Week in Review: October 7, 2022

I want to slow down a bit this week. I could share some links and talk about my perspectives on them, but I’d rather just focus on photos. If you remember, my last update had a section about my struggles with the changing seasons. I know this is a common theme for people, so hopefully you can relate.

My concerns aren’t just with the time passing, there’s also this pressure to take advantage of this fleeting, beautiful time of year and make some good photographs. I’ve really nested photography as a product of the travels I’d otherwise be taking. In other words, I’m not really in a position to go places exclusively for the purpose of ‘the shot’ so my work becomes reactionary and reflective of my experiences. I actually prefer this.

Long story short, I got out twice and rattled off some pictures I’m decently happy with. And the thing is, it wasn’t that hard. I had put so much mental stress on making sure I felt like I had done the season justice, but ended up being very content with only a few pictures.

Here’s where I’ve been reflecting. I embraced the artist mindset. In anticipation of the fall adventures, I was thinking about how to get some good photos. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. But when I got out of the car, started hiking, it all melted away. This artist mindset took hold without any conscious effort. I let go. I’ve said this before, but for me the enjoyment is in taking the images. Yes, it’s fun to look at them after, and have the memories, prints, etc. But that brief second of absolute focus, flow state, blindness, simple willpower before the shutter–that’s what it’s all about.

Coincidentally, I’m reading (listening) to The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, which describes the integration of creativity within our Selves, and the process of engaging with it purposefully. So it’s not a surprise that this relationship between my daily life and photography is so close. If I can learn let go with photography and trust the process and my gut, I can learn to let go in daily life. This is exactly Cameron’s point. There is no separation. You are the creative, you are the individual who creates. It’s a specific, tangible avenue to see how you work, think, grow, critique, and express. But you first have to give it credit. Understand that if you function this way, if you are driven to create, it is who you are. I’ll revisit this with you as I keep moving along this process of validating my inner creative.

Let’s talk about the photography more. Last week, I texted one of my close friends, who also happens to be one of my favorite photographers.

I explained how I feel stuck– I can envision the shots I want and I can execute. My technical ability has advanced and my creative eye has found what it likes. So now I’m faced with questions about what what’s next and what can push me to improve. An example of this is with macro shots, which I’ve really enjoyed exploring, but tend to feel like crutch now.

As it turns out, this fall provided the answers. When I saw the foliage, I saw the compositions unfold before me. There was a lot to see in the way the yellow melded with green, the angles of the mountains above, and the dark skies hung overhead. I can’t exactly describe this through words, but maybe you can see it in the images. And there were macro scenes, really interesting ones at that, but I didn’t feel like I needed them in order to see the entire situation before me. I’m going to keep thinking on this, and if you find yourself in a similar position with photo growth, please feel free to share.

Lastly, a quote I am appreciating more each time I read it:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Marcus Aurelius in Mediations, book 5.20

From the side of Mt. Elbert, early July 2022. I think that’s Mt. Massive, but don’t quote me.

Week in Review: September 23, 2022

Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science

You may know Alan Alda from M*A*S*H. Now, he is revolutionizing science communication at Stony Brook in NY. Critically, training from Alan and the Center focus on building trust by getting scientists out of their traditional or habitual roles through acting. 

By incorporating improvisation exercises, participants are able to embrace discomfort, new situations, and group collaboration, all of which are vital parts of science communication. This aligns with recent shifts away from the “lecture” mode of traditional science communication– the scientist is the expert and knows best– and towards a two-way communication mode, where audiences are involved in a collaborative learning process. 

In addition to being a better way to learn, it completely reframes the unsavory elitist association that some people tend to have when thinking about experts, and provides a lot of humility for all parties. Instead of getting lost in atoms of research, they might be acting out cooking breakfast.

-12C Winter Camping in Idaho

Drew Simms is a freelance photographer living out of his Jeep. He has many videos showing the story of him camping out for a few days, with beautiful drone shots and careful attention to visual storytelling. In fact, he has so many camera adjustments that he must be walking or driving back-and-forth dozens of times just to film himself. I appreciate the slow pace, lack of distracting background music, and simplicity–it doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is.

“Don’t Objectify Yourself” by Arthur C. Brooks

Arthur C. Brooks is the author of the “How to Build a Life” series in The Atlantic. I was taking a look around when I found this article about viewing ourselves as observers of our own lives. 

I’ve heard Brooks on the Sam Harris Waking Up podcast talking about building a good life. This idea of Self, ego, and observation can be pretty complex, as a lot of our worldly perceptions are heavily nested within our subconscious. That’s what meditation can help with– to provide a space to separate, slow down, or observe with more clarity. 

