started For Shore Photos, which is dedicated to rescuing and preserving photos found after the storm. In a note to project supporters, Jeanne wrote:

We escaped unscathed but our neighbors didn’t, nor did so many of our friends around the area. After cleaning up our house, I took a look around the property and truly broke down. What I had thought was debris was the remains of broken open homes and their beautiful, revered contents were strewn all over. I started to look at it and I found photo after photo and then asked the police if I could look at the properties of some of our neighbors who couldn’t make the “access day” (a new normal for many of us). They not only obliged my request, they came with me to make sure I didn’t wind up in a sink hole and helped me collect these photos. It got me thinking about what all of you might be seeing/finding.

If you’re wondering what you can do to help, For Shore Photos’ focus right now is on getting the word out so that people know to look for stray photographs and photo albums in their travels, and know what to do with them once they’ve found them. Namely, to put them in a sealable bag and mark the address where they were picked up. Drop-off points are being announced as they’re arranged, generally at Shore landmarks like Joe Leone’s locations in Point Pleasant and Sea Girt. Then, of course, begins the hard part — scanning those photos, getting them out on the web and Facebook, and helping to reunite them with the families who’ve lost them.

We’ll let Jeanne have the last word. “This is such a blend of my two backgrounds. I’m coaching and helping people through the grief. But the pit bull partnership marketer just created a partnership with a scanning company to do events for free for us and all our scanning, CNN is covering this and one of the Housewives of New Jersey, Caroline, pushed our story! The storm was tragic, but all the help and support I’ve seen since has been inspiring and so much fun! Good energy for a great reason!”

If you’d like to help or find out more, you can visit the For Shore Photos Project on the web at http://www.forshorephotos.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/forshorephotos#!/forshorephotos or contact Jeanne by email at info@forshorephotos.com

Humans of New York (HONY) Sandy Relief

I’ve been meaning to write something about Brandon Stanton, AKA Humans of New York (further known as HONY) for a dog’s age now. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that a: I’m a fan of good street photography, and b: I’m conflicted by a number of that genre’s current practitioners, whose work I sometimes find tacky and unneccesarily confrontational. Not so with HONY; I always got the impression with Brandon’s work that it was done by someone who had a real affection for the people he photographs.

Of course, photography can be a bit like acting; you don’t want to read too much into a photographer’s style or choice of subject matter, at least as far as what it might say about them as a person. Having said that, what I love and respect about the work I’ve seen on HONY is that it always seems to be done as much from the standpoint of what the photographer gives to his subject just as much as what he’s taking from (or of) them.

And as it turns out, I probably wasn’t all that far off in the first place. HONY is running a fundraiser on IndieGogo, in partnership with Tumblr. Details below:

Our Mission

Tumblr and Humans of New York are teaming up to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. For ten days beginning November 11th, we will be documenting and sharing the stories of those affected by the storm. We hope to show all sides of the story, featuring not only the victims of the storm but also the first responders and volunteers who are helping them recover. Hurricane Sandy revealed the power of nature, as well as the power of humanity. We aim to document both. By doing so, we hope to encourage YOU to contribute the relief efforts.

The purpose of this fundraiser is to collect donations. However, to spice things up a bit, Tumblr and HONY are teaming up to provide incentives and rewards for donating. Tumblr is throwing in some cool Tumblr gear, and HONY is providing prints and other goodies. We are covering these expenses ourselves so absolutely all money raised will be going to relief efforts.

Where the Money is Going

100% OF PROCEEDS will be going to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation– a highly respected, family-run charity which has been officially endorsed by many NYC officials. The money will immediately be used to provide much-needed resources to those areas hit hardest by the storm. Tunnel to Towers is very proud of the fact that no donations are being spent on overhead, and ALL hurricane funds are going directly to relief. 

Me again. Long story short: visit the Humans of New York website at http://www.humansofnewyork.com/, or look him up/follow him on Facebook or on Twitter. And if you’d like to donate, you can do so via http://www.indiegogo.com/HONYTumblr?a=1743524 (you may have to refresh the page a few times before it loads)

Attention NYC Area Photograhers: Helping Out With Sandy Relief

A few days ago, I posted about Will Salomon Orellana’s Help Portrait project to assist Hurricane Sandy victims. He was kind enough to send along this update:

Specific Help-Portrait Event for Hurricane Sandy families who were affected…..

MEETING MONDAY, NOVEMBER 12th, 2012

289 Grand Street (Btwn. Roebling & Havemeyer Street)

Brooklyn, NY 11211 (Williamsburg)

Time: 6pm

Sorry I have been off radar….I finally got power back myself and am back online….

