Sunday, 25 November 2012

I think I've managed to stay on the bus.

Days are shorter and the harvest is in. Blogs are neglected.

How many blogs have you seen start a new post with apologies like: 'Can't believe I haven't posted anything for x weeks now!' or 'Sorry for not posting for so long', etc.?  Well, I'm not going to despite weeks having past since the last blog post. Why post something when you have nothing to say? In my case, I've just been letting myself mull over thoughts and trying to make some sense of them. Anyway...

I've been experimenting with titles for my images. Titles I find difficult. Some say you should let the viewer create their own association/story looking at the picture. I can agree with that but a title can help to hint at the atmosphere of a place.

When I visit abandoned communities and cottages, I genuinely feel that sense of isolation, hardship, abandonment and loss. As soon as I enter a property I can almost see the husband and wife going about their daily routines, trying to keep it all together against rising rents, falling prices and the growing lure of the big city or abroad. Standing at the bedroom or kitchen window I can quite easily imagine how they felt or what might have been going through their minds at various stages of their life.

So I started to give images titles which were essentially the thoughts I had at the time of the shot. The reaction was generally positive which surprised me a bit. Have a look at some of these images here, here and here. Not sure this approach has much mileage though.

Another change I'm working on is how I organise my images. Initially I organised them by location because it made sense and I believed (and still do) that many people search for images of abandoned places by the name of the property or area. That's fine. But at a Scottish Photographers' meet up in Dingwall, it was suggested I organise all the interior shots together and make a portfolio of them. So for the next meet I quickly (last minute everything!) gathered a set of interior shots of places all over Aberdeenshire. The effect of doing this was instant. I saw a theme, a story, a body of work I hadn't fully realised I was creating! Yes, I'm that dumb. In a book I'm working on, I can see me including thumbnails on a page which could have a whole set of fireplaces or windows on it for example.

With such straight forward and useful advice, my approach to my photography has moved on a bit. I just wish I could meet up with more photographers and artists on a more regular basis. Something to work on for 2013.

Conversations on twitter have helped me stay focused on what I want to do and not be swayed off course by being affected by lack of views, comments, likes, favourites etc. Thanks to Rob and Lucy I've stayed on the bus.

And finally some images of a fortunate find. To locate abandoned properties I tend to read local history books, tour the countryside on my bike or in my car and scour maps at home. Some I find by chance when looking for another place and this particular cottage I found that way but better than that, it had some of the best and weirdest graffiti and art work I've ever seen in a ruin.

If you're wondering about the post title read this

Friday, 17 August 2012

We all feel like this right?

Recently, I changed the title of this blog from 'James Dyas Davidson Photography' to just 'James Dyas Davidson'. The reason I did that was because I asked myself what was the purpose in keeping the blog?

Well, way back, this is was the answer. Essentially it was recording my return to photography. Looking back I think, 'Who would be interested in that?' and of course nobody was. It was good to get my thoughts on 'paper' though.

Reading photography books and blogs, you learn that embracing life and following YOUR passions could make you a more consistent and interesting photographer. Great. That led to this post.

So you go and shoot your 'passion' and soon find many others have the same passion and do it better than you. You need to find your 'voice'.

But you get distracted by requests to shoot the odd wedding, events, promos, etc. You try the odd competition. You try to emulate cool stuff you see in magazines and websites. Essentially, you don't shoot your passion and you don't get the praise and adulation you thought you might and you hit the ground with a bump.

You start to worry again about technical stuff, your workflow and your post processing skills because compared to others, you suck.

You go back to what kind of photographer are you? and that dreaded creative block hits. You need some inspiration and lo and behold, they tell me to shoot my passion and embrace life. Oh yeah, you lost that for a moment there.

Your off again on the right track for a while. It's beginning to all come together. Shame you can't do this full time perhaps? (At this point, for me, illness and time off work forced a rethink.)

Great, it's all sorted - you know what to photograph and why, you will remain a 'hobbyist' photographer and you're getting the hang of social media and websites. Positive feedback and comments begin to flow in you get some work requests. Oddly enough, not in the type of photography you shoot but hey ho.

Ah, but old habits die hard.

