How To Strike Up A Lively Conversation With Your Images

Decades ago, my friend Jeff Schewe asked me, “We both know how to do a lot of things to our images but how do you decide what to do to your images?” My response surprised him, “Talk with them.” Let me expand on that for you, as I did for him so many years ago.

We often deepen our relationship with other people by having a conversation with them. We can do the same with images. Even though they don’t speak, we can speak for them. There are many ways to do this.

Write

Before I go into more detail, let me offer you a crucial piece of advice. Make sure you write this stuff down as you go. You won’t be able to remember everything you come up with and the act of writing will allow you to come back to it and pick up where you left off, help you find more insights, forge deeper connections, and increase the chances that you’ll act on it.  All of these benefits happen more strongly when you write by hand but that’s slower and not as easily retrieved, so more often than not, I use the notes app on my phone, which can be accessed from any of my devices. I recommend you try many ways of taking notes to determine which ways work better for you.

Conversations start with questions. Ask a lot of questions. Then answer them as if you were the image. Write that down.

Ask Questions

Conversations start with questions. Ask a lot of questions. Ask way more questions than you ever thought to ask. I usually set my goal at 100. Why? The goal of this exercise is to get beyond the obvious and the conventional. Sure, ask those questions too but go well beyond them. Ask the kinds of “crazy” questions kids ask. (What does this image eat?) Pretend you’re someone or something else and ask the questions he/she/they/it might ask. (If you’re the frame … Who put these things in me? And why did they put me here?) Imagine you are the work of art and ask the questions it would ask if it could. (What do I have to do to stay out of that closet?) The skill of asking more questions gets easier if you simply rephrase the same question in different ways to get different perspectives. Change the w word – who, what, when, why, where, how. (What is this about? How does it go about it? Who goes there?) Reverse questions; ask the opposite question. (Why is it lower? Why isn’t it lower? Why isn’t it higher?) Or, add not to any question. (Is it dark? Is it not dark?) Once you have your list of questions scan it for patterns. What kinds of questions did you ask? What did you ask questions about most frequently? What questions stand out as most interesting? Asking questions may be all you need to do to find useful insights. Answers are optional. I recommend hypothesizing what they are and to look for opportunities to answer a single question in more than one way. Remember, write it down. You can revisit your list later and you’ll most likely have a different perspective with different outcomes. You can also repurpose many of the questions in your list to use with other images. This is a skill that gets easier over time. Make asking a lot of questions a habit.

Imagine that you’re the image.

If I were you, what would I do? 

If I were you, what would I feel?

If I were you, what would I want?

If I were you, what would I think?

(You can expand these questions by adding “about ___” at the end and filling in the blank.)

Walk a mile in your mind with your images. Just treating your images as if they are sentient creatures will instantly make you feel more connected to them, which will show in your final results, and people who see your images will be drawn closer to them because of that quality.

I recommend you do this more than once at different times. Your moods, influences, and perspectives are constantly shifting, sometimes only a little, sometimes a lot. In fact, practicing these internal conversations is one way of proactively influencing your internal flow. (And yes, we all have a mind-body connection.)

Associate

Let’s talk about you. When you look at an image … 

What emotions do you feel? What’s the mix?

How does your body feel when you look at it? Where?

What memories does it bring up? What’s the connection?

What other images do you think are related to it? Why?

What other things does it remind you of? 

What single words and phrases would you use to describe it? 

Make a list of nouns. What is it of?

Make a list of verbs. What is it doing?

Make a list of adjectives. What qualities do the things and actions possess?

In these kinds of … call them exercises or studies or research sessions … it’s supremely important not to judge or censor yourself. This will stunt the growth of this process, your growth. Write it all down. Nothing is too ridiculous. In fact, if you don’t let a good dose of that irrational stuff out you won’t find as much magic. For the moment, stop making sense. Make sensitivity. Let your inner child out to play with wild abandon. You can clean up your room later.

Ask why five times.

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State The Nature Of The Influence On You Simply – One Word, Phrase, Sentence

Complexity
Intuited Order
Eliot Porter saw a more complex geometry in nature.

