Creativity and Momentum

What inspires you?

 

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Most mornings, I photograph the sunrise.

I consider myself to be very lucky. I get inspired 99 days out of 100 to make something, whether that be through photography, writing, painting or design. This is partly because I love the process of creativity and have learned from a lifetime of practice that doing art is in itself inspiring. It’s also because I have been a professional content creator for the past 5 years, so every day I make something, usually many things, for a business or client and post it online. When you do this enough, the momentum of creativity becomes apparent.

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I also shoot the sunset when I can.

It’s similar to working out. The more consistently you train, the more you get out of it. When you’re in great shape, you feel confident to go out and exercise, and then you generally have a good workout. There’s an element of momentum there, too.

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I try to make at least one composition a day.

The law of momentum is especially true with creative acts. If I set aside some time to make a photograph or to do a painting, I know I’m going to feel inspired because of my history enjoying the act of making art. This in turn is going to carry over to my work with businesses or for portraits. If I keep myself in good shape creatively, then I can do better work creating content to help businesses market themselves or to make great photos of people who hire me. It takes discipline and maintenance to keep yourself ready to create content. With much practice, the skills you develop with different media allow you to be more focused on the act of making

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In my editing, I like to be creative.

something rather than the technique you’re using. This allows you to concentrate on the thing you want to make rather than how you’re attempting to make it. And then, as you make something, the value of the thing you’re creating gives you pleasure. It takes practice to be inspired on a daily basis, but it is worth it.
My motivation for doing art is that the enjoyment of creativity makes a me a better person because my energy is good, a better content creator because I have momentum on my side, and then the products of creativity make a contribution. I want to be a happy and positive person when I interact with others and I want my work to inspire and encourage other people to enjoy creativity themselves.

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Being Kind Of

I love writing in this Starbucks. There’s something about the corporate feel of the place that brings out my creativity. An instinctive desire for balance prompts me to dig deeper into the recesses of thought to find something gritty and grimy when I sit here. There are other coffee shops close by more brightly lit with more conventionally attractive people and lots of air plants to take selfies in front of but those places feel so uptight and to me it’s sometimes stifling. It’s a class thing, I’m certain.

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Starbucks Cave Writing

That’s why I like this Starbucks; it’s more working class. It’s corporate, of course, but not exactly shiny. It’s tarnished and dirty and hosts a cast of unsavory characters, just how I like it. There’s no particular kind of denim you need to wear to fit in and nobody’s sporting an ironic t-shirt. There are people of color, people of all ages, and people with handicaps. It feels like the good kind of American to me. There are other coffee shops in town with a similar working class feel, but it’s 6:30 and they’re already closed. I can’t respect a coffee shop that closes at 6. This may not be Manhattan, but it’s no Myrtle Creek, either. This Starbucks is full to capacity and we’re only a mile away from that other blue collar shop. Being cosmopolitan or provincial has more to do with your mental space than your physical one, especially these days.

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Bright New Brighton

But your physical space matters, too, which is why I’m here at this Starbucks surrounded by regular people reading and writing and doing regular things. It’s a happy medium. And happiness matters. It’s a confusing time to say the least but that’s probably always been true for humans. Can you really think of a time in history when everything seemed dandy? I can’t. There’s always been injustice and uncertainty with apocalyptic possibility never far enough away to feel secure. Still, Steely Dan wrote great songs even while the Cold War raged. Because, even when we know that it all could go to hell in a flash, that there is nothing fixed but the election, that all of our efforts and dreams could be crushed in an arrogant instant, we still have to do what’s inside us to do. That’s the human condition; we are swan diving into the great unknown.

Photo of Santa Cruz Boardwalk at night with Explore Santa Cruz Instagrammer getting a photo for her account.
Exploring with Explore Santa Cruz

It’s in times like these that we need grace. Remember that you are human and that is a tremendous thing to be. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, to feel stressed and depressed. But, succeed or fail, it matters little from the point of view of falling. What matters is style. You have to choose how you are going to be. Are you going to be happy and peaceful, or are you going to be belligerent and grotesque? Many many things are beyond your power to choose, but you can choose this: will you be kind?
This is a kind of meditation, this practice of grace, and it is a powerful way of being human. Recently, I’ve had the chance to work with some people who embody this sense of style this presence of goodness. While I like drinking my coffee and writing among regular folk, it’s an honor to do photography with some truly beautiful souls.

Photo of Martina Lin and her reflection on a golden stretch of the California coast.
Martina Lin Meditation Specialist

The kind of beauty I’m talking about is much more than a physical appearance. It’s a disposition towards the universe. It’s an aspiration to be good, to act with a respect for others, to be helpful, to add value, to shine light in dark times, and to be human.

