Positive Energy Express

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With all of the strange changes going down right now, it’s important to be able to find ways to adjust your attitude, especially if you do creative work. What gives you a fresh look at things? For me, one of the surest ways to regain my sense of humor and to renew my will to be productive is exercise. Physical activity helps me to stay in a good frame of mind.

 

I’ve been pushing myself to hike lots of miles during these weeks and that has been a super productive and inspiring practice. Hiking plays a key role in me being my best self and living my best life. I get out to some remote locations during obscure lighting situations for the rarest of photo opportunities. Since photography is writing with light, it helps to have as much information about the terrain you will be describing and the light you will be using.

 

That is one of your biggest jobs as a photographer. Know the landscape. Because it changes day by day, the seasonal variations you experience are invaluable knowledge to getting the best shots. Hiking is ideal for this kind of practice because of the slow and deliberate nature of the decision to go on foot.

 

Although I love the minimalism of hiking, especially when I leave on foot from my door, there is another tool I love to use to explore the landscape and that is a bike. One of our greatest inventions of all time: the bicycle. What a slice of freedom a bike can be.

 

I’ve been teaching my daughter to ride her bike without training wheels for the past week and seeing the amount of joy she gets just by pedaling down the street with me on a skateboard beside her is about the best feeling I have ever had. It reminded me of that pure feeling of freedom you get from movement, with the wind in your face and the ground moving fast underneath you everything feels a lot better. Going fast is fun. Of course, it comes with danger, and learning to be safe is a big part of the project, but seeing the release, especially in this time of emotional confusion and frustration is a beautiful thing.

 

I have also been watching the homeboy Brendan Schaub become a mountain biking maniac. His podcast The Fighter and the Kid, with Bryan Callen, has been a bright source of positive energy during this quarantine, because he refuses to give into the fear and steadfastly keeps finding ways to make the most of his days. For a guy with millions of dollars, he is getting out and mixing it up on the trails and I think it is about as pure and inspiring a project as I have seen.

 

I have also been seeing one of my friends, Natalie Earl, posting about her own bike rides. Getting out for some fresh air and sweating out some worries is a great idea and so I linked up with Nat for a ride. We left from her house and wound our way through weekend traffic up the coast.

 

There’s something so vital and almost primal about getting around on a bike.  It forces you to tap into your instincts. You need your gut to guide you. And the rhythm that develops from dodging traffic gives you a kind of sense of flow that is very much related to creativity.

 

So, this week I joined the Thiccc Boy Bike Club with my friend Natalie and I’m hoping that we can continue to find some joy and release by hitting the road. I’m not going to be giving up hiking, though, because there is no replacing the intimacy of being out in the wild on foot where you can encounter the details and the animals on an even footing.

 

What are you doing to keep your energy positive? How are you getting exercise while staying safe during these strange times?

Songwriter with a Guitar

Hard times call for simple measures. No room for anything that doesn’t make sense. Less is the new black. Well, clear your listening schedule to make room for something soulful. Anthony Arya‘s music is a recipe for enthusiasm in a bleak cultural moment.Anthony.Arya.BW.Wrigley

The path of the independent artist matters because it is the purest way to fulfill a vision. Stand-up comics who don’t have to defend their jokes to a network have the chance to speak truth while making people laugh. A writer with a computer can create an intellectual movement. And a songwriter with a guitar can make music that is true and that reflects their love of music.

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What a person can do with some simple tools and artistic will is amazing. We live in a time when art is available to us at all times, and there are multiple channels to publish your own work. The freedom of speech has never had more power, and using our time to to debate and to create new forms is more important than ever.

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Anthony Arya released his second album this week, and the world is a richer place for it. Arya is about to graduate from high school is on his way to Stanford next fall and is leaving a path of dancing feet, smiling faces and happy people in his wake. Check out The Road on Apple iTunes to experience the latest work from a great young American songwriter and performer.

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We make the world.  Being born and dying off and in the middle of this maddening froth of grief and fear, the role of music and art is essential: it helps us to understand the ineffable.

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Barney Moon

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One of the side effects of the shutdown, the shelter in place order, or whatever you call this corona virus crisis is weeds. Great bushy volunteers crowding unkept sidewalks. We are in the middle of a drought. Otherwise the weeds would have swallowed us all up by now.

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The stay home order has given people a renewed appreciation for simple things like a walk through your neighborhood park. The last light on Cypress trees indicates the setting of the sun.

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I like to use a 400mm lens to photograph the landscape, especially when the moon is going to be a good subject.

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The almost full moon making us all remember that we are in this together.

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Spring brings winds and longer days to Santa Cruz. You can feel Summer on its way.

JJT.5.May.2020-93Before long, the Southern Hemisphere will awaken and send us powerful long period south swells.

