Natural Style

Richie Schmidt in SC

Surfing with style is hard to do, it’s an art form with a steep learning curve (ba dum dum cha).

Drawing lines

Richie Schmidt draws lines in the water like a painter attacking a wall.

Ramps that move and break

Richie’s surfing is a reminder that when you have a passion for your craft the results show in your style.

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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

In Common: Building Community through Communication

Hello friends hope you all are well

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So, I have a bunch of things on my mind that I want to communicate to you, and that is the first topic actually. That is what I want to talk to you about the most today: this idea of community and communication. It’s such a strange thing to think that virtually no one in the world is unaffected by this pandemic and nobody seems to be clear about how to deal with the problems, so we have this very common situation and that alone is not going to create community. It’s going to take communication for us to be able to understand that our common situation puts us in the position where it is best to build community. But how does that really work? What does it look like? How do we build community in a way that feels good to us. I think that a part of the challenge of community is the fact that we have so many individual differences and that is part of our value system. We tend to reward individualism and we have a strong sense of accountability and you can’t be accountable and you can’t earn rewards if you don’t have a strong sense of individuality, but that can work against building community. In other words, if we have a culture that values individual efforts, then how do we focus on things that affect the larger whole? We have individual efforts but we also have team sports. How do we pay attention to individual contributions while staying focused on the team? These are age old ancient questions about society itself about organization, about families, etc.

 

The first answer to the question what makes building community difficult is the fact that people get into conflicts and a conflict taken to extremes becomes uncomfortable for everyone and at its extreme conflict eventuates in violence. So, the attempt to build community can actually lead to violence. So, here we are in this unknown window of time where we are prohibited from gathering in groups. We need to keep doing good work even though we can’t get together.

 

I’ve always tried to imagine myself as part of the human family even though I have a clear idea that I only know a tiny fragment of what that means. I belong to this vast family of humans and I know so little about the majority of them and it is this proximity and lack of knowing that creates the fear and the intrigue. There is the idea that it may be rewarding but the fear that cultural contact could be fatal.

 

But here we are in this time where getting together is impossible, so maybe getting to know each other is possible from a distance. If we take this challenge, then maybe we can actually work on understanding each other and creating cross cultural bonds. I would guess that if given the opportunity we might find out that we have very similar situations as other people in other parts of the world.

 

When I am looking to connect with people in other parts of the world I am trying to think about the personality types that exist here and I’m speculating that there are other people in other parts of the world who have more in common with you than with the people who are in your own family and since we can’t come together physically we have an opportunity to learn from each other.

 

We are going to have a lot of new work to do. A lot of work is going to be based around rebuilding. We are going to have a lot of work of recovery to do.

 

It’s a strange thing, but we have this fear of other people having power over us and with good reason but when we can take the risk of communicating without the danger of physical violence then maybe we stand a chance of getting to know each other better. In other words, I’m thinking that we might have friends out there we don’t even know exist.

 

The biggest question we all face right now is how we will continue to do business. How will we pay the bills to continue operations during this economically difficult time? How are we going to create communities where trust is apparent so that we can transact and build networks of exchange?

 

One thing that is hopeful is that we will be analyzing the basics of human interaction from this new point of view. We will need to break down the fundamentals of human economic activity and we will figure out how to do things in a way that saves lives and keeps people on a healthy path.

 

Before this pandemic I was already beginning a rugged campaign of sustainable content creation practices. I had been training for very long hikes to get up early and out in the morning light so that I can create content for businesses that is of a very high quality but that doesn’t rely upon fossil fuels for its production. My studio is still on the grid, so I’m not without a footprint, but relying upon my own locomotion, using my power of walking to get me where I need to be has been my practice for the past half year.

 

I believe that at their highest level, forms tend to merge together and I am hypothesizing that we will have in art something that will merge together with marketing in a kind of art experience that leads to action. For example, in the dialogues of Plato philosophy and literature merge in a high form or art. I believe that we are due for a new form art that works like marketing to convince masses of people to take an action. Philosophy and literature merge at their highest point and the same is true with marketing.