Yoga instructor Ayla Benjamin holds a balancing pose on top of a rock formation on a beautiful and rugged stretch of California coastline.
Balancing at the Edge of Space and Time

Meditation Medication: Martina Lin

Meditation is so hot right now. Actually, it’s been pretty popular since sometime around the 6th century B.C.E. when Siddhartha Gautama used it to become enlightened. Subsequently, Buddhism arose and grew to become one of the world’s biggest religions spreading the practice of meditation throughout Asia and the world, growing and changing forms through time and place. The thing that remained constant despite whatever other changes transpired has been the practice of meditation.

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Martina Lin: Meditation Specialist

Buddhism and meditation became popular in the United States during the 20th century through a variety of teachers and practitioners including Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac and more recently Jack Kornfield, Ken Wilber and Noah Levine among countless others. It’s been a big part of California culture especially since the 60s and the rise of the counterculture alongside the rise of psychedelics. There’s a collection of essays entitled Zig Zag Zen that explores the relationship between psychedelics and meditation. During the radical decade of the 60s and now, people in California became actively interested in finding ways to create mental breakthroughs. Certain historical periods call for this kind of change.

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Who couldn’t use a little enlightenment during heavy and dark times? The thing is, it’s hard to know how to practice meditation effectively. That’s why we need teachers. My grandfather was Buddhist and Quaker and practiced meditation on a daily basis. He held two Ph.D.s: one in Philosophy and one in East Asian Religion and wrote about how those worlds combined and overlapped. What meditation did for my grandfather has always inspired me. He was a seeker and learned a lot about meditation and followed it up with practice. Lots of people use meditation, today, and it has never been more important as we face monumental challenges together.

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That is why I was really excited for the opportunity to meet and work with Martina Lin, a meditation specialist in Santa Cruz. During our first meeting I was seriously impressed by her presence. Just talking to her had a calming effect. I always strive to do my best when doing someone’s portrait, but I was especially excited to work with someone doing something so important.

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We ended up finding a great window of time together, too. Our portrait session ended up taking place during two separate times as the first meeting was during high tide with a huge swell and that made accessing the rock formation I wanted to work on top of impossible. The second time we met, the skies were clear and the tide was low, so we had full access to the space and a great golden hour. Again, in her presence I felt calm and grounded. Some people have this special thing that you can’t quite explain but can feel, and whether it’s something she was born with or something she cultivated through practice, Martina has this quality. Check out Martina’s 7-day Meditation Challenge and book a session with her to take your meditation practice to another level or to start one if you don’t already meditate. And book a portrait session with me if you have something you are trying to promote your business, an event, or if you just want to record this moment in time.

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Star Power: Portraits, Styling, and You

     At the time of this writing, there are approximately 7.6 billion people living on this planet according to the Worldometers website. The United States alone has more than 325 million people and we are only the third largest country behind India and China. NPR recently published an article about the United Nations study, which projects that the population will grow to 11.2 billion by the end of the century, but (good news) also that it will likely plateau at that point. That is, the population will reach and stay at 11.2 billion if we survive as a species that long.

 

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Danielle Crook getting ready for her portrait.

     These numbers are difficult to imagine, but they nowhere compare to estimates of how many stars there are in the universe. According to a 2013 article in The Atlantic: “There are roughly a septillion stars in the observable universe. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Which is, for lack of a more fitting description … a lot of stars.” This article also cites a funny and entertaining science YouTube channel called Minute Physics which explains that there are only about 5,000 stars that we can see with the naked eye.

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Nadine Michelle of Purity Salon working on Danielle’s Makeup

     All of this is to say that stars are actually much more common than people. We just don’t always see things that way. So, we end up using the figure of the star as a metaphor to describe someone we see as being extremely rare. When, even if we reach 11.2 billion people, there would still be 892,857,142,857,143, or 893 trillion stars for each person. Maybe there are other reasons to compare people to stars, though. For one thing, stars are the main source of light in the universe, which is why they are important to photographers. No stars, no photo. Humans, as walking talking living breathing experiences of consciousness are a source of light, too.

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Visit Nadine’s website to book a hair and makeup appointment. Follow Danielle on Facebook to learn more about her upcoming concert and other creative projects.

 

     It’s more than their light, though that makes stars and humans similar. Stars are beyond all else mysterious. Where do they come from? Why do they do what they do? What happens when they are gone? Humans are mysterious as stars and for the same reasons. As much as we might want to define people, to give them labels, to judge them according to various ethical standards at the end of it all there is something deeply unknowable about the human being. And being human is a tricky and complicated thing, to say the least.

