Archive for the 'Art' Category

My friend Jungle Jim

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I find it amazing how the universe finds a way to bring people together even if they are either sides of the world.  How your vibration matches up with that of another even when you are on different continents.  The universe just decides you need to be in each others lives and it makes a plan.

I have such a friend.  We studied photography together from opposite sides of the world.  He was incredibly supportive of my work and we would compare notes and essays and eventually finished the course together delighting in our equally good results.  I loved his engaging open manner and we developed a sweet friendship that moved from just fellow students to encompass our whole lives.  It seems we had far more in common that just photography.

One day he emailed me the first few chapters of his book and one day I bravely emailed him the first few chapters of mine.  He would write each day will travelling his wet and rainy commute into London and I would write from coffee shops on warm sunny african days. Worlds apart and yet the same.  He of course is ten steps ahead of me and was near to completing his book.

Then on one of those exquisite sunny days a parcel arrived.  His book in all its glory.  I held it in my hands and ran my fingers over the cover.  In the pages between those covers I could feel every tiny atom of energy he had poured into those words.  I could feel his pride and excitement.  This was a big moment.

That weekend I was going away with a friend and as if the universe knew how to play this game the skies darkened and the rains came.  I lay in my bed listening to the drops fall heavily onto the roof above and the sounds of the lion call far away.  I took that precious book in my hands and as I turned the pages I was transported into the world of Jungle Jim.  To his adventures deep in the jungle with the rain coming in equal measure there in those pages.  I devoured it.  I was there.  I was her.  I was young and full of adventure.  How sweet that the universe made sure my world matched those on the pages.

I don’ want to give away the story.  That is for you to enjoy and I promise you will not be disappointed.  Jungle Jim is an adventure that captured my heart and imagination. Every one of those pages is filled with James King’s adventurous spirit and massively soft heart.

I am so proud of you my friend.  I loved this book.  I loved it’s energy and excitement.  I loved that it captured me so and I loved that it is so much a part of you.

James you have inspired and encouraged me.  You have listened when I needed a friend and you have entertained me with your adventures.  This book is only the beginning and I am eternally grateful to the universe for bringing you into my life.

James King’s Jungle Jim is available from http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=3512, Amazon and Kindle.

 

 

Letting go of your stuff

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Recently I had to ‘let go’ of something that was very close to my heart.  It had been in my life for a long time and loosing it was especially hard.  It took many deep breaths and quiet meditations to realise I would be OK without it.  That in reality, letting go of one thing allows space for another to come in.  It’s the letting go part that we sometimes find really really hard.

Life sometimes has a way of stripping you down.  Taking you back to the basics from where you start again.  During this process you may loose many things, or even many people but you will also find yourself.  It is a human trait to cling to stuff and people but loosing either pushes us out of our comfort zone, and it is out of our comfort zone that we truly realise what we are made of.  It’s where our creativity lies.

I want to put this into the context of art.  Lets imagine for a moment you are a photographer that loves equipment.  Has a passion for that extra stuff, reflectors and strobes, triggers and backdrops.  This is your comfort zone.  You are happy shooting your portraits surrounded by your expensive complicated gear.  Then one day your studio is broken into and all your extras are stolen.  You did however, have your camera at home with you.  Just your camera.  No tripod and trigger.  No tethering cable.  No flash.  Now the next day you have a portrait session booked.  It’s really important and you cannot cancel.  So you go back to basics.  You scramble in your mind for a location with great light.  You adjust your camera settings and start to play a bit.  You find yourself being less static without the tripod and shooting from new angles.  Stripped down you find a new seat of creativity.  You are so out of your comfort zone but that alone forces you to be creative.  The artist who finds himself with a blank canvas, a brush and three pots of paint will dig deep and get creative. He will mix those paints into every shade possible and create shadows and light out of nothing.