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Last night as I walked back from photographing the moon, I saw a couple of great waves smoking and spitting and generally rolling through in true Steamer Lane fashion right as I passed Barney’s bench. I have some theories about what he’d be doing during this time, but I’ll save those for a podcast sometime.

Creating Great Social Media Content in 2020

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Jacqueline Joy Brenton: Yoga Instructor

We get it, the economy is in trouble, people are scared and fed up at the same time, and nobody seems to have a clear answer to how to solve the problems we are facing. There are plenty of ideas, but the problem is twofold: we need enough political will to execute an idea and we need the organization to keep it going.

 

While everyone is stuck in this quagmire, many have increased their consumption of social media. This is very understandable as we seek connection, want answers and have nowhere else to look. Social media was already consuming an enormous portion of our collective attention and it now has an even tighter grip on us.

 

As someone who does social media marketing, I feel a huge responsibility to make great content. Of course, this is a subjective measurement, but I will explain my criteria for creation and selection.

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Great content comes from hard work. Get up early and get after it.

Social Side Effects

 

First of all, you have to think about the effect your content has on people. You want to put the audience first, and as obvious as this may seem to some it is so common to see marketing that fails at this basic requirement. If you have a brand, an organization or if you are an influencer, then you have to give the audience something they want, something that gives them value.

 

While businesses have the goal of growing their revenue, social media is not a place to make sales. While it is possible, that is not the ideal use of social: it is more for marketing than for sales. This is possibly the biggest problem that content creators face: how do you satisfy business goals without falling into spammy sales-based content. The answer is: if you do social media well, then people will develop an affinity for the brand and that relationship will lead to an economic exchange. If someone loves your brand, they will support it. If you spam them with obnoxious sales proposals, you not only look desperate, but you repel those relationships that you seek to build.

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Motivation and Inspiration to do positive things are key

Professional or Personal?

 

If you want to reach your professional goals with social media, you have to understand that what you put out there on the internet is not for you. This means separating your personal from your professional work. These spheres are blended often in social media as one of the things that people want to see is what is behind the curtain. People crave and respond to authenticity. So how do your share who you are without it becoming too much information or too self-gratifying?

 

This dynamic creates a tricky balance. Even if you are showing aspects of your personal life, it is not for your own joy of sharing, but because the public has some interest in connecting with a person behind the public image. Strategy is always important in social media, but now more than ever as people are in heightened psychological states it helps to pay careful attention to why you are posting and what effects it is having.

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Finding the balance between personal and professional

Social Good or Bad?

 

Social media is a relatively new phenomena in the world, and its massive influence greatly magnified with the advance of mobile technology. With the coming of 5G it only seems inevitable that phones and social media are likely to be a big part of our lives for the foreseeable future. This means that businesses and organizations really need to participate in this primary form of human communication. Like it or not, the phone is where people’s attention is going.

 

Because of its recency, the data that we have about social media is difficult to put into a proper context. We are in the infancy of this global development, and we haven’t grown enough with the media to use it in the best possible ways. Of course, there are dangers that we should be aware of and we should strive to create content that is safe and beneficial to human life.

 

Because of the vastness of social media and the billions of photographs with messages being posted every day there is no way to say if it is good or bad. It is clearly both. People organize social movements for positive change on the same channels that scammers try to steal your information by tempting you to click on a link that is supposed to lead to some kind of sexual fantasy. There are genuinely philanthropic actors making change on social media and there are parasitic mercenaries taking advantage of weakness to make a buck.

 

Either way, social media is not going to go away, so we can either figure out how to do it well and tip the scales in the balance of good, or we surrender our agency and just accept that the lord of the flies will reign.

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What message are you sending the world?

What makes social media good?

 

When you scroll through Instagram, look at your Facebook, peruse Twitter or study LinkedIn what has a positive effect on your mental state and your well being? How does it affect you?

 

I think that this is a very personal question and the answers must necessarily be personal too, but it has universal importance. For me, it has become a very interesting tool of research. I have created some amazing professional relationships by reaching out to someone with whom I resonated. I like it when people are showing me something that makes me want to do something. Photographs of waves make me want to get in the ocean. Photographs of trails make me want to go for a hike. Great portraits make me want to photograph people. Seeing awesome art gets my creativity fired up. I like the food influencers who are creating delicious looking things that are also good for your body and the planet. Social media helps me to find likeminded people and brands. It can be a source of inspiration and networking

 

What makes social media bad?

 

When we see content that doesn’t inspire us or give us something to look forward to it can be a horrible time suck and a distraction from productivity. It is your responsibility to curate your timeline so that what you are looking at is beneficial to your mental state. The things that make social media bad are numerous, but they all come down to causing you to feel unworthy.