 

Art history shows us how artistic forms change over time and adapt to meet new needs of humans. So, while artists of the Italian Rennaisance were mainly painting portraits and scenes from the bible, modern artists created so many different artistic movements and the whole idea of art for art’s sake had to do with understanding what art can do when it is not in the service of another discourse. But where we are now as a human race requires of art something that is more similar to marketing. We need art today that will give us the experience of art but will also have the effect of marketing. In other words, our art is going to convert us into certain kinds of action.

 

Part of that is going to be about building community through artistic communication. While we have this window of time where we have decided to stop all human contact we have an opportunity to learn more about each other and ourselves.

Discipline, Pain and Outlook

The virtue I possess that adds the most value to my life is my desire to continue to improve myself. I have a hunger to be better, to do better and to be a better partner in all of the relationships in my life. I believe that we generally can become smarter about a lot of things in life and can build up amazing reserves of wisdom and strength by doing a little bit every day over a period of time. My desire to improve keeps me interested in the details of life, in the day to day choices we make and in the research that we are learning from as humans about what the possibilities of being human really might be.

Every day, I work on writing, photography, research, running my business, being a dad, being in a relationship and more. It is this interconnectedness that gives me the most energy and leads to the feeling that I would describe as thriving. When my energy and inspiration are at high levels and there is plenty of work to do, I feel excited to attack each task.

The question is: what do you do when you aren’t feeling inspired and your energy is flagging?

In part, my answer to myself is don’t let it get that way. It is much easier to maintain a sense of purpose and motivation when you have momentum on your side. With that said, there is always the possibility of having to start from scratch. How do you motivate yourself when the chips are down?

As with so many things, you have to embrace the feeling of growth. If you focus too much on results or numbers, then you run the risk of too much friction from the frustration of not reaching your goals. If your goals are about growth and not about some baseline standard, then you have a much better chance of pushing through. The thing is: how do you know what is enough? That is always going to be the tough part. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have experienced what I thought were limits only to one day burst through that imagined ceiling to reach levels previously unimagined. Whether that is going from hiking 10 miles to 20, from 300 pushups to 720, from writing 3 pages to 10 there are these activities I have done where when I push myself to go twice as far as my normal limit, I have some breakthrough experiences.

The thing is, it takes a lot of discipline to break through those barriers of discomfort. For me, the hardest part is the decision to begin. Once I’ve committed to something, I generally will put my shoulder to the grindstone and get it done. So, I know for myself that working on decision making is key. Having good time management and energy management helps, too. In order to commit to doing something epic that is going to really expand my sense of the possible, I have to create the space in my schedule for that to happen. That requires a lot of daily discipline.

It takes daily discipline to get together the economy of time and energy to take on an epic task that will double your sense of the possible, and then it takes the courage to commit to that adventure, and finally it takes the discipline to follow through when the going starts to suck. At the beginning of a challenging hike you feel so great. Your legs are full of energy, you have a bounce to your step, and you are generally without pain. At the last half mile, though, you are basically causing yourself agony with every step and as much as you breathe or focus on form it doesn’t matter. Pain is an inevitable part of this growth, which is why the question might not be discipline or masochism, but how much pain is the right amount of pain?

I also do believe that fighting through the pain that you encounter when you set yourself some challenging task builds up the strength that you need in life to deal with the pain of loss and defeat. When you are hurt by things that happen to you outside of your control your response is going to depend upon your relationship with pain. I’m not suggesting that we look at pain as a positive, but that when we embrace it as inevitable, then we can fight through the resistance it can create. If we want to accomplish our goals, then we are going to have to be willing to put up with some hurting.

If it is true that it hurts to be human, and we embrace this basic fact which makes us stronger, then how do we shift our thinking about feeling? If pain is just a temporary discomfort that is the price you pay for growth, then it becomes some sort of battle between your lack of understanding of the importance of growth and the resistance to the pain required. In other words, the way we battle our demons is by reminding ourselves why it is so important to grow that we are willing to go through tremendous fear and pain. In some ways our willingness to go through pain is a direct measure of our love.