It’s the same with life.  Have you ever noticed those people who are hoarders.  How they are so often the same people who are stuck in their routines.  How they never move forward and expand.  They stay in the same house for most of their lives.  Shop at the same shop and eat the same food.  Hoard their stuff and die never having gone out of their diminutive comfort zone.  Then there are the people who have no fixed location and few belongings, that live from experience to experience and adventure to adventure.  Always seeking and probably always finding.

It is very easy to get stuck in our space.  Both our physical space and the space in our heads.  It feels safe and we as humans like to feel safe.  We like to feel like we can control our environment and we do this by knowing our comfort zone and staying there.  We don’t always choose to move out of our space.  Sometimes we are forced to.  Life comes along and gives a big kick and we are blasted out of our comfort zone into a new space that is unfamiliar and, to be honest, quite frightening.  We take a moment to catch our breath.  Thats okay.  Then we pick ourselves up and take a look around.  This is the point where we start to get creative.  Forced to expand we start to move forward.  Here’s the good part.  Here is where we find our creativity like the guy who looses his job and is forced to go it alone and work for himself.  When we loose something we make space for something new.  We open ourselves up to possibility.   We move out of our comfort zone and somewhere in that space we find ourselves.

When we are stripped down in life and we lose a lot all at once, this is when we have the greatest expansion.  This is when we have our greatest growth and become open to the most possibilities.  The more space we make the more ‘new’ can come in.

It is not easy.  No it is definitely not easy, but it is when we are laid bare, totally out of our comfort zone with nothing but space before us that we truly find ourselves. This is where we find ourselves being deeply creative.  Where we find the greatest expansion of our mind and our spirit.  If you never leave your comfort zone you will not grow.  In fact the opposite will happen.  If you do not let go of something there will be no space for the new.

Take a deep breath today and let go of something.  It does not have to be something physical.  It can just be an idea, a belief, something you have clung on to.  Send it away with an exhale.  Now there is space for something new and it feels so good just to have that space for a while.  Feel yourself expand as you wait for the new to arrive. When it does enjoy the growth.  It will often come in unexpected ways but it will come and you will grow.  The bigger the exhale the bigger the inhale.  The more you let go of the more space you create and the more room for growth.

Let go of something and you will come closer to finding yourself.

 

 

The value of us

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My youngest daughter was recently doing a university assignment about the value of photographers in society. So often photography is viewed as a sort of ‘pretend’ profession. As if what we doing is just play play and we are not serious people doing serious work. Perhaps because for so many it is a hobby and they cannot comprehend that what they do in their spare time is what we do each day. That we don’t share their relentless rat race grind and actually get to spend our days doing stuff that is fun and creative and rewarding.

Lets think for a moment though. To take inspiration from Michael A Singer, we are just tiny specks on a planet that is spinning wildly through space in a vast galaxy that is just a tiny speck in an ever expanding universe so vast we cannot begin to comprehend its size. Why are we taking anything seriously?

Really, just think about that. Think about what is really happening here. People cling to the idea that they are important, that what they do is important and yet if they were to pull back and look at the bigger picture….the really big picture, the huge ever expanding universe picture, they would realize that they are not. We are made up of atoms that were around in the big bang. Some made you and some made me. We will die and those atoms will recycle and the space we left will be filled with another. You are not that important and neither am I.

In my humble opinion we should live our lives with some sort of humility. No one is that important. Loose the ego and enjoy the ride. What ever it is you do it puts food on the table and a roof over your head, but if you look at the big picture, the ever expanding universe picture, you will realize how totally insignificant it really is. I get to share in peoples moments and give them back to them in the form of memories that they can hold in their hands.   I get to have fun on my journey. I get to be creative and see the beauty in everything and that is so awesome but it is not less or more than whatever it is that the man on the other side of the café with the large ego and self important attitude does to fill his days.

Take a moment today to step back and think about this whole big picture. Make a point to let go of your ego and have fun on your journey for that is all it is. You are atoms clinging to a planet that is spinning wildly though space and so am I. It’s like a giant fairground ride so go ahead, relax and enjoy it.