All types of artists look closely at their influences; particularly as they’re finding their own voice, or at key stages in their creative development, for many, it’s a lifelong process. The comparisons and contrasts are illuminating and inspiring. You can get more out of this process if you simply state the nature of an influence in one sentence, one phrase, and one word.

Doing this will help you to both better understand and more effectively communicate the nature of your influences. Usually, this doesn’t happen instantly. First, it takes identifying who or what the influence is. You probably have so many influences that you’ll want to choose the ones that are most important to you to develop. Which are those? If all you do is identify this, your time will be well spent. Go a little further and you’ll get more benefits. Take a little time to uncover your thoughts about an influence; associate freely. Finally, take a little time to edit what you’ve gathered; cutting the words that aren’t quite right, keeping the ones that are, and searching for even better ones. Very often, the connections between ideas and feelings and their progressions won’t be clear until you start organizing them, but once you see them you’ll find new windows into your own work.

With this kind of writing, single words, word pairs, phrases, unfinished sentences, lists, outlines, and mind maps are more effective. Make it personal. Don’t worry about being judged and don’t judge yourself. Forget perfect. Don’t let spelling or grammar or penmanship be an issue; start, flow, and keep moving freely.  This is your inner laboratory – and the only way to grant access to yourself is to use words. The goal of this kind of writing is discovery and clarity, not publication. Later, some of the material you gather during this process may ultimately lead to words you can use in conversations, interviews, and statements. Once you make your discoveries, you get to decide what’s better left unsaid … but you can only do that after you’ve found out what you have to say.

When you’re exploring your influences ask yourself a lot of questions. Questions guide exploration. Try these questions …

What is the essence of the influence?
Is it physical?
Is it emotional?
Is it intellectual?
Is it the whole thing or few particular things?
If it’s many things at once, what is the relative weight of each of those things?
Does one influence share elements or qualities with other influences?

… but don’t stop here. Keep going.

At first, it might seem strange to generate a lot of information only to boil it down to a little, but if you try this you’ll find that the insights you’re left with will be more concentrated, help give you more focus, and be easier to act on. Simplicity has many advantages, not the least of which is simple things are easier to remember and easier to share. Never confuse simple-mindedness with simplicity. Simplicity often represents the height of sophistication, arrived at only after practice. If you can present a complex subject in a simple way without sacrificing essential content, you truly understand it.

Consciously consider your influences. You’re choosing what’s most important to you and how best to express that. (Sounds a little like making art.) When you do, you’ll understand and appreciate them better – and your own works too.

Read Why Tracking Your Influences Is So Important here.
Read Ranking Your Influences here.
Find out more about my influences here.

 








Enjoy The Ekphrastic Review’s Writing Challenge With My Antarctic Images

Deadline – April 15
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Ekphrastic writing is written in response to works of art. The Ekphrastic Review is offering its current writing challenge based on my images. The responses are certain to be surprising and diverse. TER will publish the winning responses online this month.
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I chose these twin images because they’re pivotal in dual series of images, one nonfiction and the other fiction – Antarctica Waking & Antarctica Dreaming. It was breathtaking when we saw it. That ice can look like Greco-Roman architecture still astonishes me. Clearly, I see this image / these images in more than one way … and I’m looking forward to reading about how you see them.
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Write about one or write about both, as you like.
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Plus …
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Join Me For A New Poetry Reading – Ecopoetry / Voices For The Future

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Sunday, April 10, 2022 – 4-5:30 pm EST

I will be cohosting (with Meg Weston) this event and reading my poetry with fellow Maine poets Kathleen Ellis, Gary Lawless, Iris LeCates, and Meghan Sterling in an intergenerational celebration of our place in nature.

Find out more about these poets here.

Each poet will recommend a book, share a favorite poem by another poet, and read their poetry.

A lively Q&A with the audience is sure to follow so bring your burning questions.

Ecopoetry (a relatively new term) offers contemporary views of our complex interrelationships within nature, often exploring ways places influence culture. Sometimes celebratory and sometimes critical, ecopoetry looks closely at personal sensitivity and social change.

Register free now.