In a nutshell, I have created a Facebook group page for us to communicate better as many people on this forum have been inactive for years…

Please follow the link and add yourself to the group. I will then agree to have you on the group. Very easy.

Group Name: Sandy Relief Help-Portrait NYC (Free Family Portraits)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/498860610153588/

Simply:

I am looking to focus this year on the areas most affected by Hurricane Sandy in NYC. Sites I am organizing in are Rockaways, Breezy Point, Staten Island and Coney Island….

We have a fast turnaround time here folks this is what we need:

This is a group for Photographers, Make up artist and anyone who wants to participate in volunteering for this years Help-Portrait NYC 2012 (Free Family Portraits) specifically for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Many of them have lost everything including family photos. The goal is to create a loving space where we can offer free family portraits as a gesture of levity and joy during this time.

What we need:
-Lead Photographers to connect with a community based organization to host the event and be the primary liaison.
-Photographers with full lighting set up
-People who can edit and print the images for the families
-Make up artist and/or Hair dressers
-General volunteers to greet, sign in families, share a smile and overall assistance.
-Donations for the paper and ink

From now on all communications will go through the facebook group: Sandy Relief Help-Portrait NYC (Free Family Portraits)

My email is will@willsalomon.com for any questions or by phone at 347.683.7466

Peace and blessings,

Will Salomon Orellana

Hurricane Sandy: Resources for Photographers

Spring Lake, NJ, August 2012

Watch this space, because I will be adding to this post as more information comes in. If you’re a photographer who’s coordinating an event, please leave information in the comments section below, or email thefirst10000@gmail.com

Edited 11/5/12

Via Help-Portrait:

QUEENS****(Special Event)

ROCKAWAY (Families & Victims of Hurricane Sandy)

Lead Organizer-Will Salomon Orellana

Specific location TBA

Will have more information in the next coming days….

I am organizing a HELP-Portrait Group Event for families affected during Sandy in The Rockaway’s…I just visited and it is totally devastated. Especially Brezzy Point.  I will update when I have more info on Location…Am trying to connect with a Church there.  I will have more information in the next few days…..But in the meantime, I would like to form a group of Photog’s who can volunteer…Please hit me up and let me know if you can. and assist……This is a very special one as most families in this affected area have lost everything! Peace and blessings…-Will (will@willsalomon.com)

Souls Rebuilt:

A portrait charity founded just hours after Sandy swept through NJ, Souls.Rebuilt. offers “complimentary family sessions for families who have lost their pictures due to the devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought”. They’re currently seeking both volunteer photographers and families in need of assistance. More information is available on their website, or you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Via Joe’s Pub:

This link will take you to a series of links for artists of all stripes whose works, studios, or livelihoods have been impacted by Sandy. Since the Pub (a.k.a. the Public Theater) is Manhattan-based, there’s quite a bit of information that’s mostly germane to artists in the five boroughs. However, some of the organizations and resources listed also work farther afield, so if you’re elsewhere in the tri-state area, take a look… certainly couldn’t hurt.

And again: More updates will follow as I receive more information. If you’re running a project, or know someone who is, please pass the information along!

The Personal Is Historical (Some Thoughts on 9/11 and the Still Image)

Roger Mark Rasweiler (Image reproduced by kind permission of Shelly Castellano)

Every year around this time, for the last decade or so, I think about writing about 9/11, and I always tend to come up short. It’s not that there’s any shortage of memory or feeling there; like nearly anyone else old enough to remember that day — especially if, like me, you live in the shadow of NYC — I can recall where I was that day in more detail than I remember nearly any other day of my life, nearly down to the minute. The problem is moreso one of volume. So much has been spoken, written, filmed, and repeated that it feels like anything I’d have to say would be but a drop in the ocean. And yet, I can’t quite shake that day, and can’t quite shake the image that made the whole thing immediately and terribly real for me.

The photo that accompanies this post wasn’t chosen at random. The first time I saw Roger Mark Rasweiler (or his photo, at any rate) would’ve been some time around ten thirty on September 12, 2001. I was just getting on the train back home from work, and I saw a flyer just like this one in several of the train cars. I stopped to study the face, said a small prayer, and hoped against hope that this kindly-looking gentleman had just been detoured to Queens, or maybe a hospital somewhere in Manhattan or Hoboken. 36 hours after the towers fell, that wish didn’t yet seem as futile as it would in the days ahead, or as it did when I visited Union Square a week later, only to find the faces of the missing staring back at me by the thousands from subway cars, PATH trains, fences, and storefronts.