Our character is forged from the daily decisions to undergo the discomfort of discipline or to face the horrors of disappointment. When we don’t do what we can we feel a sense of wasted opportunity, of the lack of love. When we succumb to apathy our lives are unenthusiastic and dull. But even worse, they are toxic. Because growth is also often alimentary. There is something intrinsically healthy about many kinds of growth. The kind of growth that derives from consciously chosen work generally is of a healthy variety. Occasionally, as in the case of Olympic athletes or astronauts that drive can go too far into unhealthy zones of activity. And there is cancer, of course, and suburban sprawl…

Are we suffering as a culture from too little or too much discipline?

One of the most fun feelings you can experience as a writer, and as an artist generally, is to be in a flow state. When you can stop thinking for long enough to just allow something creative to happen you can really create some interesting things that are entertaining to you and to other people. I am convinced that those flow states emerge out of practice and are a result of the work you have previously done. The more reps I get in, the better the results. That is why I want to keep trying to radically increase my workflow. The more I do, the better I get, the more response, the more fun, the more I want to do, etc…

And yet, burnout is a real thing. How do you explain that? Everything requires a balance, and mental fatigue is just as much of a factor as physical exhaustion. What is the connection between burnout and not getting the results that you want? I believe that burnout is a real thing, but I also believe that the answer is more work not less. How many hours can you work in a day? What about spending time with your kids? What about fun and play?

These are all important questions and I don’t have all the answers, but it also depends on what you consider to be work. Work is anything you have a resistance to doing, right? Like if you just fucking love doing bench press then that is not really work for you. You might need help with flossing your teeth. That is where you need work. Everyone knows what they need to work on but finding the time and the courage to commit to it is another thing altogether. And, as much as people might complain about things in their lives that they don’t enjoy it is not as common to find people working hard to get through the barriers to their happiness.

Is happiness a choice or is it a result of having done something? Is happiness a decision or a side effect?

I find that my happiness comes from little things I do almost every day. When I complete a workout, while photographing the sunrise or sunset with my love, delivering photos to a client, making posts on social for a client, making slime with my daughter…there are so many little things that make me happy. I love cooking food for my family. I love listening to podcasts. The wealth of daily joys I get to experience is vast. I feel extremely lucky and I want to make the most of every day.

One thing that discipline does is it limits us in a productive way. By choosing to do certain exercises you stress your body in this way and not that way. We make decisions based on the results that we want to achieve. I think that this is also true in art, and one of the decisions that I have made recently is to radically minimize the amount of energy I use in making my art. The last thing I want to be doing is driving long distances to find some spot to get a great photograph. No, I have limited myself to a five mile radius for making art.

Because I live in such a beautiful part of the world a five-mile radius still gives me a ridiculous amount of spots to choose from, but there are two or three that are my go-to spots. By not wasting time traveling to a location and by conserving my energy in making that decision ahead of time I get to focus my drive on different kinds of innovation. That means that I have to push myself to look for more things in the same places, to think about making photographs differently and to really own these locations.

The sunrise is the best opportunity for great photographs for me because I start the day without any internet and by writing. I wake up at 4:30 and drink two cups of coffee while I write five to ten pages before I’ve even looked at my phone. Fresh from dreaming, straight into writing and then out the door to photograph the sunrise, this is a moment in the day when I have my thoughts all aligned and ready to make the most of the best light of the day. Yesterday, we headed down to the wharf and the sunrise was popping off. Watching the colors of the sunrise is the closest I come to painting these days, and it is something I enjoy wholeheartedly. I hope you enjoy this photo. Thanks for reading my thoughts about discipline, pain and mental framework.

The Power of a Portrait

I’m most interested in photographs that include and involve humans. I find the challenges and rewards of portraiture keep me studying this mysterious art. I value work that gets me to think and to feel something unique or universal about the human condition from looking at a photograph of a person. Sometimes less is more and in the case of my taste in portraiture that is true a lot of the time. I feel like people are so complex it can only help to give them some space.

