Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Impassioned Eye

The title comes from a documentary on Henri Cartier-Bresson which I recently watched again. I'm looking back at photographers I admire to see what I can learn from them or what may inspire me to help me move forward with my photography.

Bresson's work is well known and he is often considered one the best photographer of all time. Watching the documentary again, it was interesting what lessons I actually took from it.

We all know that, 'decisive moment' phrase and his images are testament to the joy of geometry, when everything seems right and balanced. He had a questioning stare. He could sense there was an image there - it was just a matter of looking and waiting.

There doesn't seem to be any real, deep messages in most of his images. They are celebrations of beauty of form and emotions. He saw, he felt and captured that moment as everything 'clicked' into place.

He also often shot was amused him. That simple - he looked, saw aspects of life that amused him and he captured these at just the right moment.

His images aside, what I was inspired by as much as, if not more by, was the way he lived and embraced life. He was clearly deeply moved by classical music. Drawing and painting was a real passion and something he continued to do all his life. He read poetry and most of his friends were artists. He had a huge respect for maths and mathematicians. He lived one day at a time, grateful for all the joy and pleasure that day brought. His fantastic portraits captured his love for his friends and his respect for their talent and work.

The lesson I took from the Bresson documentary is to engage with life - all aspects of life; to be curious, always looking and questioning. Make more room for science, literature, poetry, music, theatre, art, friends and family - probably at the expense of photography - to improve my creativity and perhaps my photography.

I've talked about this idea before - that if you want to improve your photography, then embrace life more. But watching Bresson was like some kind of reassuring proof for me.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Finding time or wasting time?

The clinging remnant. by James_at_Slack
The clinging remnant., a photo by James_at_Slack on Flickr.
This is a subject that interests me a lot.
I've heard full time photographers talk about how they put up with doing commercial work so they can have some money to take a few months off doing their own,creative work. Most aim for getting about three months to themselves to be creative. It was hearing this that made me realise that, although I work full time in a job that is still regarded as one of the most stressful, teaching, I have 12 weeks holidays a year, ie three months!

Why couldn't I get more creative work done?

Well, it takes time to clear your head of work concerns, time to sit and think. Also, there are major projects I like to get on with at home - stuff that needs weeks of time. So it gets back to priorities and taking into account other people and your responsibilities.

The bottom line for me is, and it is this point that I think that separates those who achieve their goals and those who don't, work ethic. It is getting up off your backside and doing it whenever, wherever, no matter how tired you feel. It's that 10,000 hours thing Malcolm Gladwell talks about. As Nike said, just do it. But that means everything - work, family duties, social duties and being creative.
Procrastination, tiredness, apathy, be gone with you!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The journey to the image.

Often, when I discover and explore an abandoned cottage or community, I get excited, engrossed, moved, scared even.

Before I even step inside a ruin, there is usually some reading days beforehand on the history of the area and /or the people who once lived there. Then there's the maps and route planning to be done, checking the weather and finding a free weekend to go.

The walk to the ruin can be the best and worst part of the day. Either way, it affects how I will make images that day.

Sometimes, but not often, I may have company. The conversations on the way may also alter my feelings and mood. I may be enjoying the company so much, the actual picture taking can get in the way!

The surrounding area of many of the ruins I go to is stunning in the right time of the year and weather. I can be so chilled and relaxed in my surroundings that, again, taking pictures can sometime seem like a 'business' part to the pleasure of the trip.

However, more often than not, it's when I get to the ruin and I'm inside taking it all in and finding the right feeling and mood within myself, that I finally make an image and I'm totally in a zone that compliments everything that has gone before. I get a sense of purpose. I try to give this abandoned place some oxygen to its dying embers. I try to almost transmit what I see in front of me to the previous occupants so they can once again be there.

When I return home from a successful exploration, I'm buzzing, I feel recharged and de-stressed. I was totally focused for a period of time and all worries and concerns disappeared for a moment.

When it comes to actually uploading the images, processing them and finally sharing them, I'm finding it more of a chore. Why? Well, to be honest, many images are just ignore or glanced at. I can totally understand this. Most people have no interest in seeing old, abandoned buildings. It bores them and when I upload image after image like the one above, they quickly pass by.