 

At its worst, social media is a huge distraction and a mental health hazard. If we are reckless in our consumption and production of content, then we risk it all. The Internet is a kind of pseudo-public, but we often act as though we are safely at home with the content. The failure to understand the division between real life and social media has cost a lot of people a lot of their lives.

 

Putting bad content out there is like littering. It is just plain bad for everyone. How do you know if your content is trash? What standards do you use when you decide whether or not to post something? Having some way of measuring what you are putting out there is a good idea. You have to develop some sort of quality control.

 

How is social media like books and art?

 

Many if not most people have some degree of discord with the culture they grew up in, whether that is their family, their hometown, or their era in history. Almost nobody is a perfect fit to their place and their time. Many people throughout history have used books and art to connect with likeminded people who are physically unavailable. I remember when I first started taking art and writing seriously, I was obsessed with William Blake. His drawings and poetry gave me a kind of buzz and excitement that I couldn’t find among the people I knew. It was across this vast distance of space and time that I found one of my artistic brothers.

 

Social media can do this for us, too. But even more amazingly, we have the possibility of connecting with people who never would have been accessible to us in the past. Now, I can direct message an artist in South Africa who is doing something with photography that I find compelling. In this way, social media can be an amazing enhancement to life, and not a negative thing at all.

 

The Social Future

 

As we navigate this unprecedented time, and we look at our phones hoping to find some news or inspiration, we have to take responsibility for our part in creating culture and building the world over for the future generations. This means rewarding accounts that post things that you find to be beneficial to your life and ignoring the streams of self-aggrandizing or complaining or otherwise energy sucking media holes.

 

Your social media is yours to do what you can to make our collective experience better. You can incite hate or promote love. The choice is up to you. What are you going to contribute to our social future?

Photographing the Path

One of the things a photographer should do if they want to be an artist is to show the public things they are not used to seeing. The novelty of something that is not immediately recognizable is often magical and often takes up a lot more attention than maybe it even deserves. What really matters is when a photographer can show you something new but it is also lasting.

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Most of the new directions don’t work. That is the nature of experimentation. Most don’t work, but occasionally there is a spark and a match ignites and the fire can be used to light a stove. In these cases, where we end up cooking, there is a lot of energy for the project until it too becomes well known and unsurprising.

 

Any photographer who chooses the natural world as a subject can tell you that there is always something new and surprising even in a place that you have photographed a thousand times. The sunset continues to stun us with its awesome qualities because every time it does something spectacular it feels like it is brand new.

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That is one of the great lessons to learn from photographing the same place many times: the dynamism of light and life. Everything is constantly changing and the moments that make the most magical photographs may only happen for a few brief seconds.

 

The other night as I was hiking, I came upon a great horned owl sitting on a post. It was totally unaware of me as it was focused on the grass in the last light of the blue hour. I got out my camera and lens and set up my tripod and just as I was focusing the owl plopped down into the grass, belly-flopping onto some rodent in the field, which it took away up into a tree for its meal.

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I didn’t get a photograph of the owl at all, but moments like that are why you go out into the field looking for anything and nothing in particular. I almost always get the shot. That is one of the reasons why I decided to write about missing this one. The exception underlines the rule.

 

I have this thing that I have felt as an artist for a long time, but Norman Locks helped me to realize it as a photographer. That is, you want to meet things eye to eye. You have to have the integrity to believe that you and your subject are equals and that this moment is going to make a photograph because you and the subject are coming together out of the flow of life for a split second of connection.

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This means that you have to have purpose out there, too. If you are only hiking to find the animals, then they have the leverage and you have positioned yourself more as a hunter than as an artist. The artist doesn’t need the animal to have an experience, so if the animal becomes a part of the experience then it just so happens to be. It is not forced, though.

 

In order to do this, it helps to give yourself some sort of difficult goal that impresses even you when you accomplish it. I have been pushing myself to hike long distances on a regular basis and that gives me the gravity to just go out there and whatever comes across my path will be part of my experience. I’m not chasing images. I’m cultivating the strength and the patience to be out there enough so that when it happens, it happens. It is what it is. Nothing forced, nothing faked.

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Content Rules: Copywriting Strategies for Digital Marketing

What is content marketing and why does it work?

 

As many businesses shift to online marketing during a stressful time, there are bound to be lots of mistakes made by those unfamiliar with best practices and marketing strategies. Understandably, people are worried about their businesses and their ability to adapt to this new business landscape. In this blog, I will discuss one approach that has a number of advantages during this time: content marketing.

 

What is content? Content is the stuff that matters, the substance of your business. Who are the people behind the scenes, what are your values? What is the story that has led your business to its current junction? Content is what your business is about, the stuff it is made of and the people who make it all happen.