What does any of this have to do with photography? Maybe nothing at all. On the other hand, maybe everything. Those initial hours, after all, were a flood of words and images. The sheer volume alone would’ve rendered the lot of them overwhelming, but when you add the emotional heft — all the grief, confusion, anger and sadness with which every page and every frame was weighted — you’re left with something nearly staggering. It might just be me, but there was, and there sometimes remains, something in all of it that defies our attempts to cut it down to size, much less to make sense of it. Of course, it’s hardly the first or last time that would happen; we’ve had other catastrophes visited upon us before and since, and each time the end result is much the same: we’re practically struck dumb by the  weight of history and documentation behind it all.

Time and time again, we hear the numbers of casualties thrown out when we discuss catastrophic events, be they the six million of the Holocaust, the three thousand of 9/11, the hundreds of thousands in the Boxing Day tsunami. Those numbers, by themselves, don’t illuminate much of the larger story; they reduce the victims to a single, faceless mass. How do we wrap our heads and hearts around something so enormous?

Something of the answer — for me, at least — is in that photo of Mark Rasweiler. Those single, still images invite us to step away from the whorl of emotion and motion; they provide a stillness, a point of reflection, in which we can pause and begin to attempt to understand. Just as importantly — perhaps even more importantly — they give us a sense of the human scale of inhuman events. Those three thousand weren’t a monolithic, homogeneous mass; they were three thousand individuals.

We were reminded again this year, as we’ll be in the years ahead, to never forget those three thousand. I don’t disagree. But as I enter my twelfth year with the memory of Mark Rasweiler, and the others who died with him, might I suggest we remember them one frame, one person, at a time?

Postscript:

This article appeared a month after the attacks, and is one author’s take on the Missing posters and spontaneous memorials that sprung up in New York:

http://www2.facinghistory.org/campus/memorials.nsf/0/79960486B7BD852385256FAB00664696

Image of Roger Mark Rasweiler reproduced by kind permission of Shelly Castellano, whose work appears here: http://scpix.photoshelter.com/image/I0000D8VJdzXCD4M

Beyond Photography: Joe Strummer at 60

Joe Strummer by Joe Kerrigan (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

Joe Strummer — guitarist, lyricist, provocateur, one-time Clash frontman and the guiding force behind the 101er’s, Latino Rockabilly War and Mescaleros — would’ve been sixty years old today. As I write this, with Strummer and the Mescaleros’ “Global A Go-Go” blasting through the speakers, and I’m reminded of an old saying: “It’s not where you take it from. It’s where you take it to that counts.”

“Big Youth booming in Jakarta, Nina Simone over Sierra Leone, big sound of Joujouka in Nevada, and everywhere, everywhere Bob’s bringing it all back home…”

Joe struck me as something of a magpie, taking a little of everything from a little of everybody. However, it was where he took it — that stew of musical influences, passion, politics, and humanity — that made, and makes, his music worth listening to. It also ensured that Strummer was never “just” a punk, some kind of one-note joke or one-chord wonder. Sure, his earliest recorded work (available on the 101’ers Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited*) has a ragged proto-punk intensity, and early Clash material like “White Riot” and “London’s Burning” had all the venom, fury, and irresistable force that the Pistols had. But from Strummer’s earliest days, the worldview and the music were so much more, and so much wider. You can hear it on the covers (“I Fought the Law,” “Pressure Drop,” “Armagideon Time,” and “Redemption Song”), the originals like “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” and “Get Down Moses” that name-checked and musically referenced everybody from Bo Diddley, Johnny Cash and the Mighty Sparrow to the Skatalites and Baaba Maal.

Anyway, it’s good to be sent back to the underground. There’s always a good side to bad things and the good side to this is that at least everyone has to go back down.

Of course, it wasn’t all ups. When the Clash dissolved in 1984, Strummer was at loose ends. During these “wilderness years,” he’d release Earthquake Weather,* a mixed bag that drew decidedly mixed reviews. His soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s Walker* fared better critically and artistically (the juxtaposition of the jaunty “Filibustero” over the movie’s violent opening scene is a stroke of genius), but he’d essentially dropped off the radar, taking stray acting gigs, scoring small indie films, and even joining the Pogues to fill in for a wayward Shane MacGowan. All that would change in the early 1990’s when Strummer formed the Mescaleros, a band that would, over the course of three albums (Rock Art & the X-Ray Style,* Global a Go-Go,* and the posthumously released Streetcore*), alternately build upon his roots, and branch out in new directions. He never quite recovered a Clash level of fame and reknown (indeed, one scene in Dick Rude’s Let’s Rock Again shows Joe handing out flyers and busking on the Atlantic City boardwalk). But his later career was, I’d argue, every bit as important as his earlier work, and has aged gracefully in ways that, say, the Pistols and Buzzcocks reunions didn’t.

