Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Art of Trying NOT To Try

Austin Kleon from 'Show Your Work'

In order to achieve success, stop trying. Sounds counterintuitive, right?  I recently came across a theory based on an ancient Chinese concept called wu wei (oooo-way) from Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity by Edward Slingerland.  The literal translation of wu wei is "not trying" or "no doing". Though externally you appear to be very active in the pursuit of your art, there is an internal sense of effortlessness, effectiveness and unselfconsciousness.

What wu wei is NOT, is passivity and resignation.  In short, wu wei is a mindful cultivation of desirable behaviors that are nurtured to the point of being on auto-pilot so you are in the "zone" or "in the flow".  You are in a creative zone where you forget about trying so hard, and forget about not trying, until you are overcome with automatic behaviors that quietly dictates your move where deliberate and continued practice leads to mastery.  Call it flow or spontaneity, wu wei is a force to be reckoned with, a skill all artists crave.

So what does this have to do with photography?  Think about it.  As a photographer you're in constant pursuit of the perfect image, pre-visualized or otherwise, which by the way is unattainable because it is always going to be the next shot. You eventually get snookered into thinking that "if only I had _________ I could _________.  Some photographers fall victim with the obsession to have the latest technology, and not just in a limited quantity of "only one", but more likely an abundance of riches, thinking that's what preventing them from creating great art.  Not to be satisfied with just one lens, some think the greater collection of accessories, the better. If you really think a backpack, or rolling bag and cases filled with gadgets and lenses will make you a better photographer, then we've got a larger problem to address.

My point is this.  Embrace the concept of wu wei and don't get sidetracked by the equipment issue, or play the "what if" game.  Consider the following behaviors to get into your wu wei, or more to the point, try not to try so hard:

  • Quiet your mind, stop the internal "noise"
  • Take images of what interests YOU
  • Be mindful and open to spontaneous possibilities
  • Go on a photo shoot without structure (e.g.,no shot list)
  • Focus on your creative vision for the image 
  • Try something out of your comfort zone
  • Don't over-think the shot, or the project
  • Let your equipment take a backseat; your vision should dictate the shot
  • Give yourself the freedom to be playful and engage with the moment
  • Don't try so hard, let things happen in a spontaneous manner

In closing, here's a poem/story, The Way of Heaven from the book of Zhuangzi that demonstrates how to move through the world in a wu wei manner.

The Way of Heaven
Excels in overcoming, though it does not content;
In responding, though it does not speak;
In spontaneously attracting, though it does not summon;
In planning for the future, though it is always relaxed.
The Net of Heaven covers all;
Although its mesh is wide, nothing ever slips through.

Do not go out the door, and so understand the whole world;
Do not look out the window, and understand the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
This is why the sage understands the world without going abroad,
Achieves clarity without having to look,
And attains success without trying.

For a more in-depth review of wu wei, Slingerland's book, Trying Not To Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity is available on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0770437613/braipick-20

Friday, April 25, 2014

Failure IS Success

Yosemite from Ian Ruhter : Alchemist on Vimeo.

Failure.  The state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success.

As evident from Ian Ruhter's video, Yosemite, his greatest failure came close to destroying his personal belief in his own dreams.  And yet a year and a half later, after regaining his courage to make a second attempt, he was capable of producing his vision, wet plate collodion prints of Yosemite created from a mobile camera truck.

I have often considered that "failure" is overlooked as the profound teacher that it has the capacity to be. With all the focus and attention on success, one misses all the learning that happens along the journey.  In hot pursuit of success, it's easy to become fixated on the final outcome and not being open to change or unexpected deviations.  Art is not science, it's not the mechanical pursuit of a finite outcome achieved on a linear path.  As a professional photographer, it's more than just focus, shoot, then move onto the next subject or project; anyone with a camera can do that.  Rather, true art is freedom of creative movement and progression with many interruptions, challenges, and being adept at constantly changing direction.