 

The most important thing about creating a content marketing strategy is the same principle in all marketing: put the consumer first. What benefit does your content offer? How can what you are creating help people with their problems?

 

Two useful resources for getting started with content marketing are the Copyblogger and Storybrandwebsites. For many people, writing can be intimidating, and these websites can help you to approach the task with some guidance. Writing good copy is difficult, however, so it might be something that you need to outsource.

 

Content marketing uses storytelling techniques to share your offer with the public and if you are able to tell your story in a way that resonates with people looking for services that you provide then you are giving yourself every advantage in that decision-making process.

 

Some questions that you should answer for your public:

 

  1. What benefits does your service or good provide to the user?
  2. What problems does your business help to solve?
  3. Why does choosing your brand give your client an advantage?

 

As many brands make the transition to digital marketing, it is going to be of utmost importance to be strategic and find ways to provide value. Even though this is a stressful time for businesses, we need to remember the basics of marketing: put your audience first, help them to see how your business provides solutions, and listen to feedback.

 

Right now, if you want to gain more guidance in your content marketing efforts Coursera is offering a free course created by Copyblogger in partnership with UC Davis Extension. You can sign up for that course, HERE: The Strategy of Content Marketing.

 

Doubling Down on Imagining Sustainability

This is not going to be an article on the you-know-what. I’m tired of giving that horrible thing attention. Neither is this an article about silver linings. I’m not trying to peddle some false positivity. Nope, this is back to what I care most deeply about besides my daughter, my family, my friends and my dog: art and the environment, in my case: photographing Wilder.

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For about the past half a year, I have been working on a project that I started with my girlfriend at the time. It is a study of a local park that is accessible on foot from my studio. It started with Madison, and it has continued even while we have not been able to be in contact due to the current situation.

 

The project is about a connection to a place. There is something about hiking, about the slow methodical speed of walking, that makes a great energy for making photographs. Being connected to a place also means being connected to people. Love is always at the core of any artwork I make. That is my motivation.

 

Of course, love is a complicated set of emotions and actions. There is romantic love, familial love, the love of the natural world, the love of art. Love is a drive, and attraction to an idea, thing or action. Love is at the root of philosophy: it is the love of wisdom. If you can cultivate the energy of love as a driving force, then everything you do becomes more meaningful. Coming from a place of love is seriously underrated.

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In our current culture, we have a challenge in thinking sincerely about love. We do not honor or think deeply about the most important things: truth, beauty, goodness and love among the top of the list. We are obsessed with sex, money and power above all else. What happened to the powerful influence of love as an attraction? Love that guides us to protect and build up what we need to survive is lacking in a world riddled with techno-addiction and cyber-war. Fundamental concepts like love come across as childish or naive.

 

And yet, the most enduring things are simple but powerful and we should return to them. Now is the time to start making the work that is coming from a place of love and imagining sustainable development. We are always developing, always in process, never not building, and if we can focus our energies and resist the urge to chase after our addictions, then we might just be able to present a vision to the world that will inspire us to live in a way that makes more sense.

 

What does this mean in the context of Santa Cruz? Santa Cruz is a very strange place, but not in the ways that most people think. I often find myself cringing as I overhear people talking about Santa Cruz from an outsider’s perspective. What does it even mean to be local to a place? Why does it matter? I think it comes down to a matter of respect.

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A side note: for our communications to work we need to have more than a little common understanding as to the meanings of words, but all words have multiple meanings and are interpreted differently. We know that language is a dynamic and slippery medium, so it is always worth doing the work to define terms. That might be one of the most helpful things that writing can do: help us to come up with common understandings of concepts.

 

The push for greater sustainability in our development starts with a locally based love and respect for the landscape which leads to a desire to protect. In Santa Cruz, this plays out with a hyper sharp focus in the area between ocean and land where famous surf spots attract wannabe waveriders from the CostCo riddled hinterlands. Now, it is more than fair to say that nobody can lay claim to a part of the ocean.

 

The ocean is for everyone. But, not everyone deserves it. The ocean should be for those who respect it, who love it and who protect it. These three things are way more important than your home address. Love leads to respect which in turn inspires an effort to protect. You see a lot of people who come to the ocean with a predatory and entitled attitude, looking for opportunities to score one way or another and unconcerned about their impact on the place.

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This is true for our parks, too. The pristine trails climbing through redwood forests and up long grassy meadows with the opportunity to see wildlife and all of the intricacies of light and leaves and the interactions of organisms in an ecosystem at work is beautiful and attractive for good reasons. Access to the parks for everyone tips us in the direction of an egalitarian democracy, and so of course they should remain open to the public, but again not everyone deserves them.
Every weekend and then all summer long, people come to the area as tourists and treat the place with anything but respect. Part of the character of internet culture, which is evident among other places in high relief on Twitter, is a kind of jaded gallows humor and cynical lack of response to the things that happen in the world.