When we forget to see the beauty

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I have in the last three months travelled the 1700km of road between Durban and Cape Town three times. Because of Lesoto sitting in the middle of the country one has to drive half way to Johannesburg before turning down towards the Cape. Starting in Durban this road winds up through the spectacularly beautiful rolling green hills of Natal to the Drakensberg mountains and the winding misty high of Van Reenen’s Pass at 1768 meters. Not long after that one has to exit the main freeway and travel across the Free State to join the freeway that will take you to Cape Town.

Natal with its summer rainfall is lush and green then almost immediately after leaving the freeway one hits the wide open spaces of the Free State. Large expanses of golden grass, fields of sunflowers and big blue cloudless skies. Over the years the Free State has gained a reputation for being ugly. Personally I find those big blue skies and golden spaces refreshingly beautiful.

Eventually this road meets the N1 and so begins the more than 1000km of pretty much straight road through the Karoo. It is almost impossible to imagine that the Karoo covers nearly a third of South Africa given the size of this country. The vastness of this space is overwhelming.  Mile after mile of desert scrub and skies so big they almost seem impossible. When one first sees this the heart cannot help but expand as it takes in the views of this incredible part of our world.

Finally after many many hours one comes over another mountain pass and before you in breathtaking contrast lies a lush green valley of vineyards, so in contrast to the harshness of the Karoo, ones breath is taken away once again.

So you travel this road for the first time and are mesmerised by the size and variety of what lies before you.  Every mile travelled produces yet another gaspingly exquisite scene and so the heart swells and the spirit lifts.  Then you travel the road again.  You know now that it is long and you are not seeing it all with fresh eyes and so the heart closes a little along with the eyes that prefer rest now rather than wide eyed wonder.  Then you travel it a third time and now you are used to the beauty that lies around the next corner and think only of where the next coffee stop is.  You close off to the wonder of it all.  You forget to look.  You forget to see.

We do this everyday in our lives. We live in a place and become so accustomed to the beauty there we forget to see it.  We forget to see the beauty in the people we know. We stop looking at the roses in our gardens and stop inhaling the scent of the coffee before we drink it.

In art we must not do this. We must see the beauty in everything, even the mundane. We must always look with fresh eyed wonder as if we are seeing it for the first time. Shooting stock for Getty forces me to do this. How can I make the ordinary beautiful and interesting. How can I use the light to enhance the most simple everyday scene.

Perhaps though we should not do this just for the sake of art. Perhaps we should do it for ourselves.  When you travel about your world today look about and see it all with fresh eyes. Look at the way the light falls as the hours pass and how it changes what you see.

Do yourself a favour and look again so that you see the beauty in your own world. Don’t close your heart and eyes to this. Open them as if your were seeing it all for the first time and then be grateful for that.

 

 

 

 

 

Stop judging…just stop!

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I got inspiration for this post from a photography friend the other side of the world and my daughter.  On that note isn’t it amazing how technology has allowed us to connect with like minded people around the globe…but more on that another day.  So Matty and Ellen thanks for this idea  It is obviously something that is vibrating around the ether at the moment because you both posted about it at the same time from different parts of the world.

Judging others…why do we do it?  What on earth makes us think that we have the right to judge another person.  We are all guilty of it.  I have done it for sure and I have tried to make myself consciously aware of when I am doing it and stop myself.  I am prone to doing it particularly with other photographer’s work…and seriously who am I to judge another photographer?  Do I really think that I am that good that I have the right to mentally tear apart their work?  If you do something subconsciously it is one thing.  The minute you become aware that you are doing it then it is a choice. Then you get to decide if you want to do it or not.

So lets take a scenario. I see another portrait photographer’s work and I think to myself ‘his work is always the same…corny and over processed..or always the same poses and location…boring’.  Straight out judgement.  What do I know about this person?  Nothing probably.  I don’t know that perhaps he is a single dad and working crazy hours around trying to be there for his kid and earn a living.  Perhaps he has suffered astonishing heartbreak in the loss of a wife he loved deeply and for him just getting out of bed each day is the hardest thing to do.  Perhaps this is not the work that feeds his soul but it feeds his children and so he does it over and over because for him it is a formula that puts money in his bank account and food on his table.  Perhaps when he does get a moment to shoot the way he wants I would find that those photographs are the ones that would make me lean in and linger.  The point is I do not know his story and even if I did know part of his story I am sure there would be spaces left to fill.  So I will not judge him or his work.