I am getting better at not getting disappointed and upset that my images are not hugely popular. Don't get me wrong, and don't think I'm looking for sympathy or faint praise (or whatever the phrase is), I appreciate the many people who have commented on my work, supported me, encouraged me and, to my surprise, bought my work and hung on their wall. No, what I'm beginning to think is, this slight disappoinment can, at times, put a wee cloud over an otherwise great experience.

So, what am I trying to say here? Well, I'm beginning to sense that the preparation and journey is as much about my creative process as making the image. Maybe one day I'll make a sketch, or record the sounds I hear or even try to write something to express how I feel, rather than, or as well as making images. I could even start drawing on the images.

I should remember that nothing can take away the memory of the day, the feelings I had and the fact that I combined my love of history, walking, Scotland and photography.

I'd love to hear if you have any thoughts on 'the journey to the image'.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Looking out for the past in the present, Allalogie.

Had a great weekend this weekend.

It kind of started on Thursday night in Tarland at a talk and mini concert by a local accordian player called Rob McCombie. Great stories of his life and dance bands of north east Scotland followed as well as tunes to enhance the talk.
One of the best bits for me was finding out he was brought up in the house we own. So if you wanted to hear one of the best accordian players in the Howe of Cromar back then, you came to our house we now live in! What is interesting is, if you wanted to hear one of the best accordian players in the Buckie area, you came to our old family home to hear my late father play. He played in a dance band called Bill Geddes Band all along the coast and in land too.

On Sunday I met up with Janet, a lady I know from our local history group. She wanted to show me an abandoned house I hadn't been to before. It was a great wee place with some interesting rooms. In fact, I enjoyed the area the ruin was in so much, I went back alone in the afternoon to explore further. This is when I took this shot of me standing looking out the bedroom window.

The textures of the hole in the roof and the hole in the floor I thought were wonderful. I also liked the shadow cast by the jam jar. This was a 3s exposure so I placed myself at the window for one of the many 'ghost' shots I seem to be doing at the moment. It seems to fit the mood of these abandoned, forgotten and derelict places. Maybe it's cliched and unimaginative but I like doing them for now.

Later, I went for a walk in the area and who should I meet but the accordian player Rob! That was a nice surpise meeting and chat. He is keen to come to see his old home. We are looking forward to it and I'm hoping he will once again fill the house with music. What sounds were common in Allalogie I wonder?

Threads of history and traces of memories are there to be found. Remembering and celebrating past places, events and people I truly enjoy and will keep on exploring and capturing abandoned Aberdeenshire.

Monday, 11 November 2013

It's not the building but the people.

This blog needs some attention. Slow restart starts today.

Since the last post way back in August, my main job, as a secondary school teacher of History, has consumed not only my time, but also my energy and thoughts. Clearly, this is not a healthy state of affairs but I'm not here to seek sympathy. There's nothing much I can do about it but get on with it as best I can. Thing is, it shouldn't be an excuse to stop doing the the things I enjoy.

On many occasions I thought I should really get a blog post up.

One of the things that put me off posting was the negative influence other blog post I had been looking at were having on me. They seemed so deep and meaningful, full of big words and obscure references to photographers, poets and artists I'd never heard of. Made me feel right stupid and ignorant. So I felt I had nothing of interest to say.

Of course, this is daft thinking.

This is my blog and I should be 'me' on here and nobody else.

However, the content should be interesting too! Trouble was, I tended to see what I was doing in my spare time as not very interesting. I was over thinking this whole blog thing I concluded.

Fact is, quite a few people are interested in my work, if the recent CD covers/booklets, messages and print sales are anything to go by. So, I have decided to just do more regular, short and pithy posts that may or may not interest you.

You see, when all is said and done, I look forward to Andrea's blog posts more than any of the other 'deep and meaningful' lengthy blogs. I must be a philistine with a short attention span who likes humour more than debates on 'art' that baffle me, bore me and go nowhere.

I recently tweeted a comment along the lines of: 'I'm just going to keep churning out my stuff and remind myself why I wanted to do this in the first place. To hell with the rest.' I was feeling that there was too much crap getting far too much attention on social media for my liking. Jealous maybe, jealous probably, but it was getting to me so much I just wanted to remove myself from the
backslapping, mutual appreciation environment and get back to me, desperately attempting to satisfy a creative itch.

Like the title of the image of the abandoned church above, my creative efforts are not about social media, they should be about me.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A longing for something that constantly eludes the searcher.

A passage from Leaving Alexandria by Richard Holloway that got me thinking and nodding in recognition of that feeling. I just thought I'd share it with you.

