At the sound of hooves: think horses, not zebras.
There is a thought and a mantra which I lately find myself coming back to over and over again, both at work and at home: when things get tough, when things start to pile up – keep things simple.
So often, the main task (not necessarily job) of the “adult in the room” is to keep the basics on track and ask the simple, fundamental questions.
That way, it becomes easier to drill down to the fundamentals (whether that applies to writing, photography, art, science, or life in general).
I had two post in my draft folder this morning, both from September 2013 (and as relevant as always):
I’m clearing up – but the messages are obviously still the same.
- Awareness, not thinking
- An attitude of openness and curiosity, not judging
- Flexibility of attention, not resisting
I’m trying harder to put the three bullet points above into practice, both at, and outside, work.
A photographic hobby helps to some degree: unless you’re out documenting something specific, or work as a photojournalist on assignment, I would think that the above traits are essential to getting started on a body of work that reveals something about what and how you see.
The post above puts the three points in the context of mindfulness and introspection, and how the latter can become a trap unless there is some distance there that “re-baselines” your sense of yourself. Perhaps a little dramatic at times (and themes do repeat themselves) but the essence is there: get some distance, compare how you see yourself and how others do, and above all else – engage in conversation and don’t spend so much time alone thinking. It’s the interactions that stimulate change, the (healthy) introspection which can then put it into context and direct it.
Where this becomes interesting is as this relates to work. Mindfulness in my private life, when I’m pursuing my hobbies, or when I’m thinking is one thing – being aware and empathetic in a work environment is something else entirely.
But then it’s not: it’s still listening (actively), putting yourself in someone else’s shoes (empathy), and ultimately generating that distance to what you are doing to better let you see whether a sprint is appropriate at this stage of a marathon, or whether it might be worth looking and feeling what is going on around you to aid the flow.
My photography just is; the subject creates itself. I point the camera at things that make sense to me to photograph. Any needed rationalizations come later, at the point of editing, selecting, sequencing, articulating. What I’m left with defines what I’ve seen and how I’ve seen it.
Everything analogue has become a kind of obsession: photographic prints, linocuts, books – tangible, simple, focused, without the need or possibility for any post-processing.
But adding a daily digital component (iPhone, Ricoh GR ii) also has a role: it forces the extraction of an image, composition, color, texture, mood, reflections, patterns, motifs. Daily practice which should make my film-exposing quicker, easier, more likely to end in keepers, and generally more enjoyable.
The ability to see can and needs to be practiced.
Daily habits simply require a starting point. A day on which, rather than thinking about starting something, a first move is made.
My picture-a-day project has already gone through almost a sixth of a year: so far no missed days, and a few small things have even revealed themselves along the way.
Perhaps this can be expanded to other daily habits: it would certainly lay bare yet more triggers, and should shift the gears gradually towards a new routine.
Inspired by a Start the Week podcast from December 2013, I made myself a note before Christmas to spend some time thinking about the lively discussion, which was loosely centered on the idea of an “old-fashioned” community based on geography, and whether this can really be re-created in the current modern world, with its variety of different connections and reasons for connections. As a counter-point, the idea was raised to what extent a community arises from the existence of a common purpose as opposed to simply a physical geography. This is probably especially interesting if the common purpose exists in the face of adversity, and raises a multitude of additional tangential questions:
- How does one define a community?
- Who defines a community? Those within it or those from without?
- Do communities form in physical locales, or do individuals/groups move to a specific locale with the creation of a community in mind?
My particular interest, as might be expected, relates to the psychogeography aspect of this discussion. Psychogeography is also tied to community, but in two different ways. On the one hand, it is tied to community as most of the memories linked to its geography happen in the community, in a shared area that is familiar. On the other hand, however, one of the key points of psychogeography as it has been studied, described, and formulated was to move into the unfamiliar, explore the areas outside the community, or perhaps to better describe it: outside the known community. This generates in my mind an image not just of overlapping communities, but stacks of communities, where sub-groups exist within larger entities, and individuals are defined (and define themselves) as belonging to different circles based on their personality, belief, or other subjective or objective criteria.
An idea for a story that came to mind (related to the additional discourse on the disappearance of the traditional high street) was of a person walking down such a high street, with the narrative focussed on the sensory experience: sights, smells, the overall experience of what made the high street a special place and often a/the central location of a community.
Just in time to save me the effort, a recent Thinking Allowed podcast about the multicultural smells of an East End market in London brought this back again. This kind of sensory description can be used to link different cultures with different locations, different times, and the many layers and waves of immigration and assimilation into big urban centers such as London. And at the core are people such as “Ali the assimilationist hero” who by understanding his customers (from many different backgrounds) is able to stitch together a pathwork of sensory and cultural triggers that not only satisfy each customer individually but make up the rich tapestry of which each individual is a part.