So what do I take from Strummer’s work, and why am I bothering to write all this? For starters, if you’re going to pursue your craft, do it as though it matters, even if you’re the only one to whom it matters for now. For another, wherever it takes you  — the ups and downs and then the ups again — handle it with as much grace and humor as you can muster, but also with no small measure of gratitude.

Welcome stranger to the humble neighborhoods / You can get inspiration along the highroad

Above all, though, approach your craft wide open. Eyes, ears, heart, the whole lot of it. Our work, whatever it may be, doesn’t exist only in our minds. The act of creating something puts it out into the world, and also — even if it’s only in a small way — acts on the world. In some way, then, we need to acknowledge that the world exists, and acknowledge the people who’ve shaped it and with whom we hopefully engage. We’re confronted every day with something, or someone, new. Whether it’s our neighbors, or what comes out of their stereos, their ideas, or their way of life, they present us with a choice. We can stop to learn from them, or run in the other direction with our eyes shut and hands clamped over our ears to drown them out. But of course, if we do that, we cut ourselves off from a give-and-take that could otherwise have expanded our options, our understanding, and ultimately ourselves… all of which is to say that the world doesn’t stop with us, and so our art and craft shouldn’t, either.

Joe Strummer passed away on 22 December, 2002. This December, in other words, will mark a decade that he’s been gone. It seems a lot more fitting, however, to celebrate his birth and all that he brought with him into the world, along with all that he left behind. Rest easy, Joe.

Postscript:

On the Web: Joe’s legacy lives on via Strummerville, the Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music. You can find out more about it (and hear from a ton of bands and solo artists I expect we’ll probably hear a lot more from in years ahead) right here: http://www.strummerville.com/

Audio: Any of the Clash’s albums are worth having, even the sprawling wreck that is Sandinista!* (my personal favorite). If you have to start somewhere, I’d suggest either The Clash (US Version)* or London Calling*. Yes, there are collections (like the excellent Clash on Broadway*), but the albums have a power and cohesiveness that you’d miss if you just listened to the singles. When it comes to Joe’s post-Clash output, his work with the Mescaleros is far better than his work on Earthquake Weather, while the Walker soundtrack is a bird of an altogether different feather. You can get the Mescaleros stuff in order (linked above) or all at once (on Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros: The Hellcat Years*, just released on MP3 today as it happens) but bear in mind that as band members dropped in and out, the group’s sound changed markedly from one album to the next.

Print: Two books are essential if you want to learn more about Joe and the Clash in depth. Marcus Grey’s The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town* has been revised several times and covers the history of the Clash with detours into the members’ lives after the band broke up, while Chris Salewicz’s Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer* is a revealing portrait of Joe before, during, and after his time with the band. There’ve been other books written about both the band and the man, but none that I’ve read were as good as these.

Video: Finally, there are several films about both the Clash and Joe. For the former, check out Don Letts’ The Clash – Westway to the World* For the latter, there’s Dick Rude’s Let’s Rock Again* and Julian Temple’s The Future Is Unwritten*, which feature archival footage of Strummer, alongside interviews with bandmates, friends, and those he influenced.

It’s time to take the humanity back into the center of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain’t going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you’re nothing.

Links with an asterisk (*) are Amazon affiliate links that help support The First 10,000. Links to song titles go to YouTube videos. The Strummerville link goes to Strummerville.

 

What’s My Motivation?

I read a post a couple of months ago called “Why Photography?” by Steve Coleman. The same day, Brian Miller had a post up called “Why Make Photographs?”

If it came from a non-photographer, it would’ve drawn the same response that I get when someone tells me they don’t like to read, or that they “just don’t like the taste of food.”* In short: WTF? But these weren’t non-photographers. Maybe it was something in the water?

