“Why should I go to college to study photography?” “I already know all that there is to know,” my all-knowing seventeen year-old self said to my dad at the dinner table.
Rolls of film have flowed through my hands since that family dinner. Now I have stacks of hard drives filled with binary dreams. I have created and sold a career’s worth of images and yet, I am still a student at the college of photography.
My youthful idealism and passion have evolved into action and discipline. While managing a photography business eats time and creates uncreative tension I am lucky that almost every week I pick up a camera, look through the viewfinder and ask, what can I do with this today?
Some ideas just happen. They just pop into my head like a sudden unexpected gift. Other ideas can take years to work out. They need to be slowly distilled from the chaos of notions into distinct plans and constructs.
My best work begins with a simple question, “What would happen if?” The idea can be a literary one like, “What would happen if I take cool looking young man to an urban playground?” or it can be a very visual idea like, “red blouse, blue ocean, summer light”. It can even be just a photographic idea like, “shoot in low light”.
What would happen if we could approach each job with a sense of fearless play? Too often in our present high desert plateau economy where there is so much emphases on the finish line we forget or we are unable to schedule in the most important element of art creation, fearless play. In the past era of unlimited growth and ever-larger budgets clients did not worry much. Now clients come onto the set filled with anxiety, worried that if things aren’t perfect, that the next pink slip could be theirs. We are often too focused on not screwing up instead of focusing on what could happen– if?
So how do we creative’s create in an era of infinite anxiety? I believe we have to create an atmosphere on set that allows for fearless play. We have to turn our sets into playgrounds and classrooms where we students are allowed to ask, “What would happen if?”
Turning our sets into anxiety-reduced zones is not that hard. For example one of the things that I do, while the crew is setting up and the talent is in make-up, is that I take a few minutes to touch base with each and every person. I remind them of what we are doing, why we are doing it and what their role is. I let them know that this set is a safe set and a place where they can contribute and speak their minds. When I see somebody who is struggling in their task instead of getting angry or inpatient, I will quietly go up and ask if, “how can I help you”. This has the effect of helping somebody focus on the problem and usually figuring it out on their own.
I also make sure that my clients know that I want and accept their input. For me, there is nothing worst that a silent partner. In my mind, my role is much more like a conductor then a soloist. I also have to confirm if the layouts are jumping off points or if they need a photograph that looks exactly like the image that the client agreed to. Assumptions can be a virus that sickens the patient. We don’t assume, we confirm and confirm again.
It always amazes me that so many of us in the advertising industry, an industry dedicated to communicating, are bad communicators. So often creative tensions on set are really about having all the various players on that singing a different tunes because nobody really explained what this piece of music should sound like.
Playgrounds are much more fun when they are safe secure places where the rules are known. Once you know the boundaries, you can run wild and be free.