 

In other words, the dominant culture of Twitter is the culture of New York. The dominant culture of Instagram is Los Angeles. Facebook is the Midwest. We have a critical world-weary sarcastic sophisticated style of interpreting the world and an exhibitionistic flamboyant hedonistic showcase of contemporary versions of primal instincts. We have the seen it all by the age of twelve.

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Both of these approaches are what they are, and one thing they are is conceptual straw men. In the context of a megalopolis the need to be heard above the continual cacophony of millions of people all trying to get the same cronut creates a tone of such hyperbole that mainstream culture, porn and the absolutely illicit all merge in one wretched shriek of madness. That’s how I see culture right now. It stinks like 8th avenue on a hot morning, like rotting food, cigarette smoke and vomit.

 

We have ulcerous stomachs and flabby arms. From the couch, we judge the world like disappointed gods condemning our own creations in some twisted self-hating turn, a demonic yoga posture. A new variation on the ouroubourous, we have eaten too much of ourselves and are now instead vomiting up our own being.

 

This is the character of internet culture, generally, but it is not the culture of Santa Cruz. I don’t know what could make one culture better than another unless it is the abundance of love, respect and conservation for the place itself. If people are actively celebrating, taking care of and protecting the place where they live, is there not something better about that then another culture lacking those important qualities?

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The only reason to judge a culture is to promote the version of culture you want to take over the world, and as maniacal as that may sound it is also simply inevitable. If you want to have a world with greater sustainability it has to be the entire world, since we are one global system with oceans and atmosphere connecting us. What Elon Musk sends into space affects all of us for good and bad.

 

In the end it is a competition of ideas. You can’t blame people for liking what they do. You have to give them something better, you have to lead by example. That is what I try to do in my photography and in my life. I chose to create my content by walking to locations and syncing my instinct for making pictures up with the landscape the lighting and the mysterious elements of unpredictable change.

Will it be enough to move the needle? Will it help to push the people of the world to reconsider what we value? Who knows, but regardless of outcome the job is still in front of us and we can choose to do the work or not with attendant consequences. If we want good outcomes, we have to do the work.

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For me, this begins with walking long distances over and over again as I collect images and make photographs. Those are two distinctly different things, as I do one casually and without much work with my phone camera while hiking and then I also have my backpack with camera equipment, and I also carry a tripod for when I want to make a photograph that requires more technique.

 

One of the most ridiculous and counterproductive feelings I can remember from before I started this project was the frantic attempt to find a good location as golden hour approached. Sometimes you could see that the sunset was going to be amazing and so you might be racing around in your car to be in the right spot. What a bunch of horseshit that is. Since I now make photographs while in the middle of a five-hour hike, I have to use a much different set of instincts to get myself into the right position to make a photograph during the best moments of light.

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In order to do that, I have to align my instincts with the landscape. This is an ancient art known by farmers and practiced by surfers. I learned it from mainly from working with Anthony Tashnick, who is the one human most keenly attuned to the ocean I have ever known. All professional surfers have this instinct. It is a prerequisite to the job, just as a fisherman has to find the fish. The surfer has to be where the waves are good. The photographer has to position themselves for the right compositions at the right times. It is all the same in some way. You have to study the patterns and intend to be in the right place at the right time. It is an exercise of using desire to change your behavior. You have to want to get the shot and then work to be there for the moment when it happens.

 

Another, less positive, way to think about it is like the instincts of an alcoholic or junky. The need for that thing is so strong that there is almost a supernatural attraction to it that creates the ability to know where it is at all times. Just like the alcoholic knows where the liquor cabinet is when they walk into a home, the surfer knows where an incoming swell is going to break, and a photographer knows how to be somewhere amazing when the light peaks.

 

I certainly am not suggesting that I have it all figured out, but I do have some things wired. I know that the more I hike the better photos I get. I know that it is a great honor to be a photographer and I respect the art and its tradition, so I feel compelled to work at being the best artist with a lens that I can be. I very much approach the task of making art with some kind of militant warrior spirit. I believe that it is as much about conquering my own fears and temptations through discipline as anything else. Working on photography is one thing: working on the person making the photographs is another altogether. Facing ourselves and being honest about what we find is an act of courage that is transformative.

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This project is an attempt to align those things, too. I want to improve in all aspects of my being, but especially as a photographer and as a person. How can you gauge your improvement? How do you know when you are getting better? It is just a feeling. It is all subjective anyways. But, you have to live with your feelings, so if you can conquer the negative self-talk then you create space for some much more interesting dialogue.

