Categories and Concepts in Photo

Today, I’m going to talk photography, as it is core to who I am and key to what I do. When people ask me what my podcast is about, I say it’s about photography, digital media, culture in the digital era, art and literature. It’s a form of questions, an inquiry. There’s a certain mysterious element to it as well, because it’s kind of unable to be forced. I feel like if I tried to come up with a strict theme for a talk I don’t think it would go that well, not that it IS going that well, but it would go less well. So instead, it’s: marketing, social media, multimedia, art and business and culture.

Maybe it would be good to develop a more formal framework? If I’m going to do 30 minutes a day should I break that down into segments? What would that look like? What kind of segments should I create?

Today, though, I’m going to be a little more focused because I want to talk photography. There are so many ways to talk about photography because it’s such a huge field. There are all of the categories of photography to consider and it helps to think about what each kind of photograph calls for. The basic thing that combines all segments of photography is that you have to get great photos.

Whatever the purpose, whatever the format, you have to go out with your assignment and figure out how to bring back the best images. Whether you love it or hate it, people’s response is going to play into the mix, too and there are always trolls. That’s why being a photographer is kind of like waging psychological war because you’re going to deal with so many people trying to get into the field as well. But it helps to think about the categories. The more you know the better chance you stand.

There’s photography you do for the public (journalism, art, marketing) but when you do marketing photography you’re doing stuff for the public on behalf of a client and this is a great way to make money if you can pull it off. When you get the chance to work with a business and they give you some idea of what they want, then you get to create a voice that matches the brand’s goals. It’s a lot of fun to help businesses to convert people into fans.

How do you make someone a fan? You have to be compelling to them in one way or another. They have to want to see what you’re going to do next.

Back to the categories. Each of the categories has different considerations, and lots of overlap. Like with landscape photography where you’re depicting a stretch of space and architectural photography where you’re showing a landscape with a home. It’s like a cross between landscape photography and portraiture, but it’s a portrait of a building.

When it comes to people, there’s a lot of categories, but there are also types. There’s candid photography and posed photography and those modes of representation can exist within each of the categories. For example, if you photograph an event where someone is talking and you get a great photo of them at the podium, that is a candid journalistic photo. However, if the speaker is not in a place to get a great shot and you approach them after the talk and ask them to get a photo then it is still a journalistic shot, but it’s of a posed variety.

Thinking about what category it is will help to make decisions about the equipment and technique to use in order to get the shot you want. We start with the constraints. What can’t be done? Many of those are obvious and eliminate the techniques that are inappropriate to the situation, but it’s a helpful orientation. The limitations of a situation or a category of photography help to determine what can be done and how.

So, I want to come up with a concept for a shoot right now. That way I can walk you through how I make my decisions.

We are in winter and we have all of these cool trees without leaves and you can see their structure. I came across a huge maple tree that cast a massive shadow across the street and I want to return there with a model to play with the pockets of light and shadow for a portrait. When doing a portrait there are still different kinds of images. On the one hand, there are photos of people where the identity of the subject is the most important element. Your goal is to portray something interesting about this notable person. On the other hand, you have portraiture where it’s really a concept for a play on color or lights and shadows and what you really need is a person to stand in as a role, to be an actor who embodies that space.

In marketing, you’re going to do both kinds. If you’re able to photograph people who are important to the brand then you want to show something interesting or powerful about who they are, like photographing Dan Herer standing with John Salley for The Original Jack Herer. You’re going to approach that more as a documentary photographer. You want to capture the moment.

I’m going to think about a concept for a shoot featuring the vape pen by Original Jack Herer that just won the Emerald Cup award for best distillate. There are so many factors that go into creating a shoot: the style of the brand, what shots they have recently posted, what story they are trying to tell, what is happening culturally or seasonally, etc. So, I’m going to go with the wintry element of the leafless trees and the patterns of shadows and pockets of light and bring a model into that space with the vape pen to make the most of that contrast of winter light. I think I’ll invite Sammy and Emily to see if they can model. I have this shot in my mind, but once we get there it’s going to involve a process of trial and error playing with the light and the composition until it jives.