' How can you make yourself one with a landscape? You can tramp over it, become so familiar with its contours that you never need a map, but you can never possess it. It is always eluding your desire, just out of reach, beyond your possessing. I did not know the word at the time, or the idea behind it, but on the hills I was experiencing latency, the sense of something hidden behind what is seen. How can you find words for what is beyond sound, make visible what vanishes when seen? .... I was looking for something beyond myself, something out there that would take me out of in here - the life that was going on in my head. I was looking for transcendence, the beyond that is sometimes encountered in the midst of things, usually when we are not looking for it. This is the stab of awareness that causes us to turn on our heels to catch the shadow that is behind us. It is the sense of a presence, beyond knowing, that we reach out towards. And it can be experienced as loneliness. We are missing something, either because it is not there or because we have not yet found it. '  (p.41)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Reading can help you find that elusive 'me'.

Every now and then, I read a book which helps me understand myself better. Some authors can eloquently put into words feelings and experiences I struggle to. 

This summer I read Richard Holloway’s autobiography Leaving Alexandria. I had listened to him on Radio Scotland and he sounded like he had an interesting story to tell. 

I really enjoyed his biography but it was his meditations on some of his past experiences that resonated with me. I found myself pausing my reading and thinking, ‘ that’s me he’s describing’ or ‘that’s exactly how I feel’. 

Anyway, I wanted to collect some of these passages from the book in some blog posts, I suppose as a way of giving them further thought and to share with anyone who might read this. 

Quite early on Richard found that 'he was theoretically qualified to do something he was actually incapable of performing. He had the air of confidence and of appearing to be knowledgeable about something he was actually making up as he went along'. He was winging it with his gift of the gab.  I found this part thought provoking:

The toughest lesson life teaches is the difference between who you wanted to be and who you actually are. And it can take a whole life to teach it. (p.10)

Later on in the book he returns to this realisation of how time can steal everything from us and leave us feeling disappointed in how we turn out:

Any normal human heart feels the knife edge of regret at moments of retrospection and self-examination. But there is another kind of regret that is more difficult to explain. It is sorrow not over what we have done but over what we are. It may even be sorrow over what we are not. And I don’t mean handsome or rich or charming. One of the lessons a long life teaches is how formed we were by characteristics that were entirely beyond our control. Being who we were, we were bound to act the way we did. To have acted differently we would have had to be a different person. Maybe a better person, because, tragic as it may appear, even unfair, there are good people, not so good people, and bad people. And the big discovery we make in life is the person we have been revealed to be. We don’t have that knowledge when we start out. We imagine there’s a list of characteristics we can acquire if we fancy them, whereas the main lines of our own personality were cast before we knew it. This does not mean that we have no control over our decisions and choices. It does mean that we will have little control over them till we acknowledge who we are and accept the reality of the hand we have been dealt to play. (pp.226-227)

More later. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

James Ravilious

A while back, BBC Four had one of their 'photography nights' which they do occasionally. I recorded them on DVD to watch later. Among the many programmes was one on a photographer I'd never heard of, James Ravilious.

When I saw his images I was impressed, very impressed. They seemed to be carefully crafted, perfectly composed and had a surreal quality to them.

James was the son of the famous painter Eric Ravilious and you can sense the influence painting and in particular, British painting had on James's work.

I find the images of rural life in Devon he did for the Beaford College stunning. The quality of the black and white images is superb, with detail in the shadows and highlights, even when he was shooting into the sun. His compositional skill is what I admire the most. James was a great admirer of Cartier-Bresson and many of James's pictures have that 'decisive moment' feel but also touches of surrealism.

James managed to achieve many candid shots because he had a strong relationship with the community he was photographing. He was accepted and his subjects were relaxed in his presence.

His images of rural life in north Devon is much more than just a record of a way of life in steady decline. They are poignant and beautiful. He captured all aspects of rural life in that area and created a tapestry of scenes of a way life which was disappearing. There was no real narrative I suppose, with a beginning and an end, it just was what it was, before it changed forever.

My own images of abandoned communities lack the sort of people that populate James's images and my images have less of an impact because of this absence of characters. It is for this reason that I pour over his images with a mixture of admiration, inspiration and pleasure but also with some sadness that 'my' characters, 'my' subjects have gone and left only silence.

All images © James Ravilious

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Why do I like Diane Arbus and what can I learn from her work?