I was amused to find several quotes that provide insight into the great experience of failure; perhaps some will be familiar.
"If you want to succeed, double your failure rate."  Thomas J. Watson
"A great deal can be learned from things going unexpectedly, and that part of science's success comes from keeping blunders small, manageable, constant, and trackable."  Kevin Kelly, Wired Magazine Editor
"Never let success get to your head and never let failure get to your heart."
"Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely."  Henry Ford
"Failure is an event, not a person.  Yesterday ended last night."  Zig Ziglar
 "Fall seven times, stand up eight."
"Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker.  Failure is delay, not defeat.  It is a temporary detour, not a dead end." 
"You'll never be brave if you don't get hurt.  You'll never learn if you don't make mistakes.  You'll never successful if you don't encounter failure."
"Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently."  Henry Ford 
"Failure is good as long as it doesn't become a habit."  Michael Eisner
"I have not failed.  I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."  Thomas Edison 

In a nutshell, my 5 axioms or beliefs about failure can be summarized as follows.  Keep them in mind when pursuing your next creative vision:

  1. Never lose faith in yourself, your dreams or creative vision 
  2. If you're not making mistakes, you're not trying hard enough
  3. Embrace mistakes, they are your best teacher
  4. Allow yourself permission to be vulnerable and not be afraid of falling down
  5. Failure is NOT weakness, it's NOT fatal; it's the strength to see new opportunities 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Venus Rising Published in Silvershotz

It's taken a year to go through the publication process but the wait was well worth the effort. I'm now proud to announce I am one of eleven women who have been featured in the just-released Silvershotz: International Journal of Contemporary Photography; Volume 8, Edition 5.  The main focus of this Silvershotz issue was written to promote the visibility of women working in the photographic arts, as we all happen to be a few select members of the Women in Photography International (WIPI) organization http://www.womeninphotography.org/.  Not only is this issue "all about women", but it's now a collector's item as the final print version of the Silvershotz publication before it continues as a digital subscription. To purchase a copy of this final print version, go to http://www.silvershotz.com/

Below you'll find the 4-page spread from the journal to get an idea of page layout and presentation.  Scroll down to the bottom of this post and you'll find three links:  a READABLE VERSION of My Article & Gallery (my 4-page spread, pages 72-75), Feature article, and press release

*Direct Link to My Article and Feature Gallery at http://womeninphotography.org/Events-Exhibits/SILVERSHOTZ/WIPI-article-2014.html#scherf      

Introductory Feature Article for all photographers at http://womeninphotography.org/Events-Exhibits/SILVERSHOTZ/WIPI-feature.html

Press Release at http://womeninphotography.org/Events-Exhibits/SILVERSHOTZ/WIPI-press.html

As I was quoted in the article..."overall my signature style tends to be concept-driven images that elicit an emotional connection drawn by the simplicity of design, oftentimes with a layer of complexity that hovers behind the facade.  In the end, my work is more about translations rather than just seeing; my images are equivalents of emotions expressed over observed reality."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Best New Find: Feature Shoot

As a member of the creative community it's always a challenge to self-promote yourself, more specifically, identifying the resource that can provide a positive lead to exposure, assignments, or just the personal connection with someone in the industry.

My newest discovery is a site, Feature Shoothttp://www.featureshoot.com/#!FofBF that appears to be a promising venue.  Alison Zavos is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief and photography editor.  She showcases all genres of work and since launching in 2008 has accumulated an archive of over 3,000+ international photographers and won LIFE.com's 2011 Photo Blog Award as the "Web's 20 most compelling, most consistently insightful and surprising photography blogs."  Learn about photographers in fine art, portraits, documentary, still life, landscape, video and other genres.  Plus the added bonus of being able to submit your work for the website, in addition to advertising options.

But what really caught my interest was an April 21 entry, 101 Photo Industry Professionals You Should Follow on Twitter.  http://www.featureshoot.com/2014/04/101-photo-industry-professionals-follow-twitter/#!FokqZ.  In this post Alison provides the reader with name, title and twitter contact info for 101 of professionals in the photo industry that run the gamut from editors, directors, curators, gallery owners, and then some.  For an artist in today's environment, it's all about self-promotion and the ability to have resources and contacts that can take you to the next level of exposure.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New Website Gallery: Aerial Arboretum: Changing Perspective

In my March 5 post I alluded to the fact that I was sharing a "work in progress" when it was just a gut feeling, "what if" idea, well before I had finalized my vision.  As I mentioned in the previous post, this was not my typical routine as I don't like sharing creative ideas until completely finished.  Well I'm happy to report that my original rough vision has evolved to its present state of having a strong, definitive approach that has led to my new portfolio/website gallery, Aerial Arboretum: Changing Perspective