Virtuous Cycles

New Year’s Eve in Santa Cruz, pushups done, drinking beer, doing podcast, listening to said podcast and writing about that very podcast. Thanks for listening, thank you for following along. Just gonna have a little fun with the whole thing if I can, if I may, if I must: oh yes all three of the above, because I’m a content creator and I’m creating a cloud of thought that I’m going to distill it later on at the time of writing. But, we’ll see, because life is an experiment, especially as an artist. That’s one of the most important things you can be: experimental. Scientists and artists are similar in a lot of ways. Art overlaps with lots of different fields: the politician, the decorator, the scientist, the clown.

This age is radically different, though, due to the Internet. It’s as though our connectivity is so prolific that it is now entirely taken for granted. In the past, you could think about people in a more atomic way as little beings bouncing around and reacting to each other. The dream of the atomic family.

With the advance of digital culture, the wildernesses inside of us will recede further and further as more and more is available to see online. The habits of humans are very deep things. When you think about the fact of the unconscious being caused by the repression of thought and you look at an age where nothing really can’t be seen, there’s not much left that’s taboo, what does this mean for the unconscious? What does it mean for culture’s movement? Is there a tipping point, or is there a sweet spot of repression? Is there a way that it goes too far, but there’s also a way where there’s enough that is allowed without everything being open and free? Is there some level, some amount that suffices, have we reached the golden age of the allowable? The golden age of the allowable is the sweet spot of the permissable. More license would make us too decadent. Right now we’re still kinda lusty and hearty, on our way up fucking and drinking but we’re not decadent, creating strange games for people to play while we sit on couches and eat delicious food.

Anyone and anything that has ever been or will be could be found out there in the world today. There’s so much going on. That’s why the little vignette is both the best and the worst medium for today. With all the storm of content that gets thrown at us every day it’s hard to stop and take on the commitment to read a 600 page literary novel. But you just have to get people hooked, and hence the vignette. I think that people should be camped out for three days ahead of time to get the first copies of your books and they will be wearing costumes of characters from your book.

That’s why as an artist, it makes sense to adopt a spontaneous loose style where you can work and work and be super prolific but are creating tons of little things and can release them all. You want to create a compulsion to follow. You want people to be looking for what you’re going to do next. Anything short of people camped out for three nights will not do. You need to have a community of people fully one hundred percent fireworks behind the project.

How do you create that, what will happen, how will you know it?

It will happen something like this: after llistening to someone like me for 6 months you’ll start your own business and you’ll take your projects to the next level. All you can ask of yourself is progress. But the other thing is when you are really on it with the stuff you’re creating that’s all you have time to think about. That’s what you’re most excited to see. How did the photos look? How do the clips go together? How did that description sound? How does the blog entry look? It’s all a matter of repetition. You get better at everything by doing it repeatedly and through using the equipment so much it’s like the camera is melded to your finger and then you have this confidence when you approach someone for a portrait that people can sense. That’s a hugely important part of the process. The more you work, the more confident the work will be great.

That’s why I’m talking about these positive feedback loops and these habits that will build in a direction you choose. Having physical challenges that are physical maintenance but are also a neutral way to measure how good of shape you are in. Like if you choose a hill to run. Each time you run the hill you get a reflection of how good of shape you’re in. The hill doesn’t change, but how hard it is to make it varies.

Creating these virtuous cycles creates momentum, too, though. Because while you’re paying attention to how hard it is, how in or out of shape you are, you are also getting into better shape and as you’re more fit it’s more fun to do and you avoid it less. This is the art of the successful resolution.

As you receive this feedback on a daily basis, it also gives you some information about how much what you are doing is working and maybe what you can change. For example, if you’re running a hill you might think about your dietary choices as your gut starts to burn. It’s only with these virtuous cycles, these positive feedback loops, that we get that information. It’s only by using the tools that you understand their value and their state of being.

What you do all depends upon what you want, but sometimes people don’t know what they want. This is the strange double bind of your explorations and experiments. You don’t want to assume that people are going to feel the same way you do about anything. It’s always important to listen to the feedback. That’s a number one thing. It doesn’t work without an audience, so always put them first. It’s a weird instinct that you have that wants to put you before other people in a competitive way as though they should listen to you because of the value of what you’re saying, but that’s not how it works. We exist in a super-competitive mode so cooperation requires organization. I sincerely believe that we are on the verge of a massive creative breakthrough, however. I feel like we should be making things with Da Vinci and Michaelangelo as our audience. Gertrude Stein, Jane Adams, Susan B Anthony, Maya Angelou, let’s make things in their honor as well. To me, it deeply matters what culture you are coming from. How does the language you use carry with it a whole wide ranging cultural history? It’s like the air we breathe, the space we move through.