I have written about my admiration for the work of Diane Arbus before in this blog - Aberdeen Art Gallery;  Barcelona;  the impact she had on me to get back into photography.

Strangely enough, I have never asked myself why I like her work. What is it about her images that I find so intriguing and interesting? After all, the photographs I take are nothing like her work.

I am finding it hard to put into words why I like her images.

I too take images of communities who lived on the edge - on the margins of civilisation, remote, far from amenities and facilities. Outsiders perhaps?

Yes, my images also contain ugliness and a lack of beauty but then we all know what they say about beauty.

I can't say I challenge the viewer as perhaps Arbus's work does, however I am trying to alter the experience of the viewer to decay, debris and to stuff that was once loved and admired but left behind. Some see Arbus's images as portraying people full of despair but I find them intriguing and remarkable. Her "deviant and marginal' people seem to be doing the best they could under some difficult circumstance, within a society that rejected their lifestyle and for some, rejected their shape, size and sexual orientation. Her images are, to me, full of energy and life, as well as compelling. Her work is raw, at times disturbing, unflinching but what an insight we get to a world we would never have seen otherwise.

There is no doubt you can feel like an intruder, a voyeur when looking at her work. Her subjects and the lives they led are almost 'run of the mill' these days, with TV programmes filling late night spots with 'embarrassing bodies' and the like. Looking at my images of someone else's home, albeit abandoned and in a state of decay, may feel like intruding and you may want to look away or you may get a feeling of foreboding - "what will happen to my home, to my 'stuff', when I'm gone?"

Many of Diane Arbus's images hold my attention but also make me want to look away and perhaps it is that conflict that, for me, makes her work so captivating.

So what can I learn from her work? Eric Kim asked the same question regarding his street photography. I have changed his blog post to consider rural exploration/abandoned communities instead of street photography:-

1. Go places you have never been

Arbus shares some of her thoughts:
“My favourite thing is to go where I’ve never been. For me there’s something about just going into someone else’s house. When it comes time to go, if I have to take a bus to somewhere or if I have to grade a cab uptown, it’s like I’ve got a blind date. It’s always seemed something like that to me. And sometimes I have a sinking feeling of, Oh God it’s time and I really don’t want to go. And then, once I’m on my way, something terrific takes over about the sort of queasiness of it and how there’s absolutely no method for control."

I constantly read local history books and scour maps to find new places, never knowing what I'll find. The planning and the journey to find the abandoned place plays a huge part in my work.

2. The camera is a license to enter the lives of others

As Arbus explains:
“If I were just curious, it would be very hard to say to someone, “I want to come to your house and have you talk to me and tell me the story of your life.” I mean people are going to say, “You’re crazy.” Plus they’re going to keep mighty guarded. But the camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they want to be paid that much attention and that’s a reasonable kind of attention to be paid."

Documenting abandoned and disappearing communities deserves attention and my camera, my project, has got me into properties to capture the fading memories of lives long since past.

3. Realise you can never truly understand the world from your subjects eyes

"You might have a certain intent when photographing, but the result can be totally different. Not only that, but what we may perceive as a “tragedy” may not be considered as a tragedy to your subject:
And that has to do with what I’ve always called the gap between intention and effect. I mean if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic. You know it really is totally fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intended it.
What I’m trying to describe is that it’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s. And that’s what all this is a little bit about. That somebody else’s tragedy is not the same as your own“.

I feel many emotions in empty cottages, but they are really what I imagine it must have been like either to live there or how it felt to have to leave. They are only my emotions.

4. Create specific photographs

“A photograph has to be specific. I remember a long time ago when I first began to photograph I thought, There are an awful lot of people in the world and it’s going to be terribly hard to photograph all of them, so if I photograph some kind of generalized human being, everybody’ll recognize it. It’ll be like what they used to call the common man or something.
It was my teacher Lisette Model, who finally made it clear to me that the more specific you are, the more general it’ll be. You really have to face that thing. And there are certain evasions, certain nicenesses that I think you have to get out of."

More and more I am taking shots that, may not have the compositional appeal or be pleasing to the eye, but mean something to me. I may have been moved by something left behind or some part of the cottage may have brought back a personal memory - either way, the image I take on those occasions resonate with people much more than the bog standard abandoned cottage shot.