First let me share my vision.  I have long admired trees as a favorite subject matter for my images. Texture, shadow, shape, pattern, and branching were often the focus of my botanical fascination as I captured images from ground level.  My challenge with this new portfolio project was to be able to present trees in a different manner, one that broke with tradition and offered something new and interesting.  So, to break a habit of repetitive vision, I pondered whether if I changed my perspective would that enhance my ultimate experience. I came to the realization that changing one’s perspective is an extremely valuable tool for comprehending the familiar.  Things that were once hidden in one view now became visible in another, offering a new perspective on a once familiar object or scene. Being innovative in thinking about trees enabled me to shift my perspective and imagine viewing them in a totally different view, one from above or within.  A few words from Wayne Dyer summarizes my project perfectly:

If you change the way you look at things
The things you look at change

© 2014, Joanne Scherf

So in this series, Aerial Arboretum: Changing Perspective http://www.joannescherf.com/#!/portfolio/C0000vTXoT0.UTko/G0000ILYCLQGQH   I continued to capture trees from ground level, yet with the vision of creating an artful, aerial or internal perspective using post-production techniques that makes it appear as though one is viewing trees from above. The focus is now shifted from looking at trees from a typical parallel approach to one that provides an immersion experience from above where the viewer is surrounded by swirling arrangements and compositions primarily of stems, leaves, and branches.  Aerial Arboretum: Changing Perspective alters the reality and prevents letting only one view satisfy or limit curiosity.  As Henry David Thoreau once stated, “It’s not what you’re looking at that matters, it’s what you see.

To view the current collection in Arial Arboretum: Changing Perspective, go to: http://www.joannescherf.com/#!/portfolio/C0000vTXoT0.UTko/G0000ILYCLQGQHhA.  Over time I will continue to add more trees to this collection in the hopes of presenting the familiar subject of trees in a new perspective, one of immersion and from within.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Image of the Month: April 2014

For this month I'd like to show you the original image and then how I proceeded to change my vision with a few techniques to make a more artful interpretation.  The scene is a typical Michigan fall experience; small home with bright red barn nestled amidst the wheat-colored grasses gently blowing in the crisp autumn breeze.  Walking on one of the new hiking trails connecting the small resort towns of Glen Haven, Glen Arbor and Empire my eye caught the beautiful contrast and compatibility of the red barn surrounded by the golden grasses.

Typically that would be enough for just a "pretty" picture. But as usual I was not satisfied and proceeded to use the original capture as raw material to launch other creative ideas.  Thus for this "image of the month" I'm presenting not one, but 4 images!  Each one offers a little different twist offering something for everyone's taste.

© 2013, Joanne Scherf

The original image above highlights the juxtaposition of complimentary colors of the red barn amidst the golden field grasses.  Nice but nothing to write home about.  Plus I don't typically compose my images with a central figure almost dead-center but in this case I didn't want to crop it so the barn was less centric and lose the fantastic leading line of the trees.  So what treatment could I apply that would make other areas of the image attract more attention?  How could I use the central focus on the barn to my advantage and make one pause longer?  The three images below offer a variety of solutions that I think you'll enjoy.

© 2013, Joanne Scherf

This image was my first creative attempt to provide a slight twist.  I simply created a mirror image of the original composition and now the bottom of the image, though a duplication of the sky above, looks like water of a lake.

© 2013, Joanne Scherf

Onward to the next innovative effort in continued search of the best interpretation.  This image above is sepia-toned with an aged effect to the paper giving it more of an antique feel.  I then brought color back to the barn in hopes of further drawing the viewer's attention to the central element of the composition while at the same time providing the complexity of the mirrored tree line to contemplate, with an additional punch supplied by the texture of the paper.

© 2013, Joanne Scherf

Though I actually created 8 more versions of this image I'm presenting this as the final interpretation.  I ended up doing a double mirror effect of the red barn.  I also was able to use a tilt-shift technique to select my area of soft focus and detailed focus in post-production.  This in itself is quite amazing to be able to make selective focal adjustments after image capture; thus resulting in a variety of images with different areas of soft focus.

I guess what I'm trying to say with all these interpretations of the original image is this....don't be satisfied with the first click of the shutter or only one post-production interpretation.  The possibilities are absolutely endless; your imagination is your only limitation.