My Sniff and Shoot process is working out well. I’m collecting a lot of images mostly in the morning and late afternoon when there’s nice broken illumination. I return to the same subjects over and over, but of course the time, quality of light, angle of illumination and my experience of the scene allows for deep exploration that so far keeps me motivated.
It’s interesting to be working this dual workflow on my images. After they are imported into Capture One, I do a cull for interest and focus then do a quick set of casual adjustments to see what it “might” look like. Of course, as with this image the casual version is pretty nice. But I can see where I could improve the image by shifting tones around a bit to emphasize the light and the shapes that struck me when I captured the image.
This Leica M11 Monochrom creates these interesting images right out of the camera with minimal processing, but that’s the camera speaking through my impulse. It’s afterwards that I get to focus and refine the presentation so that the impulse becomes more focused and obvious in the final image.
A more prosaic approach to the intimate landscape.
The current project has turned into building a portfolio. I’m guided by some brief remarks Joel Meyerowitz makes at the very end of the book How I Make Photographs. He describes his process of culling a shoot down to the “keepers”, but then creating a group of images that are enjoyable to look at and inform the process of the current work. It’s great advice and wish I had figured it out sooner. I’ve been living in the photo stream approach of Flickr and Instagram which promote constant production, not reflective progression.
There’s a nice email service called Refind that sends a few links to interesting web articles every morning. It’s a nice broad discovery mechanism, being something of a substitute for some of the links I used to find on Twitter.
This morning, this discussion of website niche development had me thinking:
The most ubiquitous piece of advice in the creator economy is to niche down. Immerse yourself in one subculture. Pick a topic. Own it. Specialize. Become known for one thing.
This advice is everywhere because in many ways, it works. Internet media is noisy and competitive, and it’s easier to earn attention when your work is hyper-specialized. When you’re focused on a single subculture or topic, marketing and monetization become more controllable and predictable. If your goal is to create things online, and earn a living in a somewhat reliable fashion, niching down is a smart bet.
I’ve always felt a pull to make this site more focused to build some kind of audience outside of my internet friends and those who come here through a handful of search terms that I happen to rank high on at Google, but stick to the idea that it’s my personal online journal and just reflects my current set of interests, reflected here more or less as time permits.
Interesting to read then:
Over the last few years, I’ve met a surprising number of creators who were outwardly successful, with thriving businesses, but who felt trapped and resentful. They followed all the best practices, niched down, created what they thought their audience wanted, etc. And while it often “worked” for generating income, it rarely resulted in them feeling alive, authentic, connected, free. In fact, it led to the opposite. A feeling of deadness, disconnection from self and others, and a perceived loss of agency and freedom.
I’ve written before how I prefer to read reports of tools and techniques by those who use them in a real way for real purposes. So much of this web niching leads to a kind of navel gazing where the tools are used only for the purpose of posting about the tools. Every time a writer I enjoy quits the day job to run their site, I know that in not too long I’ll lose anything but cursory interest. Since I’ve been working on my photography lately, I’ll point to people like Thom Hogan who runs a big site, writes great books, but is a working photographer both leading trips- where he works too and doing commercial work. So too we get the insights of Vincent Versace and Greg Williams both of whom produces their own personal and commercial work. I admire the work and technique, so take the advice seriously.
It seems to me that the passion to create can’t get subsumed in the marketing and meta-talk about the creating. At its heart is the work and Rob Hardy is right that at the heart of creativity is the freedom to pursuit the paths that the work suggests, not service an audience you’ve created in the short term. It is indeed a long game.
I’ve been consistent with capturing images on a near daily basis, mostly in “Sniff and Shoot” mode, just carrying a camera when out in the back with the puppy. While casual photography is clearly where we are today, capturing in the camera with with an expressive exposure only gets the image 80% there. And some of my adjusted photos capture the scene, but just don’t have that dramatic, cincematic quality that I picked up from Vincent Versace’s Oz books. For the techniques, the color book Welcome to Oz 2.0 is all you need. It’s out of print, but there are used copies on Amazon.
This week I reviewed the two Oz books, taking notes on the techniques, which I can now distill way better than I could when I started down the path a bit more than 10 years ago. Hopefully, with a deeper understanding, speed and facility will follow. Sadly, two of his important tools, FocalPoint is no longer supported by its developers and the Lighting Effects filter in Photoshop has been abandoned. So we need to use alternative means to introduce lens blur and selective lighting. So far, not too much of a problem.
At least I have a few hundred captures this year, so some nice pixels to work on.
Having gotten through Passover, routine is beginning to return. Reading has continued apace and I’ve finished the wonderful Saving Time by Jenny Odell. It’s more a meditation and memoir than standard non-fiction, a category I truly appreciate.
I’m focusing down to just two projects in the coming months moving into the summer, my notes on Jaynes and making images. I’ve made it through Jayne’s discussion of boolean algebra and have a much deeper appreciation of the relationship between logic and the aspiration for rationality in reasoning. While he only alludes to the subject here, I think his caution against “the mind projection fallacy” is very important. In math and logic, “is” has a particular, rather abstract meaning. Not so in common language usage and we like to use “is” to create equivalence between what really “is” and our beliefs, perceptions and mental models. It’s a trap that is easy to fall into.
I’ve been so caught up in reading and note taking activities that the image making has taken a back seat. I fired up some processing apps today and made sure I had a camera or two fully charged with an empty capture card.