 

The best way to earn the respect of people you care about is by being respectful and that starts with how you treat yourself. Hiking for my photographs gives me a sense of achievement and a confidence that I know something fundamental about myself. My desire to keep pushing myself physically and artistically gives me a sense of self-respect. I know what my intentions are. When I feel tired or sore, it reminds me of my decision to double down on imagining sustainability and it feels great.

 

 

 

 

 

Communication, Marketing and Value During Covid-19

In a world where many if not most people have a skeptical attitude about what the news reports, how can we possibly create marketing materials that people will believe? In the article, “How to Adapt Your Marketing Strategy to the Current Market,” Alex Gold makes some very fundamentally important points. The two main things that I want to focus on are his idea of leading with creative respect for the cultural mood and of providing some sort of help or value. How can we gain a sense of what people are thinking, wanting and needing? From that knowledge, how can we craft messages that serve the public? How can this all be done in the name and language of brands?

 

Marketing is a form of communication. Like all good communication, it depends upon listening and having something to say. There is a back and forth. In the social media age, it is very easy to see what is on people’s minds. All it takes is a little investment in time to do the research. Actively looking at social media with a mind to learning the cultural mood of the moment is a critical form of research. Without this, you are just drawing in the dark.

 

Gold makes the point that consumers care about brands’ values and thinks that this is even more important during a global crisis. Now more than ever, people are wanting to keep connected to likeminded people and brands. This can create some interesting challenges for brands that have messages not suited for the moment. Gold refers to Jeep ads that are “communicating the message ‘stay home’” despite their off-road character. Now is not the time to be encouraging people to get out and explore, and so even when it goes against core brand values there is good reason to adapt to the cultural mood.

 

The question then is: what do people want and need, and how does a brand help them with those challenges? In many ways, what people want is created by what they can’t have, so there is a desire for good health, for human connection, for freedom and for work. These are the things that are undergoing change right now, and brands who can address these needs will be able to deepen their relationships with customers.

 

Let’s take a look at each of those categories and think about how brands can add value during this time. When marketers better understand what the public wants and needs they can craft messages that fit the moment.

 

  1. Health: This is on the minds of almost everyone. How does your brand help people with their health? Does it promote a healthy lifestyle? Does it provide some form of emotional release? Can it promote mental health? Some types of brands that can provide value to people concerned about health include: any and all health providers, healthy lifestyle brands, fitness instructors, and any brand that promotes building up your immune system. People who are reasonably worried about their health are in need of help finding direction with their efforts. When we talk about health, though, it is not just physical health but mental health, too. Now is a time for mental-health-based brands to provide any kind of help they can. Whether it is guided meditation, yoga inspiration, home workouts or breathwork, there are lots of options and catering messaging to be as useful as possible is going to be very effective. Even if your brand is not based in these categories, bringing in some health experts to provide techniques to your workers and consumers could be very helpful.
  2. Human connection: We are social beings, even the most introverted among us. Being forced into confinement and kept from our friends is painful even for stoics right now. How can your brand help people to meet or to engage in conversation? What kind of conversation is going to avoid conflict and nurture connection? Some sort of fan forum could be cool. Virtual happy hours are popular. Finding creative ways to help people to connect over common ideas is key.
  3. Freedom: As so many of our normal activities have been taken away from us, there is a huge desire for freedom. What that even means is up for debate, but there are many approaches to finding some space of choice. When we have the ability to make certain decisions taken away from us, there is a need for some sort of control. Freedom and control are intimately connected. Without freedom, there is no control. Other people are in control. This is why Jocko Willink’s formula Discipline = Freedom is so important. How can brands help people to create space that they have control over where they feel free?
  4. Work: With the shutdown of most of the business world, money is on the mind of lots of people, but even more fundamental than currency is the desire to be productive. We need money, or the ability to purchase things, but what many people want is deeper than that: they desire purpose. Lots of people find their meaning in their work, so when the ability to work is taken away there is a huge hole in our lives. How can we fill that space and time productively to build our skills during this time to make ourselves more valuable when it is time to return to work?

 

These are some fundamental ideas to think about when you are crafting your marketing messages. Why do people choose your brand? What does it help them with in their life? How does this value fit into the current cultural mood? If you answer these questions, you will be on your way to creating content that will work during these Covid-19 times.

Style and Imagination in Art and Personal Branding

What drives us to make the photographs that we do? This is a question applicable to almost everyone, these days, photographer or not. It makes me pause, though, and wonder how many people really have phones, and if a camera is really the necessary tool. Is this the right question, or am I thinking within my own bubble of familiarity?