5. Adore your subjects

“Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. It was one of the first things I photographed and it had a terrific kind of excitement for me. I just used to adore them. I still adore some of them, I don’t quite mean they’re my best friends but they made me feel a mixture of shame and awe."

I think it is clear that I love local history!

6. Gain inspiration from reading

“Another thing I’ve worked from is reading it happens very obliquely. I don’t mean I read something and rush out and make a picture of it. And I hate that business of illustrating poems.
But here’s an example of something I’ve never photographed that’s like a photograph to me. There’s a Kafka story called “Investigations of a Dog” which I read a long, long time ago and I’ve read it since a number of times. It’s a terrific story written by the dog and the real dog life of a dog."

I think it is clear that to be a better photographer, it is important to embrace life, to get inspiration for many aspects of life be it reading, music, travel, walking, etc.

7. Take bad photos

“Some pictures are tentative forays without your even knowing it. They become methods. 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 recognize something you had seen in a way that will make you recognize it when you see it again."

I am realising this more and more. The more I fail, the more I learn. But I can't fail if I don't get out and shoot. Of course it is crucial to understand what went wrong and how might that be fixed. Accidents are a different thing altogether. 

8. Sometimes your best photos aren’t immediately apparent (to you)

“Recently I did a picture—I’ve had this experience before—and I made rough prints of a number of them, there was something wrong in all of them. I felt I’d sort of missed it and I figured I'd go back. But there was one that was just totally peculiar. It was a terrible dodo of a picture. It looks to me a little as if the lady’s husband took it. Its terribly head-on and sort of ugly and there’s something terrific about it. I’ve gotten to like it better and better and now I’m secretly sort of nutty about it.”

Oh, how I would love to have a picture editor! So important to go back over old work with a new mind.

9. Don’t arrange others, arrange yourself

“I work from awkwardness. By that I mean I don’t like to arrange things if I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself”.

Very rarely do I move stuff around to make a better picture. I'm not sure why I have this approach. It could be that I want to show respect to the previous owners or that I feel it is important to show the property as I find it. The jury is still out on this one.

10. Get over the fear of photographing by getting to know your subjects

To overcome her fear of shooting junkies people in a park (who frightened her) – Diane would revisit over and over again, and found out over time she became less timid. Not only that but she got to know the people there, and asked for permission. This helped her feel more comfortable and photograph the people in the area.

I have overcome my feeling of intruding, my fear of been 'found out' and continue to work on my confident manner when approaching locals or when confronted by concerned individuals who want to know what I'm doing. Often the conversation ends in my favour when they tell me about other abandoned cottages.

11. Your subjects are more important than the pictures

Although Arbus was criticised much during her lifetime (and even now today) for seemingly lacking compassion – she certainly did care for her subjects more than the photos themselves:
“For me the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated. I do have a feeling for the print but I don’t have a holy feeling for it. I really think what it is, is what its about. I mean it has to be of something. And what its of is always more remarkable than what it is.”

I have to give this one more thought because I think I amy be going in the opposite direction. Initially, it was all about the history of these abandoned glens and documenting them before they fell into even more ruin. Other photographers suggested I focus my work more on the details of the cottages, more on producing images that evoke emotions and memories. I'm trying to do this and enjoying the challenge but, to be fair to myself, I sense it will make me want to delve even deeper into the my interest, my passion, to hopefully produce better images.

Diane Arbus was not only a ground breaking and controversial photographer, but she also had deep feelings and emotions with and for her subjects. This clearly comes across in her photography. She followed her heart in her photography and took photos of subjects that not only interested her but felt compassion and warmth towards.

( All Arbus quotes from Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph.

Sunday, 17 March 2013


One of the founders of sociology, Emile Durkheim gathered data from across Europe in the late nineteenth century to study the factors that affect the suicide rate. His findings revealed that people who had fewer social constraints, bonds and obligations were more likely to kill themselves. Essentially, freedom can be hazardous to your well being. (Hear that Wallace?)

Durkheim found that people living alone were more likely to kill themselves; married people, less so; married people with children, still less. He concluded that people need obligations and constraints to provide structure and meaning to their lives.

Many years of further study have confirmed Durkheim's diagnosis. If you want to predict how happy someone is, or how long that person will live (genes and personality aside), find out about their social relationships.