Why someone writes the way they do, or paints the way they do is not my business and yes I can decide whether or not I like it but I have no right to judge them or their work.  We will never know someones full story and what drives them to make the choices they make or do the things they do.  If it is working for them then let it be.  They too do not know your story.  They do not know how your journey has been to get to this point.  They do not know the roads you have travelled and how you have stumbled along the way.  They do know of what feeds your soul and makes your eyes dance.  You too would not want to be judged so do not do it to others.

Let them dance their individual dance in their own way.  Let them be and hope that the world lets you be in return. Make a conscious decision this year to stop judging…if we all stop doing it that way we will all be free to be ourselves without fear.  Wouldn’t that one simple thing make the world a better place?

 

Making space in art and life

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Space is one of my favourite words.  I love all that it implies and how it relates to our lives and our art.  Do you carve out space for yourself during your day?  A few moments of silence.  It might be with your early morning cup of coffee when you take time to smell the scent of the morning breeze and all that the day has to offer.  Or perhaps when you go to the gym or for a run or maybe even just when you drive to work.  Or in the last few moments before you go to sleep when you utter the last few sighs of your day.  It does not matter how you find your space – just that you do.

In yoga we talk of making space in our bodies.  Before I go into a pose I think about where in my body I need to make space.  If I am doing a backbend I need to make space in my spine and perhaps my shoulders.  If I am doing a forward bend I might need to make space in my hips and between my ribs, and I always, always need to make space in my mind.  I carve out space for myself everyday on my mat or when I go for a run.  With each inhale and exhale I release the old, the cramped and the clutter from my mind and body and make space for the new.  Old thoughts, old patterns and old habits are let go and then there is all that beautiful space for creativity to unfold.  Space allows room for dreaming.  It is when the stirrings of new ideas begin and images already dreamt can evolve towards reality.

I like space in art.  It allows the viewer to linger and imagine.  It allows the viewer to dream.  What they dream of does not matter.  It only matters that they do.  Allow space in your photographs for a sigh from the viewer.  Space for their gaze to wander and wonder.  Make space in your stories so that the reader has room to imagine.  Space for those inhales and exhales to happen.  Even if you are shooting stock, as I do, allow space for words in your photographs.

Space, is to me, one of the most underrated of modern day concepts.  Parents and schools fill their children’s lives and give them no space to breathe.  Children need space to dream.  They need to lie under a tree and look up at all that beautiful space in the sky and imagine.  They need to be allowed to make space in their bodies with movement.   They too need spaces in their stories.

Space is not necessarily meant to be filled.  It can be just space.  Let it be that.

 

 

 

Who do you want to be?

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I ask you this. Who do you want to be? What sort of person do you aspire to be? What delightful traits do you see in others that you wish for yourself? Do you admire a person’s tenacity or their dedication to worthy causes? Or the extraordinary effort they put in to maintaining good health or perhaps just their desire to learn and grow. So what is stopping you from being all these things? You can be anything you want to be.

When it comes to being an artist I want you to question what sort of artist do you want to be. Now by this I do not mean do you want to be a landscape photographer or a sculptor. I mean how do you want to move people with your art. Do you want to merely take photographs that will be placed on a mantelpiece? Simply reminders of a moment captured with a camera and lens. Or paint a painting that is bought simply to occupy a space somewhere in a home because it matches the colour coded décor.

Would you not rather produce a piece of work that stops people in their tracks? That makes them loose their breath and linger a while. That makes them wonder what your thoughts were when your brush touched the canvas, or what sorrows your soul has suffered to be able to put words together so sweetly that they tumble off the pages and find spaces to settle in their hearts. Do you want to take portrait photographs that make the viewer pause and wonder about the life of the person they see there. Portraits that make the viewer question what it is that draws them in and what beauty they see there in those eyes.