Based on my careful tracking, my reading tilts way toward the fictional side which seems a bit lopsided for my long term goals. So I’m resolved to do more leisure non-fiction reading and make sure that my focused note taking gets some daily attention.
Now that I finished note taking on both of those, I returned to the probability section. It’s got a solid grounding, but I realized that it was short and superficial. So I’ve gone back to sources and am taking notes on the first few chapters of E.T. Jaynes’ Probability Theory: The Logic of Science, which I had been reviewing last fall but without good note taking.
So that puts me way behind sharing my work here in public. Yet slowing down for me is fine as I have not deadline or even any compelling reason to actually finish the manuscript itself. As a tool in the process of exploring these subjects, it’s been valuable. It’s also been a project that has provided some focus on my tools like my Linux computer, the Kindle Scribe and Devonthink.
Over and over again I learn the same lesson that the first step is to define the problem and desired outcomes well. Start with the end in mind and Covey phrased it. Only then is it possible to choose a set of tools for the task, with reassessment of workflow from time to time improving efficiency and keeping the work enjoyable.
Yet projects keep presenting themselves. Since Twitter is pretty dead to me at this point, Reddit has emerged as a random feed to satisfy my endless curiosity. Of course the subject matter is a bit different and I miss Philosophy Twitter and Neuroscience Twitter. There’s lots more computer talk presented to me on Reddit, so I’ve gotten engaged in programming languages, specifically this functional programming paradigm that I learned through doing statistics in R. So I’ve spent a bit of time playing with Scheme variants now and reading some discussions on computation. May take some time away from general reading, but it’s all good when it comes to ensuring one lives in a rich, mentally healthy intellectual environment.
My recent reading in the creative space has inspired me to get the manuscript for the Deciding Better book to the next level. Both Rick Rubin and Haruki Murakami both see the artist as the primary audience for their work, with audience developing as a result of putting work out in the world.
I’ve long been convinced that I have something to say about how we should approach decision making in our lives based on my wide ranging explorations of Decision Theory and the underlying brain mechanisms we use to make decisions. In the end, I’ve come to realize that the seemingly naive view of deciding as an intuitive process is the appropriate one. But it’s rare to find a real justification for the idea that decisions simply come from the heart. And that care of that heart is the core of better decisions.
To finally cut through the rationalist, Cartesian fallacy of rationalism and materialism, I had to understand that rational view of decision making. Since those systems do not turn out to be very useful, I turned to an exploration of how we actually do make decisions, using my own training in Neuroscience. Oddly, I arrived back where I started a very long time ago, with an ecological, systems level approach.
The hero’s journey is a classic story structure that has been used for centuries. This timeless storytelling technique encompasses the three core aspects of a protagonist’s journey. Using it in fiction often seems like common sense, but the secret is to use it in nonfiction as well.
Of course all of this reading and notetaking get in the way, but as those who have traveled this road before know, it’s about pushing through to the end once the journey has begun.
Stephen Wolfram is the kind of thinker that sees things as simply as possible. His work on emergent phenomenon, physics and metamathematics reveal how what we see as mysterious can be built up from simple parts. I’ve written about how he takes notes, a process that is more about capturing that thought process than cataloging facts.
The first thing to explain is that what ChatGPT is always fundamentally trying to do is to produce a “reasonable continuation” of whatever text it’s got so far, where by “reasonable” we mean “what one might expect someone to write after seeing what people have written on billions of webpages, etc.”
It had an unfortunate side effect for me last week. I was about to get up and give a lecture a faculty member for the NINDS sponsored course, Training in Neurotherapeutics Discovery for Academic Scientists, when I suddenly realized that I myself am a Large Language Model, knowing that I would soon stand up and for an hour allow my left temporal and frontal lobe language areas to chose words sequentially to go along with the planned talk and accompanying slides. I would be aware of listening to what I was saying and providing oversight, but those language areas would just be generating word strings autonomously.
Of course once I said good morning, all I could think about was what I was saying, so all good in the end.
I really never intended this site to turn into a book blog, but once I started tracking my reading here, it only makes sense to at least briefly write about the books. It seems best to do this to capture first impressions of my first read of the book. If I go back to collect notes and write a summary, then hopefully those notes would lead to a bit more in depth exploration of these themes.
I’ve read most of Haruki Murakami’s books. This collection of essays on the process of writing, Novelist as Vocation, speaks so clearly with the voice that one gets to know through reading the stories and novels. Murakami has written like this before, in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is also a memoir centered around a personal activity that reveals as much about the man as it does the activity.
Like his book on running, this book on writing serves as a memoir that reflects Murakami’s attitude towards the act of creation. Which is pretty simple- sit down and trust the process to produce work. It seems Murakami’s process is very inwardly directed, so the production is not forced or overly planned. It’s intuitive at the start.
But then the craft of editing begins, polishing the output until it seems like a finished product.You can see how Murakami reflects on the work in progress both to improve the work but also to develop his skills as a writer. He found an audience early on, but as he has developed, his audience has grown. While he has high regard for his readers, he sees them a coming along with him on his personal journey. Clearly he’s thought about how to get his work out in front of that audience, but he writes for himself, knowing there are those willing to buy books to see what he’s been up to.
There’s plenty of overlap with Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act, probably because of these creators focus on craft and production without much pretension. Both emphasize creation for the sake of self, not for audience. I’d recommend both books to those who find personal satisfaction from the act of creation. I think both provide good advice from accomplished master craftsmen on how to work on craft.