Time to learn the history of photography, learn about the past masters and to see what has been done and how you could add to that legacy in your own small way. (Many of my posts in 2011 were about the history of photography.)

Your blogs posts get closer to what you want your blog to be but again, 'life' happens to you and you have to deal with other stuff.

You meet or read about other photographers who 'say something in their work' and reflect their age. You want to too, but what are you saying? what is your world about? You ask around.

Your thoughts about what part do you want photography to play in your life is a recurring thought.

You start to get annoyed with yourself for going round in circles and always promising to not go back over old ground or to stand still. One step forward to your goals - always.

But good God! here you are blogging about losing focus again and how you're not going to again!!

You stall.

Then you listen to this and think, 'I am not alone. I am not a loser. Why don't more people talk about such things as fear, procrastination and self doubt?'

After all, don't we all feel like this?

So this blog is really about me, my struggles and what interests me, not just photography. Hence the name change.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Pattern is Predictable.

I stalled.

"The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work towards what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do - away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes. Believing that artwork should be perfect, you gradually become convinced that you cannot make such work. (You are correct.) Sooner or later, since you cannot do what you are trying to do, you quit. And in one of those perverse little ironies of life, only the pattern itself achieves perfection - a perfect death spiral: you misdirect your work; you stall; you quit."  From Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

But I haven't quit. Far from it. I can see now that the imperfections of my previous images are the seeds to my next attempts at creating images.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Nike slogan and Lent.

A wee story about myself:

At school, I did better in the Humanities subjects and art but was ‘persuaded’ to follow a science path because ‘there would be a better chance of getting a job’, which in reality was true. In my late twenties I had a bit of an early 'mid-life crisis '. I knew I was in the wrong profession and needed to get out of the oil industry, despite the good money I was earning. I did OK in the job I was in and became qualified in electronic engineering and applied physics but the company owned me and I was unhappy.  

There was a ‘creative urge’ inside me that was being ignored. So I turned to self help books to see how I could move from one career to another. The good thing about reading these self help books, which many people mock, was I started to study with the Open University and gained my Honours Arts degree and got out of the oil industry, did a Post Grad Teaching course and eventually got into teaching. 
I became a Principal Teacher and settled into that position, a job I love doing. But I realised I still wasn't satisfying the creative spark inside me that had been snuffed out by guidance teachers and adults who said art was a waste of time and something you can do when you retire. After a Diane Arbus exhibition in Barcelona a few years back, I decided there and then that photography would come back into my life.
The point I’m making here is I became a bit of a self help expert and came to the conclusion that 'Just Do It' is probably one of the best pieces of advice you can give anyone. Stop thinking and start doing - have no worries or fears. Making a complete mess of things was OK as long as you learned from it and progressed. I try to overcome that fear of failure by failing and the only way I can fail and improve is to just get on and try it. Each time I learn from my actions and efforts, my self confidence and self esteem increases (well, most of the time!). 

I still struggle with this approach in some areas of my life, for example doing some DIY around the house like plumbing or car maintenance because the consequences can be a bit messy and costly to put right! However, for Lent 2012, I thought I would try hard to think less and do more. (I'm trying hard not to think about what a bad idea this is because I will probably fail!!) Wish me luck. 

(Above is a picture I took of the Peel of Lumphanan last weekend. The Peel is difficult to photograph because it is hard to isolate the Peel from the surrounding countryside. I thought I had it when I saw the dusting of snow on it and none elsewhere. Sadly, I didn't quite execute this shot as well as I could have - a bit of a failed shot but I know why and learned from it.)

Sunday, 19 February 2012

When the teacher 'gets' his own lesson!

Last week I was teaching a Religious Education lesson (that’s another story) about worship. To get the pupils thinking, I drew a flower growing from its roots underneath. I asked them to think about their hobbies or what they are passionate about. Then I got them to think of all the outward signs of their hobby, e.g. photography would be a camera, a bag, going to places of interest, taking pictures, processing pictures, printing pictures,etc. and place these around the flower. Next, I got them to consider the more ‘inward’ signs of participating in their passion, e.g. happiness, relaxation, self-confidence, de-stressed, at peace, excited, etc. These were placed around the roots. 
The pupils got it immediately - they could see how one feeds the other. If they couldn’t do their hobby then they felt unhappy, frustrated and stressed. Likewise, if they were unhappy or stressed or lacking in self esteem, then they tended not to perform their hobby very well. 
It was one of those lessons when I felt we were all having a wee ‘light bulb’ moment, myself included!