A portrait of my love

The biggest obstacle to truth in portraiture is that sometimes we carry lifelong habits of creating masks to protect ourselves. Whether it is a smile or a neutral face, there is something that you do to preserve yourself from the intruding eyes of strangers. At least, hopefully there is. Because it can be a rough world if you don’t know how to move with an understanding of the ways people are likely to behave. If you don’t have a grasp on the business, then you are going to have to learn.

Portraits have lots of uses in our contemporary lives. We can use them for our LinkedIn profile, for any articles people may be writing about us, for other social media profiles, and for finding love. Whether you need a good Tinder shot or something to show your grandma that you are doing well, a skillful portrait can go a long way towards helping you to reach your goals.

But there is more to a portrait than that. It is something that belongs to the canons of art history and if you care that much about the result, then you can make some magic happen.

A big part of a great portrait is the lighting. The way you place the model in relation to the light is going to determine how a viewer’s eyes might travel around the composition. The light is going to give shape and interest to the form of your subject’s face, hair neck, etc. You can use light to draw attention to important parts of the face, like a catch light for the eyes. This is when you place a light in view of the subject so that a small white light appears in the dark of their pupil helping to create a sense of depth and importance in the eyes.

One huge advantage of working in the studio is having the ability to create a comfortable environment for the subject. In general, there is a lot more ability to control the results. Natural light can be amazing and the experience of being outside sometimes can make a person really shine, but there is a much higher rate of success with the advantages of studio lighting.

I like to use continuous lights, because I find it is much more comfortable for the model. Not having the flashing of the lights and the beeping of the unit recharging makes it a much more enjoyable atmosphere. The vibes of the shoot always matter. That is one reason why working with someone you really like can help to make great work, or in my case with someone you love. When I photograph Madison I know that there is going to be a whole world of energy, emotion, intrigue, mystery and fun all bundled up into one frame. The feelings. Oh the feelings. We have a lot of them, and they show up in the work. I like that. That is what I like art to be. This portrait is an expression of love, fear, lust, faith, and so many other things all at once.  

The other night we set up the studio and had two continuous lights going to get this shot. What we did next was something amazing. We did an experiment with using long exposures and candle light. This is one area where it is so radical to have a model as a girlfriend because she is so beautiful and I tell her that all the time. She knows it. It’s not a question. It’s not an issue. What is great about this, is it give us the freedom to be silly and to have fun. We did a series of portraits that are not flattering even though they have a beautiful topless woman in them. I’m not going to show them here, but not for the reasons you might think.

This series is art. As a series, it is a powerful experiment that worked. The images are intriguing as fuck. She looks powerful but sometimes scary in these portraits. Because we have done a lot of work together and have a deep sense of creative trust, we were able to do something original and cool.

Now, we have a few different series going and I am super excited about the direction and shape our work is taking. Our collaboration is getting stronger and smarter at every turn and I can’t wait to see what we learn next. So many lessons. I’ll be sharing more of them here as it makes sense in the coming days. I feel as though I have made some very important discoveries and I am excited to put them into practice and to share with other people looking for ways to be more effective and to improve their outlook.

Aesthetics and Photographic Style

Searching for style is an interesting task in photography. Why do you choose the compositions and subjects that you do? Are you finding things that please you and sharing them with the world? How is what you are photographing representative of you as a person? How do you recognize your own photos?

Heavy and Light

In some way, style is unavoidable. It is the result of lots of work. The more work you do, the more you are able to distinguish your style from the rest of the world’s photographs. And it is a world full of images, more photographs than ever before by far. Every day it seems to increase, too.

Wet Reflections

There are different formal choices you can make that will mark your images as being yours. You could do only black and white or only focus on one color or any other number of ways to say this is your photograph. You can also do this with subject matter.