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Am I only speaking to the people with enough economic activity to have cell phones, or is this a fundamental question to humanity? If you don’t have a camera, not even on a phone, then how do you make pictures? How do you make your imagination known?

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First of all, I would like to think about the question of universality. That is what I am trying to understand: is there a universal impulse to make pictures, and if so why? Do we all in one way or another engage in the act of making what we imagine into reality?

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I think that making pictures, whether with a camera or a pencil, is really just another way of manifesting thought, of turning the mind’s conception into something real through the exercise of will. We all do this in our lives in numerous ways.

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In reality, we all are artists and we actively create our ways of living, unconsciously or not. From the way you stand, the amount of exercise you do, the food you eat, your hygiene habits, every person creates their own physical image first and foremost. We are all brands. We always have been. This situation is just showing us that more than usual.

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In this way, every person is a model first, an actor second, and an artist most of all.  We are models because we create our personal image, we are in control of our look, and how we present to the world determines a lot about how we are received. We are actors because we control how we communicate, how we speak, how we express emotion. But, we are also writers because there is no script. There are just situations, relationships and decisions. From these things we each write our story every single day.

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In addition to existing as an improvisational writer and actor, we also design the set and the costumes of our lives. Every single person does this no matter how limited or extravagant their budget. The prisoner on death row and the billionaire with their own island both are equally involved in the production of their space. While they have radical differences in their access to resources, what they do with their space is still determined by them. This is just something we do naturally, and in the case of the prisoner it is so limited that the entire process of choice becomes so subtle that it exists entirely in a world of nuance. Still, it exists.

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In this way, humans act as brands. Or really, it is brands that mimic this form of pattern production, this chosen style of presentation. It happens in the natural world in an infinite array of varieties. The Cheetah is a brand of predator. We take from this natural tendency to express, or to hide (as in the case of the chameleon), our character. How does our appearance communicate our character?

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Just as there is a power dynamic in the natural world, there is one in culture. Flaming Hot Cheetohs have a complicated set of codes that you can trace back through a series of business decisions based on feedback from the public. In business, there is a massive collaboration between creatives and consumers. In life, it is the same. We act and react based on how we feel about the response we get from the people we interact with in our day to day lives. Going against or with the grain still depends upon the grain.

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Back to photography, though. Back to the records that we keep, the art that we create. If you have a phone with a camera on it and you scroll through your pictures you can see a lot of different lines of thinking.

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On the one hand you have evidence. A photograph of a missing tooth, to show grandparents that the first baby tooth has left. We use photographs as evidence in complying with the rules, or of breaking them, which is evidence of rebelliousness. Lots of photographs these days show people confessing their inability to follow the rules, or their decision to break them. That is also be a kind of creative choice. We see that a lot. It’s a kind of trolling, really, but so common that we maybe don’t see it that way. People breaking the rules for the sake of breaking the rules is a huge part of American rebel without a clue culture, but I don’t think it is the prevalent tone today.

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Instead, I see a lot of people figuring out what they are most passionate about and use their media to communicate their cause. We are a world where people who change the rules will be much more important than people who break them. This is another reason we make images. We want to express our values in order to attract the right kind of people into our lives so that we can create change, so we can write new rules together. So, photography is just an extension of being human, just another way we create an invitation to people to engage with us in living and reimagining what it means to be human.

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Because it is a deliberate mental activity, it is natural to think about photography by considering psychology. Of course, there’s a psychological understanding of all human behavior, but our formal communications are especially open to this kind of interpretation. The choices we make in our photographs say a lot about who we are, even though the question of identity is never a simple one.

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Psychology gives us data through experimentation that helps us to understand certain patterns or to try and fix some types of problems. There is a lot that we can learn about ourselves and others through a psychological understanding of the kinds of photographs we habitually consume and create.

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But, beyond self-awareness there is another level of thinking about choice in photography. It is the basis of artistic form: style. Even with all of the anti-aesthetic theory of postmodernism, style has been the one unrelenting factor in the consideration of art, but especially when you understand that form and content are inextricable.

 

Style is the only thing left that has any ability to create leverage in art and life. Style itself comes from the exercise of creative control, from decisions made in the making of art in choices about life.

 

If you were simply to make whatever you want, to scratch whatever particular itch you are feeling, then would that make a more consistent and authentic type of content or is that simply an unconscious reaction to events? And if the latter, then is that just bad style or is it actually better being more authentic? What makes it good or bad?

 

That of course is subjective. It depends upon whether you like wild spontaneous diverse uncontrolled forms or if you appreciate precise controlled focused concentrations. Both are equally valid and can be expressed in art. In some ways the amateur impulse, when someone starts making photographs for fun, is the same as the artistic one. It is to create pleasure, but a certain kind of pleasure.

