Train for the Change You Want to See: GYB Strength

We have the occasion, during this period of life interrupted, to think about one of life’s great questions: how do we create social change? There are so many ways to approach this topic and I think that one of the great things about contemporary culture and social media is our ability to see plenty of examples and to learn from our peers. 

When you stop and look at the flow of history with the objective of seeing how social change occurs, it becomes clear that most of what we see as social equilibrium is merely an angle of repose that has resulted in a dynamic balance from ages of struggle and collapse. Beneath that image of stability is a violently churning reality. There are multitudes of groups pushing for their own interests and it is some vast turbulent ocean of conflict and cooperation that is keeping things dynamically the same and allowing for some change in certain moments.

We have professional activists who study the situation looking for nodal points of leverage where force or support can be applied to some effect. We have career politicians actively transforming ideas into reality through the drafting of legislation, the execution of mandates, and the judgment of actions. Politics is much bigger than a business or even an industry. Politics are the official and often arbitrary outcomes of power struggles. It is the public story power writes.

It is the people who are doing the struggling, though. In many cases, this struggle results in a form of work that is like existential hysteria, an outward expression of the ultimate grief. The display of displeasure, the story of true human suffering becomes a work, a narrative that can be replayed, retold, reconfigured as evidence supporting our cause. In other words, the people who are publicly hurting are providing us with the ability to discuss our underlying problems. In doing the work to understand how to change the conditions that lead to such unnecessary suffering we are honoring their sacrifice.

In many if not most cases, the people who become national topics of debate do not do so intentionally. Our great change makers often are not volunteering for the job, but people who simply suffer the consequences of an unjust system and who inspire other people through the expression of their suffering. It is through phrases of sheer terror that a truth is illuminated: “I can’t breathe.” It is in the extreme vulnerability of a human being involuntarily brought to the edge of life itself asking for their mother or their father that we see something true about our condition of being. How do we become more humane humans?

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to work with one of my favorite artists, Gillian Young. She is too many things to name, which is why the title of artist is really the only label that fits. She is a fitness coach, a food influencer, a writer, a fashion model, a social activist and a community builder as well as many other interesting things. One thing she is not, however, is quiet about the change she wants to see.

Whenever I see Gillian in person, I have the feeling that I am in the presence of a superhero. She is an exquisitely beautiful woman, with a fashion forward style, flowing with feminine grace and elegance but accented and accessorized with an edginess that speaks to her strength. Her bright and warm demeanor are offset by a tattoo of a knife, by her shoes. This is a woman, one thinks, capable of being a great friend, a valued collaborator, but also one you do not want to fuck with.

Gillian, like anyone mentally fit enough to pay attention, is on a path of awakening to more of the world’s truths and, as we come to understand the depth of the problems we collectively face, it can be daunting to engage. How do we speak up for what we believe effectively? How can we be positive influences of change? What does that look like? 

For Gillian, as a fitness coach and personal trainer, the answer is through training. You don’t achieve fitness goals overnight. They take work and dedication and discipline. Well, why would we think it would be any different or easier to create a healthier society? It’s not. 

It has often been said, attributed to Ghandi, that one of the best ways to effect change is to be the change you want to see in the world. Gillian is taking this idea to its practical level by training to create the change she wants to see. After all, we can’t just be anything we want without doing the work. We have to practice any art or skill we want to improve.

Taking the discipline and the technique of working towards fitness goals and applying them to building a diverse community, Gillian is modeling an effective approach to changemaking. This is a kind of proactive model of protest. It is about building coalitions and sharing stories so that we can coexist more happily together.

But don’t mistake this movement as a superficial and doomed to fail because overly optimistic flash in the pan. This is not fool’s gold, it’s not gold at all. It is good. The common good. Enlightened self-interest. The social agreement. But remember the tattoo of the knife. In order to build community, you also have to have clear boundaries, and you have to establish a seriousness of your intent to preserve the integrity of the group. We are not fucking around, her smile seems to say.

We are here to do the work, her back states, to create powerful social connections and to articulate our vision of equity and friendship to anyone willing to try. Gillian’s brand name is GYB, the acronym for her full name Gillian Young Barkalow, but it also stands for her motto, her mantra, her mission statement, her mandate: Give Your Best.

Certain people are inspiring to be around because of their verve, their spark, their drive for living and this electrical aura is what makes Gillian such a powerful coach. Following her on social media is witnessing a woman building a movement. If you are looking for motivation in your fitness journey, you should consider an interview with Gillian the Great if you are ready to train for the change you want to see.

The Work of Landscape Photography

I like to earn my photographs. I don’t think a robot could ever feel that way, but maybe artificial intelligence will include emotional dimensions. Maybe we are not special as human consciousness. Still, I feel better when I do something hard that leads to a great photograph. 

A lot of it has to do with timing. You have to synchronize your life with the light and the landscape. You have to be in the right place at the right time, and if it is hard to get to that place then you have the added reward of achieving something that is difficult. It is not just what the camera can see, but what the body operating the camera feels and why. 

Riding my bike through the mountain trails gives me a ton of physical challenges and a lot of satisfaction. It feels good to climb up to a ridgeline with the power of your own legs and the view is that much sweeter. It also means knowing the trails and how long they take and how fast you can go. It means having enough energy and physical comfort to be able to stop and compose your shots despite the fatigue or the hunger you feel. 