Morning Wave

Your editing has as much to do with it as your shooting. I like to see natural looking light in photographs, so I tend to edit with an aim to having it look as close to the scene as possible. I care about color and want my photographs to show the truest version possible. Other people opt for a super saturated look. The important thing is to have a reason for your decisions. Why is this your style?

Story in progress

Another key distinction with style in photography comes from the use of perspective to achieve depth or flatness. Some photographs (with a foreground, middle ground and background) invite you to look into them as though mentally stepping into a world. On the other hand, some photographs lack perspective and are more for looking at than in.

West Cliff Cypress

You also have to choose where along the spectrum between abstract and figurative your work will exist. Some photographers focus on color, texture and geometry and exclude storytelling elements to create a formal viewing experience. Other photos attempt to show you a world, to depict a scene, to tell a story.

Winter Light

It is also very possible for one photographer to have several styles. It is fully possible to create different styles for your work. Different series have different elements needed for their effects.

Hawk Moon

Enough, Already

What is enough? Enough is enough? Have we had enough? What a funny word.

Cotton candy enough for ya?

First of all, there’s the spelling. What’s this shit? For one thing, it has what my daughter calls a sneaky g and h. We have a very confusing language, but English is the one I know best and I love it. It’s a funny thing to love words, but there are worse things to become obsessed with, for sure.

Tough enough Seagull

But back to enough. What does it mean to have enough, to give enough, to be enough? Enough is the right amount. If there is too much of something, then we say that we’ve had enough. But, if we want to buy something beyond our budget, we have to raise enough capital. Enough is a happy medium, a transactional middle, a form of health, a proper measurement. When adding salt, you taste the food to know if that’s enough. When you look to see if a task is finished you ask if it’s good enough. So, it’s qualitative as well as quantitative.

Beautiful sunrise season in SC

This is one of the key judgments in photography. Finding the right exposure, the right shutter speed, the desired depth of field, the clarity of shadows, the quality of light you have to experiment to find out what is enough light, speed, dynamic range, etc. Once you have a composition, photographic technique consists of experimenting with the settings to create the desired visual effect. The funny thing about this is that you have to feel it out to learn what is enough. It is a feeling. Keep pushing the settings one direction and then the other until you find the right exposure.

Put enough birds on it

Moderation is a value I believe in, and it has everything to do with the idea of what is enough. Excess leads to sickness, scarcity leads to desperation, but enough leads to the zone of happiness and health. In art, there is a concept known as density, which describes the amount of visual information within a given work or collection of works. Some work is very light and minimal, and some is very dense and baroque. You have the ability to make this choice when composing photographs, too. What do you look for to make a minimalist composition? What is interesting enough? How engaging is the work? Does it ask enough? Does it give enough?

No End in Mind: Art and Experimentation

Content creation can be a tricky thing. When you are working for clients you have a much different task than when you are creating content for the public, but they are very much related. In both cases, you have to consider the purpose of your task. When you work for a client, there are multiple overlapping areas of concern. You have to create content that works for you, for the brand, for the brand’s investors, and for the public. When you do personal work, you have the same categories of viewers to consider, but their rank of importance is different.

Never seen this before. Seagull plucked a pigeon’s feather. Seabully.

For example, if you are a content creator and you are posting on your own page, you have different goals. You are trying to sell the service, not the content. You are showing people that you can consistently put out high level quality content.

Quality sea mammal content

One thing that I want to think about is the difference between content and art and where art lives in today’s world. The marketing world, the media world and the academic world all thrive on content. They are pushing messages. Art is different. What is the message of art?

Something is on its way

On one hand, I am not sure that art has any validity in our world at the current juncture. Who are your favorite contemporary artists? What are they doing? Maybe this is a common feature of art, to be misunderstood. Isn’t that part and parcel of the experience of putting art out into the world? In order to push the boundaries of art, you can’t do work that is already accepted. This means that you are going to have to endure lots of people not understanding what it is you are doing or why you would want to do it. Not that artists always understand either. But you have to do things that are not part of the program. At least that’s my understanding of art. I remember Seth Godin talking about how there are places in developing countries where people crank out oil paintings of scenic views and that is not art; it is painting. There is no invention, no originality, no thought. It is simply craft, just a going through the steps to make something.