 

Richard Feynman wrote a book about the pleasure of finding things out. That is a certain kind of intellectual production: a scientific experiment. It is, like art, a way of organizing one’s mental energies: it is a style of living. It is based on shared values.

 

The art of making photographs has something of this intellectual joy of experimentation, of research to it. All art does. You have to try and make something that matches the way you feel, the effect you want to have with the resources available to you, and it is the completion of this experiment that creates an intellectual value to the work. When you stop to think about how the photographer does what they do, it enters into this other dimension of education, of learning about the world and about techniques of representation.

 

In this way, every moment of every day, we are creating the world around us. Never before has this been more apparent to us than during this time of changed habits. What we have is an opportunity to become more aware of the way we interact in the world, who we are, how we want to be perceived. This is a moment to reinvent, to experiment with new ideas, to take calculated risks. It is a time to work on our style.

 

Whether that means working to imagine greater sustainability, to envision economic opportunity, to create cultural change, or to contribute to the greater good by innovating and making something new that helps people to become who they want and need to be regarded as being: it is all the same. We are in the midst of a cultural revolution.

Creating Better Content

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HELLO friends this is Jake J. Thomas bringing you another episode of the Dialogic podcast.
I hope you all are well. I wanted to take some time today to discuss the important of creating content during this uncertain time. More than just the importance of creating content I want to think about the best kinds of content to create during this time. This is especially for anyone who has children, works with children and cares about children. One thing that I’ve noticed is that pressure tends to exacerbate whatever problems already exist. This situation is similar to a stress test that a financial institution would use. The stress is identifying where the weaknesses are. If a part of the system doesn’t seem adequate to withstand a moderate amount of stress it puts into question the viability of that part of the project. The failure to endure the stress opens up the space of removal.

 

I think now is the time to double down on the kind of content I was already creating; content that is actively imagining sustainability. I don’t think that now is the right time to judge anything or to look for silver linings. I want to share my experience of concern for people’s health and for the economic consequences of what we are doing, and this heightened concern motivates me to work on inventing solutions to the bigger problems we face.

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We are identifying problems because of our inability to achieve certain goals. The symptom is dysfunction, the inability to reach a goal, which creates an emotional response. How do we respond to the feelings we have when our old ways of proceeding no longer work? Do we jump back into action? Do we find new ways to achieve our goals?

 

This is certainly a very stressful test. One thing that has worked for me is to challenge myself. Giving myself some kind of tangible goal that I can use my will alone to achieve gives me a sense of control. I also have an intense energy inside of me because I am a passionate and caring person and if I don’t find a way to channel that energy then I have no way of controlling it. The best way I have found to focus that energy is through hiking long distances.

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If you are going to waste six hours looking at your phone, you could have spent six hours doing pushups, hiking, working on some physical fitness goal. Let’s not sell ourselves short. The feeling that I have if I spend six hours hiking is so vastly superior to the way I would feel if I sat around watching Netflix looking at Twitter that it is a no-brainer. The thing is, we have these programmed habits that have to do with economic schedules. We have monthly, quarterly and annual cycles that have deadlines that need to be met. We are drawing lines through the history of our times with the choices that we make, and sustainability is the most important thing to be thinking about and working on during this time and for the foreseeable future. While we are reimagining how the economy will function, we should also be preparing for other big concerns and that is what we should communicate in our work. I believe that art and marketing do and will merge at their highest level to work as a kind of attraction/ conversion cultural machine transforming people into agents to work on the task of imagining and sustainability and executing our plans sustainably.

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So many things are going to change and probably one of the first things we will want to do is to figure out what we can have in terms of values and principles that will not change when the circumstances change. Transparency in communication and accounting, nonviolent communication, whatever it is that we can agree on as a fundamental unchanging character of our community will help us to endure all of the pivots that we will have to make when our circumstances radically change. A principle-based set of ideas will give us some structure that will help to navigate the chaos

 

We certainly need some better content to be created. When I look for content, I am overwhelmed with the impression that there is not enough good content being created. People are not doing enough. The thing is, it is challenging to figure out how to create content that is attuned to the feeling of our times. First of all, we need to address what people are going through and help them to make the most of the new limitations imposed on our ways of life.

 

One of the things I have been impressed with for hitting all of the marks is vegetarian bloggers. I have found some amazing people who are creating recipes and are promoting plant-based food options in a way that aligns with a more sustainable lifestyle and addresses what people need right now, which is good healthy food, joy, and pleasure. The politics of animosity and adversity are so much less interesting to me than the inventiveness of these vegetarian bloggers. So, that is one direction that I want to follow. That is a path that I plan to forge here in my own home studio with the amazing ingredients of our awesome agricultural region.