Having strong social relationships strengthens the immune system, extends life, speeds recovery from surgery and reduces the risks of depression and anxiety disorders. OK, it is a tad more complex than this, but essentially true:-

  'a very happy individual is likely to be a happily married optimistic extrovert, having an active social life with a network of good social support, who feels fulfilled at work, is religious, enjoys active recreational pursuits, exercises regularly and feels they are in good health. He or she is also likely to have their basic needs met and live in a democratic country which respects civil rights and freedom of speech.' 

Giving support and caring for others is also important to happiness. 'We need to interact and intertwine with others; we need the give and the take; we need to belong.' (Baumeister and Leary, 1995)

Think hard before you break the bonds that may be extending your life and bringing you happiness, for example leaving homes, relationships, jobs and cities, in search of personal and professional fulfilment. Such an ideology of extreme personal freedom can be bringing on unhappiness.

Seneca got it right when he said, "No man can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility'. 

(Some Sunday night thoughts with the help of The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

'Joy's soul lies in the doing'

Trotternish Ridge, Skye by James_at_Slack
Trotternish Ridge, Skye, a photo by James_at_Slack on Flickr.
Going for a walk is never a waste of time. Fresh air, exercise, hopefully some sun and a dose of Vitamin D and time away from the screen and LCD. It also allows time to think and perhaps have the odd creative thought. Pursuing a creative urge, or just trying to achieve anything you desire, is a journey with a destination we long for and hope it will bring contentment and satisfaction. But often the destination fails to satisfy for any length of time - like the instant relief of removing your rucksack after a long walk. But you soon plan your next journey, your next 'fix' because you feel you could do more, do better, overcome your limitations and weaknesses.

As Shakespeare wrote: Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Going for a walk and failing to imitate your hero.

Today I was walking up a track which had about 6 to 8 inches (20cm) of snow on it. Some people had been on the track days previously and had compacted the snow and their footprints now formed ice. I tried walking on the virgin snow but it was hard going so I went on to the footprints of the previous walkers. It was slightly easier but the footprints were not matching up with my stride so I kept slipping and wasn't having a comfortable journey. I was following in their footsteps but doing it to my stride. This situation made think back on a book I had just read.

In Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist, (yes, I know, I'm rather late to this party), he suggests, 'don't wait until you know who you are to get started'. You should just get on with being creative. Study and imitate those you admire and want to emulate; look at their motivations and inspirations to help inspire you. When you try to emulate your inspirations you will undoubtedly fail to create another Bresson, Arbus or whoever it is you're trying to emulate. But, and this was the interesting bit, it will be your failure to completely imitate your hero that will eventually help you find your path, your footing, your style, your voice. 

Yesterday I went on one of my rural explorations of abandoned crofts - 'croft crawling' as I call it. Just as I was about to enter a ruin, I decided to try and imitate a photographer Rob Hudson who has been creating an interesting and fascinating set called Songs of Travel.  I wasn't sure how he creates these images so I just tried 10 multiple exposures and moved forward at each shot. My results were nothing like Rob's but it did make me think about where and how I could use such a technique. Here's one of my efforts:

So I was trying to walk in Rob's footprints but not hitting his stride and failing. However, I was learning, I was having fun and I thought more about the technique for my situation.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

My formidable foe and food cravings.

It has taken me a lifetime to realise fear is furtive and has many disguises and because of this, it's no wonder it is such a formidable foe.

Fear about your own ability can prevent you from doing your best work and fear about how your work is received can prevent you from doing your own work. 

What I'm also taking time to realise is that uncertainty is essential for creative work to emerge.

On to more lighthearted reflections. 

After eating 'fresh fruit' from local supermarkets this wintery morning in Scotland, I crave the oranges I ate every morning for 2 weeks in San Francisco; I crave the peaches I devoured in the Okanagan Valley in Canada; I crave the small Tenerife bananas. Ach well, the porridge was good and some Scottish smoked salmon is lined up for 'brunch'. 

Food cravings anyone? 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

'Blooming, buzzing confusion', switchtasking and 'sometimes reinforcements'.

Tomorrow I go back to work after a two week break and, as usual, I dread the thought of it and kind of look forward to it at the same time.

Like most people I love being on holiday. We live in a stunning location in rural Aberdeenshire. In 2012 we improved and modernised existing rooms in the steading (barn) attached to our cottage and this festive period has been even better with the luxury of the new living areas. I could quite happily work from this home!