It also adds the element of the unknown. You have some extra elements of chance at work. Getting yourself in the right spot at the right time is much harder when you are riding a bike, but it is also much more rewarding. 

Photoshoot Magic

These are strange times and if we are to be honest, we could use a little magic. Every day, we do the best we can with our circumstances and sometimes all of that hard work pays off in a moment of magic.

Tenisha Hill and Gillian Young are no strangers to hard work or magical moments. It was an honor to have the opportunity to photograph them wearing Synergy Organic Clothing.

On this evening, there was a brisk wind making the cool temps feel downright chilly. We had a short window of light and we made the most of it.

Location, Location, Location: Photography and Natural Light

So much of life depends upon location. Realtors know this better than most, but photographers also are expert in understanding place. Yesterday I photographed my friends Natalia, Antonio and Derek. Natalia and Derek are realtors. Hence, the title.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-20A favorite collaborator over the years, Natalia Lockwood has become a powerhouse broker of homes and it is fun to watch her grow.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-5This is Derek Scranton who was voted Capitola’s “Best Realtor” in the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Readers’ Choice Awards. Super nice guy, easy going and fun. Contact him if you are in the market for a home.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-24What a team! Their smiles say it all. We chose Loch Lomond for our shoot, and found some great pockets of light along the lake. FYI, you are allowed to visit the lake for fishing and hiking, but no hanging out, as we learned.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-26The homie Antonio is a capoeira master and with supreme flexibility he busted out some moves real quick. JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-27Had to take the opportunity to get a few shots of one of my favorite couples.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-28By the way, Antonio and I talked about podcasts the whole time. He’s the only person I know who loves podcasts as much as I do. Always fun to link up with kindred souls.

JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-29What are your favorite podcasts? Going to be brainstorming some ideas with Antonio. Could be something cool in the works! These are wild times and we need to be discussing the issues.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-21

Mountain Cure

With all of the tragedy going on in the world, mental health is super important and hard to come by. Exercise is key for my mental well being. So is being in nature. With a camera on my back, I jumped on my bike to put in some miles on the trails to achieve both goals and to make some photographs in the pretty early-summer light.JJT.13.June.2020I’ve been thinking a lot about how photography is so much more than a way of documenting the world, and when I experiment with long exposure blurs it sometimes matches how I feel better than a tack sharp image. I like to experiment with drawing with the light. It decomposes the image and shows how cameras work while using all of the points of light to draw lines. JJT.13.June.2020-26I think that there is a value to both kinds of photographs: experimental and documentary. While I enjoy the feeling of experimenting with a camera to get surprising results there is also something really rewarding about a photograph that looks and feels like the world it was made in.JJT.13.June.2020-5JJT.13.June.2020-24JJT.13.June.2020-4JJT.13.June.2020-7JJT.13.June.2020-3

Same Sun

A huge part of being a photographer is studying light, just like a writer pays attention to language. It is the medium. The camera is a tool that uses light to render images about subjects. Therefore, we need to be very familiar with the ever-changing qualities of light.JJT.Anna.SV.web-6One of the ways I make a practice of studying light is by continually being out in the landscape. Hiking, mountain biking, always being out there with a camera is critical to knowing your light and locations. When you study light for a living you learn that the difference between various kinds of light can range from excruciating to ecstatic. Riding your bike mid day facing the sun without shades is a blinding and painful experience, especially during summer. As the day begins to transpire and the earth starts to cool there is a window of beautiful light that softens and illuminates subjects with a distinctly magical effect. It’s the same sun, but radically different light.JJT.Anna.SV.web-8For this shoot, I was visiting the location for the first time. This meant that I did not know when the light would disappear over the horizon. Located north of Santa Cruz in the mountains there are canyons and ravines that get dark a lot earlier than it does along the coastline. This means that the last direct light is going to be brighter, but it also has the potential of showing up in beams that work like spotlights.JJT.Anna.SV.web-10The chiaroscuro effect has always been a favorite due to the dramatic interplay of dark and light and can really help the subject to pop in the composition. By positioning Anna directly in a beam of light there is a wonderful contrast to the light softening as dusk arrives.JJT.Anna.SV.web-20After the direct light is gone at a mountain location like this, there is still a lot of wonderful soft light that you can use to create brighter more evenly lit compositions. With a little bit of backlit highlight in her hair, I like the warm rural feel of the above shot. Anna is originally from Russia, and there’s something really cool to me about the look of traditional Russian clothing in Northern California settings.JJT.Anna.SV.print-23Portraiture is a dynamic challenge of using light and location to create interesting and pleasing compositions featuring the subject. Knowing your light is as important as knowing the technical aspects of your craft so that you can give all of your attention to the subject during the shoot.JJT.Anna.SV.print-25Another great thing to do with portraiture is to incorporate the life of the subject. Anna wanted to get some photos with her cat and it really brought out some of her personality. You can see it in her smile. How about that expression on the cat?JJT.Anna.SV.print-28This photo really succeeds at Portraying Anna to me, because in the gesture of her arms holding her cat and in her expression slightly laughing at the experience you can see the way she sounds and who she is.