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What is this element that we call art, then, and does it apply to content creation for brands? On the one hand, we have a definition of art as something done extremely well. There is an art to anything. When Kobe Bryant worked his magic on the court there was an artistry to his movement. This is something else, though, than Rodney Mullen figuring out the most insane flatland tricks on a skateboard. Kobe Bryant always had the goal of scoring a basket, of winning the game. In art, the goal is less clearly defined, and the expressivity is much more important. Sure, there is a technical execution to what Mullen does on a skateboard (he either succeeds in making his tricks or doesn’t), but the goal is to do something new, something innovative. Kobe Bryant wasn’t trying to play basketball in a new way, he was just trying to be the best.

Sea Lion pose

It is these two competing definitions of art that leave us somewhere in the middle. Is art a form of experimental research designed to bring new things in the world, or is it a talent contest that aims to bring the best of what already exists into being? Probably both are valid even though they are so different, but they definitely contribute different values to the world. One is playing golf better than it has ever been played. The other is inventing an entirely new game. We need new games, too, since we are evolving as a culture.

Experimenting with long exposures

I think of these two qualities that we describe as art, excellence and innovation, as being the result of technique and experimentation. In order to hit a golf ball so well that we consider it an art, you have to master the technique of golf. While there may be subtle nuances of invention in your particular version of the swing, it will be fundamentally recognizable as golfing to anyone who knows about golf. This type of “art” is recognizable based on the results and the form of the technique. It is a much easier thing to see. We already know what the activity is and how it is supposed to go, so it is a recognition of quality not of kind.

Many moons

When you understand the difference between these two definitions of art, you begin to see how people get confused about contemporary art. They are looking for a display of the mastery of technique when what they should be asking is what the artwork means. Art is not just be a display of talent with technique, but it can also be evidence of originality, of invention.

On the other hand, there is the kind of art that is unrecognizable, at first. This kind of art is entirely based upon experimentation and questioning what can be interesting as an art experience or object. Think of Marcel DuChamp’s readymades. There is almost no technique required. Someone else did the work of manufacturing the object. All DuChamp had to do was select it, sign it with a pseudonym, and place it in a context where it was sure to cause people to ask questions. This changed the conversation from technique “how did the artist do this?” to concept “how did the artist dream this up?”

Robots are already making art. We have used machines to create images for almost two hundred years, now. The human element in art is the courage to experiment when failure is both highly probable and when the results matter greatly. This is the thing that defines the kind of artist I admire: the courage to experiment under fire.

And it is for this reason, that I understand art to be more about experimentation than the flawless execution of technique, that I have begun to understand business, war, and media as more related to art than not. Not only is there an art to war, but war is a form of art as well. Business, media, military force, and art all are attempts to influence others in order to create a space to exist. Through these efforts (to build a brand, to produce media, to enact military campaigns, to create art) we collectively create our way of life. Politics and Religion do this also, but I don’t like to discuss those topics because I like you too much to do that to you.

So I’m asking you next time you see something that calls itself art, that is shown in an art context, to ask different questions. Instead of looking to the work to display talent and technique, see if you can just sit with the thing long enough to see what it does to you. If it makes you mad, note that. If it makes you hate art, note that. But whatever it makes you feel, the way to get the most out of an experience of art is to ask what it could mean, what were the stakes of its being made, why does this matter to other people? If nothing else, this kind of art is a form of mental exercise to practice being open minded. Can you sit with a work of art that doesn’t go out of its way to please you long enough to listen to what it might have to say? In a world full of visual yes men, some art that keeps itself at a distance might be just the thing we need. Think about when you go to the grocery store. The cereal boxes are practically jumping off the shelves to give you pleasure. Is this a red light district or Safeway? Chill, cereal boxes, I’m not looking, lol.