The poets of this gathering recommend the following books for finding further inspiration.
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Gary Lawless recommends Henry David Thoreau’s Walking
Kathleen Ellis recommends Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
John Paul Caponigro recommends David Hinton’s The Wilds Of Poetry; Adventures In Mind On Landscape
Meghan Sterling John Sibley Williams’ Scale Model of a Country at Dawn
Iris Lecates Bell Hooks’ recommends Appalachian Elegy
Meg Weston recommends Charlotte McConaughy’s Migrations
 
Please consider supporting your local bookstore by contacting Gary Lawless at his Gulf Of Maine Books in Brunswick. gulfofmainebooks@gmail.com or 207-729-5083
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Three Ways To Tell A Story More Creatively – It, I, You

Using words can help you find new perspectives that can be translated into images. How? Tell a story, from at least three different points of view – it, I, and you.

First, tell the story in the third person (it) as a distant observer – “Just the facts ma’am.” 

What images are needed to tell your viewers a complete story about your subject?

This perspective tends to be more objective, emphasizing facts and linear timelines so you do more research. It values clarity, balance (all sides of a story), and completeness (the whole story). It tends to avoid metaphor and stylistic distortion. It’s rarely the easiest way to build empathy for you subject. Be careful not to keep too much distance from your subject and find ways to make your viewers care.

Next, tell the story in the first person (I) as an involved participant – “How do I feel?” 

What images are needed to tell your viewers the story or you experience with your subject?

This perspective makes it personal and so draws your viewers closer to you by helping them to live vicariously. This viewpoint can become highly subjective and opens up a lot of room for interpretation. It can become like a journal. In translating this to images you might include the traces of things you do and leave behind or even yourself. (Go ahead and stand by or with your subject but be careful not to leave your subject behind.)

Finally, tell the story in the second person (you) as if you were the subject – “How does it feel to be you?” 

What images are needed to tell your subject’s story from the inside out?

This perspective encourages empathy, initially in you and later in your viewers. You can move deeper into this perspective by asking, “If I were you I would sense, think, and feel …” It might seem strange at first to do this with inanimate subjects – like rocks or buildings or roads. Remembering what it was like to be a kid playing these kinds of games will help you a great deal here. (We all know how creative kids can be, so have fun and play a little.) This perspective may encourage you to photograph from different perspectives; get closer or further, lower or higher, or turn around and photograph what your subject might see. Often, this voice will help you discover the most unusual perspectives.

 

Read more in my Storytelling resources.

Learn more in my Creativity & Photography workshops.

4 Reasons To Take More Notes & 3 Ways To Make The Most Of Them

There are so many reasons to write! You don’t have to write professionally to experience the many benefits writing can offer you. Remember, while few people write professionally, everyone writes, most often to help them do their work. While you may not consider yourself a writer, you already write. So write more! Even if it’s just a little you’ll find it will help a lot.

Here are four reasons to write.

1          Retention

Writing will help you remember things. Most people can only hold seven things in their minds at once. Many times, if you’re full up, new ideas won’t come, until you make space for them. Other times, when new information comes in, old information is lost. Either way, the solution is to write it down – and there are additional benefits to making notes. You’re 73% more likely to remember and act on something if you write it down. (If you type your notes, this number drops to 39%, which is still much better.) Part of this stickiness comes from finding the words that work best for you, so use the language that you’re most comfortable with and that means the most to you. You probably have a to-do list professionally, so why wouldn’t you use one to help you excel in your creative life too? And there are times when everyone needs a checklist. (Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto shows how doctors used checklists to reduce hospital deaths and complications by more than 33%.)

2          Clarity

Writing helps you see more and see more clearly. Like any creative discipline, writing encourages closer observation. You note more things – more information. Plus you’ll find patterns in the things you note – information about information. You’ll understand your experiences better and you’ll find more ideas. Unlike photography, which encourages observation of things you can see, writing can also help you observe things you can’t see like your thoughts and emotions, interactions within relationships, and processes unfolding in time. When you find the right words to describe something you understand it better.

3          Productivity

Once you see what you’ve written new ideas will come to you. You can accelerate this process by playing word games. Alex Osborne’s acronym SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put To Other Uses, Expand, Reverse) is a mnemonic device for a series of mental operations you can use, each of which is capable of leading to countless new ideas.