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Danielle in her Blue Starry Night Dress

     This is partly what makes portraiture so powerful. When you really respect what it means to be human, the act of portraying a person is a profound thing to attempt. This shoot in particular was inspired by the stars which is what got me thinking these cosmic thoughts, lol. My friend Danielle is organizing a classical music concert around the theme of Starry Night with a visual art element as well as piano and singing and I’m helping her to promote the event. For this shoot, she arranged to have her hair and makeup done by the amazingly talented Nadine Michelle at Purity Salon on Soquel St. in Santa Cruz. Nadine did a fantastic job with her styling and she put on the dress she’ll be performing in and we set out to get some shots.

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     First, we went out to the point that divides Main Beach and Seabright Beach. This spot is great for portraits as you can stand out close to the water and have a great distance between the subject and the background. The light was soft and subtle and illuminated Danielle, her hair, and her costume beautifully. Next, we drove over to Capitola Village to take advantage of the holiday lights to create a starry bokeh effect. I think both locations created beautiful portraits and will do well to help raise awareness and sell tickets for the event, which is going to be a really interesting experience for everyone who gets to see and hear the art.

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You are a star, too. In fact, you’re much more special than a star, far more rare. You should have your portrait done, too and I know just the guy to do it. In fact, Nadine and I would love to team up again to give you a look that you’ll love to share with your friends, that will help you to promote your happenings, and that will give the grandkids a kick someday. Or you could just keep taking selfies with your phone. Your choice.

 

Gear Envy

There are a lot of great photographers in Santa Cruz. I think that it might be our strongest visual art. Santa Cruz County is such a beautiful place, with so many secret spots and microclimates, that it is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. If it’s foggy at the beach, you can go up into the redwoods to use the soft light to capture wooded landscapes. We have rivers, creeks, waterfalls and even a lake. We have bright open sand dunes and dank murky forests. Photography is the perfect match for this truly special place.
It’s not only the landscape that makes Santa Cruz such a great place for photography, though: it’s the people, too. There is a magnetism to this place that attracts some of the more interesting folks to be found. There are the surfers, the marine biologists, the environmentalists, the artists, the skateboarders, the mountain bikers, the professors, the entrepreneurs, the brewers, the chefs, the foodies, the frisbee golfers, the cannabis community, the techies, the hipsters, the coffee enthusiasts, the moms and dads, the teachers, the activists, the homeless, the politicians, and so much more. All of this beauty and diversity is just waiting to be expressed in photography.

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Yesterday, I woke up early to shoot the sunrise as I usually do. There’s a certain spot I like to go for how the waves refract and crash against the cliffs. It’s not the most obvious spot to photograph, but it’s certainly no secret. I often see other photographers using it for their work. I used to always want to find my own spots and if I saw another person with a camera it would kinda ruin it for me. I’d rather be somewhere obscure and unique than crowded next to a bunch of other button pushers getting slight variations on the same scene. Over time, though, I’ve learned that even if people are shoulder to shoulder they end up getting very different shots because photographic style is very personal. Additionally, I’ve come to think that there is a more important element to photography than being unique: it’s connection. Having some sort of personal feelings about a place makes the work more interesting. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get great photos while traveling. There’s something magical about the act of traveling that opens you up to connecting with a place. There’s also something deep about spending a lot of time studying a landscape. These two are the best paths to connection for me: visit new places and keep going back to places you love. Whether other people are shooting them or not is not as relevant.

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Well, this morning there weren’t many clouds in the sky but there were huge sets rolling through and smashing against the rocks. Every so often an especially large two wave set would roll through and pound the cliff making the ground shake and throwing huge explosions up into the sky. There were two shots I wanted to get: the crack of dawn with a breaking wave and one of these macking sets smashing against the cliff. With some luck, they both happened at the same time. I was positioned to catch the day break when the largest set of all created a small earthquake. Right then, two fisherman were standing on the upper part of the cliff next to me and they looked at the lower portion where they would have to stand and laughed at each other. It was cold and the chances were they were going to get wet. Still, fish had to be caught so they hauled their gear down to the wet cliff’s edge and cast their lines. I waited for another set to come through to see what they would do, but only a couple of smaller waves hit the cliff and they dodged the spray with little effort and only a small amount of fear.

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Then, I dashed off to meet my morning subject for coffee. Martina is a meditation specialist and as you would hope she has a tremendous sense of depth about her. Her business is helping people to go deeper in their meditation practice and I’m helping her with her website. She wanted a photograph of herself in the landscape with gold and purple colors only, so I asked her to wear the purple and I led her up the coast to a really mystical beach with long golden beaches and dramatic golden cliffs. I think that the same thing applies for photographing people as landscapes: the most important element is connection. Again, this is magically possible the first few times you meet someone and after you have known them for a long time. If you feel stuck in your photography I would challenge you to photograph someone entirely new to you and someone you have known very well for a long time. The high tide and the large swell made this epic spot that much more dramatic and though there wasn’t that much room on the beach to walk we got some great shots with amazing light.