Positive Feedback Loops

Hello Folks,

This is Jake J. Thomas bringing you another episode of Dialogic two days before the end of the year, going to be easing into 2019. What kinds of challenges will we face, what kinds of opportunities? Now is a time for reflecting about that. I said last podcast how good I feel about going into 2019. From being a dad to working with creatives, I really enjoy my life and love how I make a living. This whole industry is so interesting and it’s a powerful time to be a creative. I look forward to making the most of it as much of the time as possible. Waves have been good, but I haven’t been on it as I’ve been sick and getting ready for the new year.

Finally, I was able to do a full workout and broke into a really strong sweat. I ended up doing 60 minutes yesterday and today doing 720 pushups and 720 squats. I want to get to 1000 each but in 50 minutes and if I can do that every day as just a core of my fitness then I feel confident that I can be a force to reckon with in the years to come.

I’m on in interesting self-reflective kick, but I don’t want to let it veer into narcissism. I’m not doing this because I love the way I sound; it’s a tool of self-reflection and improvement. I think that podcasts are going to be an increasingly important tool for businesses to share their stories with the public, so I think that this experience is critical in being able to help others. I’m sharing some of the technical aspects of my podcast as a map or a challenge to you. Do a half-hour podcast a day with free form but limited to 30 minutes and then you play back that podcast and you write about what you hear what you think about what comes across as interesting and then you use that writing as the description in the YouTube video, for a blog post, as the podcast description. It’s a way of being self-reflective: it’s a way of learning to speak what you mean and to mean what you speak. The act of communicating in front of the public creates apprehension that can play tricks on you and cause glitches of consciousness because you’re insecure about it. But with that feedback loop you can improve quickly.

What are you working on for 2019?

Half an hour recording, half an hour listen/ write/ upload. In one-hour you create a video and audio podcasts but you also generate copy. You have a page long blog, a description for your podcast, 20 tweets, three Instagram captions, and maybe more. It’s a very generative thing. When you set that as a goal for yourself you start to think about things in a different way, trying to make the connections stronger, finding the thing that you want to talk about because you know that you’re going to have to talk about something. This kind of self-reflective activity can really be transformative both because it provides a space for reflection and because it inspires a shift in consciousness from passive to actively looking for subjects.

It also pushes you to come up with tactics for when you can’t think of any content. There are categories that you can invent that you can always turn to and use for a day’s content.

The reflective loop helps you to see what is working and what isn’t. It pushes you to be honest about how you really are. It’s one of the reasons why fitness is so important, because you can’t really fake it. You’ve either done the work or not. If you have done enough work, then your body is an amazing machine that can do more than you could imagine. That’s reason enough to keep committed to a physical routine. It’s like the runner’s high: that moment of space that’s created by the endorphins from running where you can focus your mental activity and reflect on your reality from a different perspective.

It’s all about finding these practices that will generate movement and will encourage self-reflection and transformation. To use it to drive ourselves in a positive direction, to give ourselves momentum to endure any times when we are out of control, lost at sea, whipped by the wind and have to wait it out, but when we have control it’s so crucial to step into each situation with so much energy to be progressive that you understand the limits intimately. Because you do it so much, you have this overwhelming mastery of a subject and you know that what you say is based on experience, then you have a kind of confidence that only comes from authenticity. That’s always been important to me for an artist: authenticity. Making choices that come out of the work that you’ve done. Taking ownership of your creativity. Being responsible for whether the work is or is not creative. Understanding that there’s always going to be a certain amount of criticism as a precondition of sharing anything at all. But if you expect that to be there it can become a force that you can push against, that you can use to help you to navigate the field, that can help you to see the larger situation. Being able to be there for that as a daily practice is the goal for 2019. I want to do this physical fitness routine 362 days of next year. There might be three days when I miss a workout, but only three. I believe that if I stay that committed to my fitness then I’ll have a keener understanding of the terrain of my fitness, what I can do in relation to the world around me. No better way to understand the terrain than to traverse it and that’s a way to know your body, too. Knowing yourself and knowing the terrain are key to self-mastery. As I was just sick, I couldn’t do my workout. I had to take a break, I couldn’t sustain the energy the full fifty minutes and I had to take breaks which meant that I never got as fully sweaty as I normally would. The sweating is a crucial part of the workout. I probably sweat a liter or maybe two each workout. I feel like it cleans me out from the inside. I want to be super consistent in 2019 with that workout and not miss any days so that I can really understand that terrain.