4          Organization

Organizing your writing helps you organize your thinking. Often the process of taking notes isn’t linear, you simply let it all out. When you revisit and reorganize your notes you make even more sense out of your observations. Lists help you identify steps in a process, set priorities, and identify more important items. Remember, you can also use size, color, or graphic symbols like underlines and stars to make some words stand out more than others.

It’s important to file your notes in an easily retrievable organized system that you trust, otherwise your mind will continue trying to remember everything, which no one can do, not even the gifted who have a photographic memory.

Audio

What about taking notes with audio? Many apps (like Notes) will turn what you say into text. This can be a fast way to take notes, especially when you’re multitasking.

Audio files that aren’t turned into text take more time to review as they’re played back, as much or more time than it took to make them, so they’re not the most efficient way to retrieve. However, if you are having a conversation with someone and you don’t want to interrupt the flow audio is very useful. Nothing records intonation and inflection as audio does. And there are occasions where you want to note the particular sound of something, which words can’t duplicate.

Take Notes With Images

Some things are better noted visually rather than verbally. If you can see what you want to make a record of then a photograph can very efficiently make a note, often one full of detail that would take more time than necessary to record. If you need to make a visual note and you can’t photograph it, make a doodle instead. Diagrams can be particularly useful for recording processes (vectors, paths, timelines, etc) and relationships (maps, graphs, Venn diagrams, etc).

Go Multi-Media

You can combine text and audio and images. Together they’re even richer and more powerful than they are alone.

Avoid Perfection

Perfect takes time, so for this purpose, it isn’t. Not only is it too much pressure, in the wrong way at the wrong time, it’s a distraction. So satisfice. And above all, enjoy the process. Think of your notes as a place to record and explore your observations – not the way you’ll present them to others. With this realization, you’ll be freer about what you record and how you record it and so you’ll do it more often. And that’s the point.

Make notes, lots of notes, and keep doing it. Developing this habit will help you see more, think more, feel more, do more. You’ll get more out of life.

(Want more on this subject? I recommend David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.)

Read more in my Creativity Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

Listen To Yourself

Glory I

You can learn a lot just by listening to yourself. Listen not only to the words you actually say, usually to others but also to the words you use in your inner dialog. When you speak about yourself, your creative life, and the works you produce, the words you use can be very revealing. They mean something to you. You choose them. Often you do this without realizing it and once you do new creative connections and opportunities will open to you.

Ask yourself …

Do you keep repeating specific words?

Do you use different words that all point to similar meanings, orientations, or attitudes?

Do the words you use share common concerns?

Do you tend to use more nouns (things), verbs (actions), or adjectives and adverbs (qualities)?

Do you tend to speak actively or passively?

Do you tend to speak in the past, present, or future tense?

Do you speak specifically and concretely or do you speak more generally and abstractly?

Do you finish your sentences or jump to new ones before you do?

It’s best if your observations about the words you use are made without judgment. Simply make observations. You can use this practice to savor the qualities of your everyday experiences that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. It can be helpful to expand your statements; say more to describe it better and find its connections to other things. After that, it can help to distill it all back down to what’s most important. If you do this you’ll feel freer, clearer, and more energized. 

Becoming more aware of your concerns and attitudes will ultimately help you make more considered choices about your actions, reactions, emotional responses, and even self-image.

Greater awareness of the words you choose and how you use them can inform the images you make in many important ways – how you make them, the images you select, how you sequence them, how you process them, what you title them, what you write about them, how you talk about them, how you present them. Your words can help you discover and shape identity, meaning, and purpose.

Thinking too much about the words you use while you’re using them can sometimes get in the way. When this happens, record yourself and listen to it later.

It can also help to talk with someone about a subject that’s important to you. They can help you get your tongue rolling and keep it going by asking you helpful questions and offering you useful reactions while you’re talking together. Again, make notes while this is happening, or better yet record it and make notes then so you can stay in the flow while it’s happening.

It only takes one important observation to make the practice of observing how you speak extremely worthwhile – give it time and it will lead to breakthroughs if that doesn’t happen instantly.

Read more in my Writing Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.