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After our shoot, I went back to the studio to edit some shots for her to review and then went to the brewery to photograph the new flier for Twisted Tasting 2018. This is an incredible event that my sister came up with where she invites all the breweries and her favorite food artists to come up with something really creative and unusual. Then they all show up in one carnival themed space for a night of eating drinking and carnivalesque fun. It’s a challenging event to organize, to say the least. I had some business to take care of, so I only had a few moments to get a photograph and I asked one of our brewers if he’d like to be in the photo. Although he initially declined when I explained that he would just be holding up the flier in front of his face he was game. He’s a photographer, too, and sometimes photographers can dislike each other by instinct. My uncle sometimes tells a joke about poets. How do you get a poet to hate you? You tell ‘em you’re a poet. Same thing with photographers. We either hate each other or get along beautifully. There’s almost always some element of comparison that goes into the mix whether it leads to inspiration or jealousy. I’m certainly not immune to this dynamic, so I almost always understand it. He was very cool about it, though, and chose the high road by being a team player. There are way more photographers than there are budgets for photography in this town, but I think that can and will change. Social media marketing is so important to business and there are so many small businesses that we can all find work if we get smart about it. I have tons to say about this subject, but I’ll return to it in a future blog.

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The next part of my day was just a bunch of business, but by the time I’d finished my chores it was already time to go and shoot the sunset. We are in the last week of fall during the shortest days of the year and there’s not much time in between golden hours. I decided to head back up the coast for sunset because I had a really good feeling up there in the morning. I decided to go to Shark Fin Cove this time, even though I expected it to be crowded with photogs. I hadn’t got a truly great photograph of the cove yet and I figured this might be my time. I was surprised when I climbed down the path and out onto the beach that there weren’t any other photographers yet so I placed my tripod in the spot I like the best where you can see the channels of water on both sides of the shark fin. I turned around and there was another photographer already right behind me. He must’ve been just a few seconds later than I was. No bother, I though to myself and laughed about how I had made a satirical story about another photog poaching my shot just a week ago. Well, I’m getting my settings figured out and he plunks his tripod down right next to me, but I know that my angle is the one I like best. If I got a shot even three feet to the left where he is I wouldn’t like it, so I don’t care. The waves are huge and are crashing against the cliffs with great drama. My wide angle lens doesn’t do their violence justice. I turn to my comrade and he has a camera on the tripod, but he’s pulled out another camera with a bigger lens to shoot the waves. I felt a pang of jealousy, or gear envy, but I still knew that I was going to get the shot I wanted, so I chilled and just enjoyed the scene. It was still about twenty minutes till the sun set. Remember how I said earlier that there were two set waves every once in a while that would explode against the cliff in the morning? Well, the same was true in the evening. I saw it coming but you could hear it, too because water was being forced with extreme pressure through both channels and then shot right up the beach at us. No problem, I picked up my tripod and scooted ten feet or so back. As I was doing this, though, I witnessed something awful. My friend still had his big lens camera in hand, but he had put his camera bag on the beach and his other camera was still on the tripod. As the wave raced up the beach, I saw him freeze for a second in terror and then rush in a panic to get his camera bag which he retrieved just in time. Then we both looked at his other camera and watched in what felt like slow motion as it leaned forward and finally crashed lens first into the water.

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“Oh man, oh no!” It was another photographer who was just arriving on the scene to witness the disaster. He was a hipster of small stature, but well groomed and with a very beautiful woman toting a film camera. The were both dressed in all black. I could tell that he wanted my spot. At a certain point he asked if he could stand in front of my setup to snap a few shots. Sure I said and I just photographed him trying to get the shot. I didn’t think you could get a very good photograph of the scene without a tripod to begin with and I knew I had plenty of time as the sun had set but the sky was slowly blooming with color. I could tell it was going to be one of those epic 20 minute after burns. He came back to me after snapping his shots and asked me what Sony I was using. I told him it was an A7ii and he flashed me a wolfish smile. How about you? A7R, he beamed back at me. I laughed inside at what assholes we are comparing gear. I really do not give a flying fuck what camera someone has, especially after I saw homeboy with the big lens lose his other camera to the waves. He was still on the beach morosely trying to clean his camera twisting the lens and grinding his teeth to the sound of the grit caught in the lens. By the time the bloom peaked I was very happy with my shots and trekked back up to my car to head home.

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