Do you want to travel and take photographs of children in far off places who’s lives are so tragically sad they make the viewer weep at the very thought of it all? Or carve a sculpture that the makes a stranger want to reach out run their hands over it, finding every tiny crevice and think with tenderness of the passion with which you carved it.

Or perhaps you want to photograph landscapes that make people linger and dream of standing there beside you, or capture the movement of an athlete that inspires awe and envy.

Whatever it is….do not be ordinary. Seek to be the artist you want to be. Search out others to inspire you, look at their work and discover what it is that makes you lean in and then find a way to put that quality into your own art. Find a way to make your viewer lean in and linger. It is surely worth it.

Let the rain in – be easy

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Right now, here on the east coast of Africa, it is the rainy season. The skies are dark and gloomy and on occasion even threatening. The rain comes sometimes in deluges so vast and cumbersome it is a wonder that anything survives. Every year it seems that we are all taken by surprise by this strange season that descends upon our normally sunny natured landscape.

For photographers this seasonal rain can wreck havoc on our work timetable. I personally have been waiting for several weekends for just one day with suitably tender weather to shoot one family. I find myself with a over zealous attachment to Accuweather on my iPhone, pouring of the details I find there perhaps in the ridiculous hope that I will be able alter the patterns of little picture raindrops that fill the screen.

This darkness in the skies often coincides, or perhaps triggers, a darkness in my creativity. With the rain comes a creative lull and just like I feel that the skies will never clear and the sun will never show it’s pretty face to me again so do I feel that I will never again reconnect to my creative core.

There is a frustration in all of this but there is also an answer. The answer is to be easy. The answer is to sit in this space. Let the rain in. Let it pour and sit with that a while. The sun cannot always shine, for if it did the ground would dry up and the plants would die and so would we. The earth needs a break from all that beautiful light. It needs the darkness and the drops that fall from those heavy spaces in the sky. So when it comes it sits easy with it. It sits easy and waits knowing that the sun will come out again in it’s own good time.  So I am learning to do the same. The rain delivers with it a chance for me to be easy. To rest and refuel my creative source. We, like the earth, cannot sit in sunshine all the time. We need the rain like we need the night. We need to rest our creative energy so that when it wakes it is stronger and more vigorous than before.

So next year I will welcome the rainy season. I will know that it is my chance to sit easy, and that just like the reality that the sun will come out eventually so too will I have the opportunity to reconnect to my art. In the meantime I am going to sit easy.

 

Teach and learn…be good enough.

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There is a strange breed of person out there who likes to closet away their knowledge.   They squirrel away tiny pieces of information, holding it tight in their fists as if letting one fraction of it out will render them useless.  Perhaps it will.  Perhaps this is all they have, but guess what, we are all in this together, all trying to eek out a meagre living hammering away at our art, whatever it may be.  If you are skilled enough and have an intimate relationship with your creativity, your work will stand out.

So perhaps, like me, you live in a smallish city.  There are only so many safe locations available for shooting and then one day you discover a new one.  Perhaps it is only temporary.  I will give you an example.  There is an enormous amount of building going on around me.  Office blocks are rising from the dust on a daily basis and new roads seemingly appear overnight.  There is a block near a park which has been marked off with green siding boards, all weathered and antiqued in a beautifully un-obvious manner,  Here the roads are empty.  New roads devoid of the clutter of city life.  One day I discovered this when location scouting and I literally slammed on my breaks and jumped out of my car in a state of ridiculous excitement.  Perfect backdrops for portraits.  Rows and rows of green and blue exquisitely weathered boards available whenever I wanted.

I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  I wanted to share this with every other photographer I know.  Why would I not?  If they use the same location it is hardly going to distract from my work.  It is not going to make my technical ability dwindle or my creative soul float off into the ether.  Who cares if they shoot there too.  Who cares if everyone shoots there for the next month.  How is that going to make my work less?