As some of you know, I'm the Principal Teacher of History at a secondary school (12 - 18 year olds) and I get great satisfaction from teaching. I love my subject and the pupils make the job. They are often an inspiration to me. Yes, all of us in education face the continuous interference from politicians and so called 'experts' who force on us ever more 'new thinking' and 'new approaches' which can seem totally at odds with what your particular school and pupils actually need. But at the end of the day, it is a far preferable job to the one I did for 14 years in the oil industry.

So, returning to work brings things to look forward to and things that I could do without in my life.

But here's what gets me the most about the end of holidays - all the books and magazines not read; all the movies not watched; all the blogs and websites not read; all the walks not taken; all the photographs not taken; all the friends and relatives not visited; all the stuff still on my 'to do' list! Clearly I was unrealistic about what I could do during what is a busy holiday anyway. Worst still, there are so many distractions nowadays.

I'm currently reading The Pleasures of Reading in an Ages of Distraction by Alan Jacobs.  A few years ago I was trying to speed up my reading but Jacobs explains why you shouldn't if you really want to get more from what you're reading apart from just uploading information to our brains without giving time to consolidate and consider the information. Reading will always seem slow if all you want to do is pass your eyes over page after page and tick the book off as 'read'.

However, reading slower will mean I will get through less pages before I'm distracted by Facebook, twitter, Flickr, emails, cats, the scenery, the need to get outside! Technology has brought 'intermittent reinforcements' as B.F Skinner calls it, into my life and to rid myself of most of them, I'll have to alter my habits. It's this 'sometimes reinforcements' that causes the 'addiction' to keep checking social media. 

'The philosopher William James famously wrote of the "blooming, buzzing confusion" that constitutes sensuous experience for babies, who have not yet developed the filters necessary to organise that experience into discrete and meaningful units, but our daily technologies threaten to return us all to virtual babyhood"(my italics). [Jacobs, p.79]

Lately, I've been feeling this 'blooming and buzzing' has had an impact on my reading - not only the quantity but also the quality. My mind drifts much easier than it used to. This blog post is admitting my awareness of the 'condition' and how I want to do something to address the imbalance.

Essentially, I need to make it difficult if not impossible to go online for part of my day/week so I can get back to quality reading, studying, thinking and doing. Many years ago, I managed to stop smoking and drinking so surely I can do this? Jacobs talks about e-readers like Kindle which place emphasis on the text and 'hiding' the 'connect' command. ( I don't have a Kindle so can't comment on this.) So technology can be part of the solution, but I fear I may be too distracted still. I can't multitask, not because I'm a male; no, it's because none of us can, according to new research. Dave Crenshaw points out that genuine multitasking is impossible and a more accurate term is 'switchtasking'. We are really in a state of 'continuous partial attention'. Boy, does that describe perfectly how I felt much of the time in 2012!

At the moment, I'm still working on how to use social media and the internet to keep me informed, educate me, entertain me, promote me but not distract me so much. I will be 'experimenting' with possible solutions this year which may see me on Facebook and twitter a lot less but then again, ...

To be continued (and hopefully resolved).

Well done if you managed to read all this without getting distracted!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

New music, new books and old but useful advice.

Some new music I bought in 2012:

Funny how so much of 'new' music sounds like old music to me. Must be a part of getting older. Interestingly, the older the musician the more contemporary the music, e.g. Karine Polwart, Richard Hawley and Lau.

Some books that held my attention in 2012:

I read others and went back to old favourites.

I've mentioned Art and Fear in a previous post. It describes some very familiar traits! It does provide some good advice and points to consider:

'What you need to know about the next (image) is contained in the last (image).'

'...ideas are diluted to what you imagine your audience can imagine, leading to work that is condescending, arrogant or both. Worse yet, you discard your own highest vision in the process.'

'...the world offers vastly more support to work it already understands - namely, art that's already been around for a generation...'

'..the real question about acceptance is not whether your work will be viewed as art, but whether your work will be viewed as your art.'

'....the audience is is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the issue that really counts - namely, whether or not you're making progress in your work.'

'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell is worth a read. There are some gaping holes in some of the conclusions and analysis but it is thought provoking and helped to explain a few 'twists and turns' in my own life. I still need to work on my 'practical intelligence' I reckon! The chapter on why Asians are generally better at maths is very interesting. Also, the learning that goes on outside of school by students of more wealthy parents has more impact on attainment than I ever thought.

This morning, I was all ready to do a blog post about feelings just now and soon realised I can't better this and should move on.