Brooks suggests we spend too much time worrying about how we are seen by others, rather than viewing the world around us as quiet observers. Another way to put it: often we get caught in “main character” mode where everyone else is a character in our daily stories. Instead, we can try to view ourselves as characters in a larger, limitless universe. This is good, and of course both are necessary at times, so learning balance is ideal here.

Brooks offers three steps to help limit this “objectified” part of you from running your life. I have reservations about the framing of all of these. 

First, he says to avoid your own reflection to avoid objectifying yourself. I’d call this a defensive reaction built on avoidance of the one thing you cannot avoid–your Self. In my opinion, it’s far better to embrace this duality of “main character” vs “observer” and whatever potential problems you have objectifying yourself than to pretend like it doesn’t exist. I’d also say that healthy curiosity about your own self-perception (ego) is something to strive towards and helps us grow.

Second, he says Judge Not. Instead, I’d suggest the stoic approach of experiencing a reaction, however negative, and learning to simply notice it pop up and accept it before moving on. If you can get to the point of adding “…but that’s okay” to the end of a judgment, this helps to embrace the nice and nasty of the world instead of pretending like it doesn’t exist. The weather ruined my plans for a picnic (and that sucks!), but that’s okay.

Lastly, he suggests to Stand in Awe. He says to seek a sense of self-diminishment when experiencing wonderful things, like a waterfall. I agree overall, but would steer this toward practicing gratitude instead of ignoring the fact that you are there, experiencing this wonderful thing. Appreciate the fact that you, as simply an observer to the world, can see such things that bring you joy. Otherwise we can get pretty contradictory– if a thing is beautiful we are placing some perception onto it, so clearly the Self has some stake in the process. Instead, relish in that joy and the opportunity you have to be there with it.

Overall, I think Brooks offers a fairly good take on a very complex and personal idea. Getting out of your own way is never easy. But through practice and observation, a greater sense of awareness can be very beneficial.

Changing Seasons, Changing Mind

Fall is here, along with the sense of loss I inevitably get when the summer ends. In Colorado, the harsh, dry heat of the summer succumbs to 30-degree temperature swings in early Fall. This sense of loss is uncomfortable. Time marches on. There’s a sense of regret for the things I could not, or perhaps would not (I cruelly tell myself) make time for in those summer days. Not only is the world undergoing this change, evolution, death, enclosure– I change with it. Only one real course remains: to be grateful for having something to lose, for the chances I did take, for whatever comes next, and to know that it is all too fleeting to get very upset about.

Week in Review: September 16, 2022

  • Dr. Gabor Maté on the Tim Ferris show
    • A very open and personal conversation that is well worth listening to, along with exploring his other work. Discusses:
      • Past trauma showing up today
      • Listening to the inner child for healing
      • Rage and anger
      • The Myth of Normal and our personal and social views on acceptable expression and experiences of emotion 
  • Yvon Chouinard gives Patagonia to the planet
    • You’ve probably seen this or heard about it by now
    • Additional coverage: NYT and Fortune
    • There are several significant takeaways here:
      • Chouinard is using his power and influence as a billionaire for purposeful action and directing the company forward to follow through on the brand’s climate initiatives
      • This is the type of action that is required to see capitalism and climate change coordinate, yet is unlikely to be imitated by the largest corporations who are most impactful. This type of action requires empathy, intentionality, and sacrifice. Can we expect that from most billionaires?
      • Capitalism is inherently a direct threat to the planet’s health as it operates on exploitation and consumption, so theoretically the two cannot coexist. What does action like this suggest about the future of that relationship?
    • If you are finding yourself doubting the authenticity of this move, I don’t blame you. If it were not for Chouinard’s personal history and initiatives, we’d see a move like this and dig for the true underlying motivator underneath. I’d like to view this as a win.
  • The Science Communication Lab
    • A living example of why investing in animators and graphic designers can make a world of difference for user experience and brand identity
      • Done by the studio alrightnice, who also has other cool work
    • Abstract shapes transform to guide you through the pages and show different forms that science communication can take
  • Great Basin National Park
    • On my list for an upcoming visit
    • Giant wilderness in the middle of nowhere Nevada
    • Caves, ancient bristlecone pines, International dark sky park, hiking
Great Basin NP, NPS Photo
Lehman Caves, NPS Photo
  • Nick Mulvey, Imogen
    • Nick’s poetic lyrics match perfectly with this live version of the song
  • Share your ideas: What is a mountain?
    • What is a mountain to you?
    • What is your connection to the mountain when you hike, walk, or view it?
    • How do you think people view mountains differently? Across time, culture?
    • Comment below or message me your thoughts