(The above picture was just a snapshot taken with the wee Canon Ixus 70 camera whilst I was out for a morning stroll. )

Friday, 6 January 2012

Creativity: Permission to fail sir?

"The D4 is announced. I am convinced more than ever that my photography will improve in 2012 by investing in me and my passions than in gear."

I tweeted this today. It was, as they say, a wee 'light bulb moment'. Let me explain why.

In my previous post I sorted out my top 10 'advice to myself'. The top 4 were:

Know who you are.
Embrace life. It helps creativity.
Always have art in your world.
Shoot what interests you, your passions. Find your voice.

These sentiments mirrored something I remember reading. It was Scott Bourne's free e-book 'Visions' and, as ever, the most obvious, common sense advice can sometimes resonate the most and Scott's words of wisdom kept coming back to mind.

He suggested that when it comes to creativity, most limits are self imposed. It can hamper growth.

Try new stuff and fail with a purpose. Give yourself permission to fail so you can learn from it and eventually move on to a new level of competence. Experiment, jam, brainstorm - just as musicians, artists and writers do, so why not in photography?

Make experimentation, expression, authenticity, storytelling and joy the measurements of your success. 

To tell a story in a picture I think you have to have a story to tell. You have to have an interest, a passion in what you're photographing. You need to know and understand why you're making the image. You must avoid trying to be 'new' or taking a shot to please others. You have to be you.  It is therefore important to know who you are. What moves you, what angers you, what saddens you. Be engaged with life, embrace it and be a person you would like to know.

You may be thinking, "I know all this already"- well, so do I, but in 2011 I felt I didn't stay true to this due to distractions like gear, social networking and other 'side-shows'. In 2012, I'm going to try to make images that are authentic, tell a story and convey some passion.

Am I talking rubbish? Do you think differently and approach your photography in a different way? (I am, of course, excluding work done for clients which have a different set of criteria, often defined by the client.) Let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Taking My Advice: A ‘Top 10’

I started this photography blog in March 2009. The entries ended up being more sporadic than I intended. My excuse, as always, was ‘lack of time’. I’m a full time head of History at a secondary school, which is certainly no 9-5 job (or 9-4 as the dumb media portray), so it is usually a genuine excuse. I like being a teacher and will always give it my full attention. So how can I also satisfy the strong need I have at present to immerse myself in my photography much more than at present? 
One answer is to be more focussed on what it is I want to achieve with my photography. I have no time to go back over ground already covered. That said, I will go back to ground covered but with a clearer, more purposeful eye. I may in fact, keep going back to one place, to one spot this year. I now see that, as well as perfecting my technical skills that bit more, I can only move on creatively if I thoroughly explore my immediate environment, my homeland. That will entail, not only devouring more historical knowledge, but being more aware of the current economic, political and social situation. 
So, to start 2012 and to make sure I don’t keep going back over old ‘thinking’ any more, I have made a list of the advice and intentions I have already stated in my blog posts in an attempt to keep me moving forward as a photographer and a more creative person.
  1. Know who you are.
  2. Embrace life. It helps creativity.
  3. Always have art in your world.
  4. Shoot what interests you, your passions. Find your voice.
  5. Don’t be concerned about what others think of your work. 
  6. That said, engage in conversations with other photographers. Network.
  7. Always be learning. Get out of comfort zones.
  8. Remember why you got into photography in the first place.
  9. Keep on top of the ‘business’ side of things.
  10. Be disciplined about archiving your work.
I’ll leave the final words to Bruce Springsteen who said this in his late twenties:
“ you get older, you can end up in a life in stasis, shackled by memories and hurt. Old habits die hard and patterns repeat themselves and you can unintentionally let past disappointments effect your present and it can be difficult to move forward.”