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John Cage – 10 Rules for Students and Teachers

  1.  Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.
  2.  General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
  3. General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
  4. Consider everything an experiment.
  5. Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
  6. Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
  7. The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
  8. Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
  9. Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
  10. “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HINTS:

  • Always be around.
  • Come or go to everything.
  • Always go to classes.
  • Read anything you can get your hands on.
  • Look at movies carefully, often.
  • Save everything — it might come in handy later.
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Ansel Adams on Art & Life

You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.

– Ansel Adams

To Paraphrase:

You don’t make art with just
8″x10″ / 5″x4″ / old polaroid cameras
acrylics / oils
canvas / wall
12u x 104hp modular synthesizers
clay
Ableton Live
Max
Pure Data
Lowden guitars
Etc…

You bring to the act of creation your biography, all the things you love, all the things you detest, your gifts and your shadows.

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Ira Glass on Creative Work

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish somebody told me. All of us who do creative work, we got into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

– Ira Glass

Work and Personality

Individual personality plays an enormous role in the path your creative work takes. In fact I’ll be bold and state that personality defines the path your creative work takes. For example, the work of Garry Winogrand is completely different work to that of Erwin Olaf. Winogrand states that When I’m photographing I see life. That’s what I deal with, whereas for Olaf his work is concerned with the creation of his own fantasy worlds.  Two very different approaches to photographic work.

So, what does this mean for you and why am I writing about it?

Well, if personality defines the creative path you take, then it’s difficult to take that creative path if you do not know what path your personality is most attuned to. A lot of people work this out simply by experimenting with different types of work and following their intuition. But for others it’s not so easy: fear of becoming “trapped” doing only one kind of work, fear of failure, fear that your path won’t pay the bills, etc. To have some tools to help you negotiate your path can be a real help. One of the most insightful tools I’ve come across is Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, based on the work of Carl Jung.

When I first came across Myers-Briggs it was a revelation, it gave me a language to understand why I made the decisions I did, why my energy ran out oin certain situations and boomed in other situations. Since then Myers-Briggs has regularly given me insights into how I function best and how I can function better in less than ideal situations. I now consider this essential life knowledge. As Nadav Kander has said, “Making Pictures is exploring ones own life, understanding yourself more and more, which is what’s exciting.”

For those wishing to investigate further I’d highly recommend the following resources.

Personality Junkie

16 Personalities

Personality Page

Humanmetrics

Visual Integrity

The photography world is absolutely flooded with products and information promising short cuts that will miraculously turn you into Annie Liebovitz / Martin Parr / Gregory Crewdson. 99.9% of the information about photography on the internet seems to be about technology (which lens is .001% better?) or photographic technique. Now, having the right tools for the job is important. Not many wildlife photographers get by with a wide angle lens on a 5″x4″ camera. And technique is important too. Having all the gear but not knowing how to use it to achieve the desired artistic outcome isn’t going to help.

But there’s something more important than equipment and technique, something which equipment and technique are supposed to be subservient to and dependent upon. That something is personal vision – the ability to refine the way you see until it becomes uniquely and distinctly your vision.

This blog isn’t going to be getting into equipment or technique too much, everything you could ever wish to know about both already exists within easy access of most people.

This video is a talk by Selina Maitreya on developing your unique personal vision. I highly recommend her book How to Succeed in Commercial Photography: Insights from a Leading Consultant (US), here for UK.

For a lesson in visual integrity, take a look at the Instagram page of portrait photographer Martin Schoeller. Even his avatar is in the same style! 🙂

It’s important to take bad pictures…

It’s important to take bad pictures. It’s the bad ones that have to do with what you’ve never done before. They can make you recognise something you hadn’t seen in a way that will make you recognise it when you see it again.

– Diane Arbus

On Ignorance and Preconceptions

The best way to go into an unknown territory is to go in ignorant, ignorant as possible, with your mind wide open, as wide open as possible and not having to meet anyone else’s requirements but your own.

– Dorothea Lange