Taint Nothin’ but Unconditional Love

Dialogic podcast, holiday check-in with the meme-savy people about the week between Xmas and NYE, the taint. Taint nothing but a weird little chunk of surreal time. It’s also a time of mass-reflection, people are pretending to get introspective; it’s resolution time. I want to think about it in a way that could be useful to myself and if it helps me it will help someone else. Upon reflection, I had feedback from a friend that seeing my sweaty selfie posts about pushups inspired her to take her fitness routine seriously and helped her to get back into shape after a back surgery. That alone made it more than worth it. I post my sweaty selfies because you can’t fake that kind of effort and with so much fronting and faking on the Internet I like to show honest moments.

When it comes to the holidays, like with many things, I am of two minds about a lot of it. I like to think that, when this dynamic is well-balanced, it gives me flexibility in my approach to things like the holidays. Sometimes I think we should just skip it and other times I’m ready to go all-in. Meh.

Everyone approaches the holiday with their own style. It’s different as a parent, though. Having a 5-year old daughter with a birthday two weeks before Xmas is a blast because she has such a great time. She loves her presents and she adores spending time with her family. I’m super grateful that I get to be her dad. I always knew that being a dad would be hugely important to me, which is why I waited so long to become one. I didn’t want to do that without the right situation, turns out that for me becoming a parent means that you go all in and do it the best that you can and worry about not doing it as good as you would like to, even though you understand that loving them and loving being a parent is the best thing you can do. I feel super grateful about being a dad.

When you have a kiddo, it’s all different, so shout out to all the parents out there doing their best to figure it all out. Unconditional love, how do we do it better, more consistently?

I like to talk because I feel that I have something to say, that I have a voice and I want to exercise my voice to become stronger, more focused on providing you with value. This podcast is going to be a daily thing, that’s my resolution. It’s going to get a little sillier, a little more focused, a little higher cardio levels, a little more footwork footwork footworkish.

I’m not against resolutions. I think that the world is amazing but imagine if everyone improved even just a little bit. People have a spectrum of behavior, a scale of desirability. From seduction mode to sedated on cold medicine stupor everyone has a range of feelings and styles they exhibit. Resolutions are just choices to strive for one or another version of self. The desire to become more fit is a choice to solidify a version of yourself through habit. You’re choosing to go in one direction instead of another one. You’re not laying on the beach smoking herb with some beautiful friends. There are different values and benefits to any lifestyle. People get confused when making a choice into thinking that one lifestyle is better than another when really you’re just choosing the set of benefits, costs, and consequences that you prefer over the other ones. Choosing fitness means getting discipline, structure, physical ability etc.; however, choosing to be artistic and spontaneous has its own set of rewards. In certain contests between lifestyles there are definitely advantages. The lawn-laying wine drinking artist may be at a disadvantage to fight the physical fitness enthusiast, but when it comes to writing poems, vice versa.

It’s not that one way is better than the other, but that you can’t often do both at the same time. You don’t have to choose one or the other, but you have to schedule the time out. Either at a certain time of day or a certain number of weeks during the year you have to change directions, you have to switch lifestyles. Doing so deliberately gives you an ability to have some control. What do you want to do, how do you want to be? Pick a lifestyle, design a schedule, build a life that suits you. I have the trouble of wanting it all, wanting too much and trying to do way more than is possible. That’s sometimes a good mechanism of growth, but it can also make time management difficult. That’s a lot of people’s problem, I imagine. A little focus can go a long way for many of us and that is why this time of year is relevant, not just a Hallmark Holiday.

In addition to a seasonal reflection, a daily practice is super valuable to keep yourself aligned with your goals.

Looking back on 2018 I see a ton of growth, a huge amount of work accomplished and relationships developed. I feel like in the next 6 months I can really crush it for myself and the brands that I work with because my experience and skill levels are up to a point where I can see the landscape. This year my main goal is to create by any means necessary juicy enough content to create people’s desire to consume it. I want to make better things: photos, videos, writing. I want to pick up some new techniques. I want to work on pans for video, transitions. I think I have a great sense of composition, lighting, and overall form, but it’s the transitions and dynamic shots that I need to work on to become more fluent. I’m super excited following this recent but deep fitness routine and I feel strong and ready to go off.