At any rate, the same question, posed the same day, by two photographers whose work I respect and enjoy got me to thinking (and thinking; as you can see, it’s two months later, and the question’s still very much on my mind). You may have asked yourself that question as well, with the inflection changing depending on your mood. If you’re not yet a photographer, or just getting started, the question comes out, “Why make Photographs?” or “Why Photography?” As in, “Why this thing, and not some other?” How come I’m a photographer and not, say, a bassist (easy — no hand/eye coordination to speak of), singer (can’t carry a tune in a bucket) or painter (the less said about that, the better)? I could probably have stuck with bass, or found a vocal coach, or gone to art school, but I didn’t. I did, however, pick up a camera, and found it very difficult to put it down. Sometimes you find your medium, or maybe you just meet it halfway. But if it speaks to you — and allows you to speak through it — it’s hard to ignore that.

So then you’ve done this photography thing for a bit, and you like it enough to do more than take snapshots. The question then becomes, “Why Make Photos?” Somewhere along the line, the relationship has deepened and you’ve decided that you and the camera are more than just friends. You start to move beyond the ability of the camera to simply document, and you decide that maybe you’d like to try using it to interact with, or respond to, not only what’s in front of you, but also what’s starting to show itself in your mind’s eye. There’s an old expression that when you’ve got a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Well, spend enough time behind the camera, and if you really throw yourself into it — you really start to look deeply at things, really start seeing — before too long, everything starts to look like a photograph.

Then you hit a wall. Sometimes it’s after a bad day of shooting, or a bad month (or more), where it seems like the inspiration’s gone and the world’s gone flat. Now all of a sudden, the question is “Why Make Photos?” or “Why Photography?” (whereupon you may shake your fist at the sky, your camera, or both). It happens (or it will, if it hasn’t yet; trust me on this). When it does, it’s helpful to revisit those first two versions of the questions. Revisit your motivation, revisit your joy, revisit doing the work just for the sake of it. The frustration will pass, will turn on a dime or a shadow or an interesting bit of geometry or eye-popping color.

Of course, your mileage may vary. What I’ve written about is my experience, and yours (the experience, the motivation, and all that goes with it) could well be very different than mine. And that’s okay. I could also quote at length from both of the essays mentioned above, but I won’t. Read them — and quite a bit else on both Steve and Brian’s blogs — for yourself. It’ll be time well-spent. And in the meantime, what about you? Why do you make photographs?

*Someone actually said this to me once, and I’m still agog over it.

Play To Your Strengths? Maybe Not.

I had a conversation with one of those life coaches a few years back that’s mostly slipped my mind, save for one thing she told me that’s always stuck with me: “Your biggest strength, or any strength if you overuse it, becomes a weakness.” Pause a second and let that sink in.

I thought about it, and realized that I’m a very analytical person by nature. You need something analyzed? I’m your guy. I’m great at gaming out a scenario — every last what-if, every contingency — ’til analysis becomes paralysis. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize when I’m doing it, and to remind myself to cut it out.

I bring this up for a reason. It isn’t just our personal or character strengths that can inadvertently trip us up. When you try something creative, it’s really easy to find your strengths and ride them ’til the wheels fall off. Photographers aren’t immune to this, so it’s probably a good idea for us to step back, take a look at our work, and figure out what it is we do really well so we don’t do too much of it.

For starters, it’s not just subject matter that starts to get repetitive. It’s also the ways in which we shoot what we shoot. If you’re an architectural shooter, you start to look for the same shapes and patterns, or relying on the same kind of lighting; if you’re a portraitist, it might mean relying on a set of poses that you know could flatter Quasimodo; if you do weddings, it can mean sticking to the same lighting setups and situations that’ve always worked for you.

To be clear, there’s a reason that people rely on formulas. Sometimes — especially when time is tight, or the results are critical — any artist has to know they’ve got things in the old kit bag that they can pull out at will, and that will almost certainly be effective. Once those things are done, they’ll use the time left for a bit of experimentation. So there’s a time and a place for formula, for going from strength to strength and playing it safe. Sometimes, we just need the safety net.

But let’s be just as clear on something else. Sometimes we need to forget the net. We can’t, obviously, just forget or unlearn all that we know (and it wouldn’t be a good idea even if we could). But we can, and sometimes must, at least set it off to one side for a bit. Yes, it’s a challenging, and sometimes even uncomfortable, way of working. However, the skills and ways of seeing that you pick up when you try something new — even if it’s not your usual subject matter or way of doing things — aren’t just about your new subject or the skills that go with it. Those things spill over even into your “usual,” giving you greater options and new ways of doing the same old stuff in a way that it doesn’t have to be the same old same old.

What would you like to do to shake up your photography? What would you like to strengthen, and what kinds of situations or subjects might help get you there?