Lets get down to the technical stuff.  I am only too happy to share any technical knowledge I have.  There is a joy in mentoring fledgling photographers. Watching as they develop and learn.  Seeing the excitement when they master a new skill or find a way to create what it is that has been making home in their mind for so long.  The only reason you would not do this is because you are insecure about your own creative ability and if this is the case then sorry for you. Then you probably suck at your art and seriously need to take up a new creative outlet.

There is immense joy in sharing and teaching but here is what is the most important thing in all of this.  When you teach you learn.  You learn about yourself.  You find new ways to express yourself.  You sometimes even acquire new technical skills.  No one knows it all and we all, however skilled we are at our craft, have something to learn.  Every sweet encounter with teaching is a lesson for you.

Go ahead and share your locations.  Share your skills and mentor and encourage someone who wants to learn.  You will, in all this, not only improve your own art but you will find great joy and freedom.  Be secure in your own skills and find your own growth in the process.

If you seriously want to become a master at your craft you need to teach.  It is an essential part of growing your own knowledge and skills.  Through teaching you will learn.  You will learn of yourself.  What moves you and what doesn’t.  You will find new inspiration and stir the flames of your own creativity and best of all teaching encourages you to unlearn what you think you already know.

You are going to fall…do it anyway!

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Yesterday  I was working on a yoga pose called Scorpion ( Vrischikasana).  This is a very challenging inverted pose.  It involves balancing on your forearms, head raised and a strong backbend so that your feet touch your head.   This pose requires strength (particularly in the upper arms and shoulders) a supple back, a strong core and a great sense of balance. When executed properly this pose is like a work of art.  It has a beautiful flow.  It has curves and balance and is exquisitely beautiful to look at.

Before I attempt an advanced pose such as this I spend a few moments finding my breath and my centre.  It requires all my concentration to find my balance once I am inverted and before I move into the backbend.  I know that it is going to take me many many attempts to master this pose and that before I do I am going to fall, and fall again, and again.

There are so many beautiful parallels between yoga and life and the lessons I learn on my mat I transfer to my life.  I am going to fall in life too. Again and again, but thats OK so long as I keep trying.

I was alone in the studio at the gym on a quiet sunday afternoon.  I don’t suppose anyone even knew I was in there.  There was no one to catch me when I fell…but I faced my fear and did it anyway.  It took a huge dose of courage and intense concentration to even get myself inverted as I am not used to balancing on my arms in that way. It took an even bigger dollop of courage to bend and lift my head.  There is an immediate tendency to fall down as you lift your head as your centre of balance has shifted.  The only way to stay in balance is to bend in the opposite way to that which our bodies are used to.  I concentrate on my breath.  If you don’t breath you won’t have the strength to stay inverted.

Some people use props when trying a new and challenging pose like this.  Support from a wall or perhaps a block or a strap to keep the arms in the correct position.  Personally I don’t like the use of props in my yoga or in my work.  I like to just go ahead and fall, over and over, tumbling about in all my beautiful ridiculousness until I find my way.

So how does this pertain to life and our work as an artist.  Well it’s pretty simple really.  You are going to fall.  Probably a lot of times and if someone is always there to catch you then you will never really master things.  It’s OK for a bit but eventually you just have to go ahead and do it on your own.  You are going to make mistakes that’s for sure.  You are going to mess up and and look silly for a while but guess what….no one is watching.  They are all too busy messing up and falling over themselves.

You need to keep doing it until that sweet moment arrives when you find your balance and your work of art is finished. If you don’t keep trying you will simply never master it.  Go ahead and fall.  It doesn’t matter how many times.  Take a thousand photographs before you find one that has all that perfectly balanced light.  Write a thousand pages until the one before you has all the right curves and sweet spots.

You are all alone in your studio and no one is watching.  Go ahead and fall but but please just do it.  Face the fear and fall because one day you will master that art and the world will gasp at it’s beauty.

 

 

 



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