A Balance between Eros and Logos


The creative process, when it blossoms into its most fruitful expression, will always be a play between the conscious and unconscious mind. We need both when we create. We cannot force creativity into being by pure conscious force—just as we cannot solely depend on the unconscious mind when we want to express whatever we envision.

The conscious mind helps us with the craftsmanship, with planning, with execution of the idea, with knowledge, and, yes, at times also with forcing the creative process into its initial stages. But the conscious mind will never spring into life the new idea, the new expression, the complete new vision; it will not be the creative force as such. That’s where the unconscious mind comes into play. The unconscious mind will suddenly make us see things in a different light, it will act through our instincts and make us do something we otherwise wouldn’t have done, it will make us do errors that might turn into expressive and complete new work of art; the unconscious mind is the creator within us, but it needs the conscious mind to bring the idea into life.

We have all experienced how our unconscious mind can help us solve a problem we have been struggling with. We can bend our mind over without finding the solution, but then when we give up and go to sleep, next morning the solution suddenly appears out of nowhere. That’s when the unconscious mind has done the work for us—while we were sleeping. First time it happens it’s quite a revelation—and a delightful such.

As artists or creative beings we need to find a balance between these two paired processes. And we need to acknowledge both as inseparable elements of the creative process. For me this is another example of the polarity between Eros and Logos from the Greek mythology. I have previous used these terms to describe the creative process; such as in the posts Like Roots to a Plant and A Tool for Our Heart and Soul. Here and now I use Eros and Logos more in a Jungian understanding, although the first Greek origin is still valid. According to Platon Eros motivates all living beings to act upon their desires. The original understanding of Eros is «love» although Eros has also been used in philosophy and psychology in a much wider sense, almost as an equivalent to «life energy». Logos on the other hand was by Greek philosophers, especially Heraclitus and Plato, used to mean something akin to the rational structure and order of the universe. In the psychologist Carl Jung’s approach, Logos vs. Eros was represented as «science vs. mysticism», or «reason vs. imagination» or—as I use it here—«conscious activity vs. the unconscious».

In his book «Widening the Stream» David Ulrich view Eros as passion and Logos as the discipline required to cleanly embody our insights. He writes; «as soon as our attention can expand to embrace these opposing, alternating forces—our passionate longing and our disciplined intent—we come into a greater alignment, activating our creative energies and attracting a new quality of heightening being».

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Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

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Creative Collaboration


One of the things being a photograph that I often find limiting, is the fact that I usually work by myself. Limiting is actually not the right word, since being out on my own forces me to focus and use all of myself in the interaction with the world I photograph. It actually gives me strength. So I guess it’s more about the joy of working together with somebody else that I often miss when I work alone for too long. And also the different experience it involves.

It is really a great experience to work creatively together. You push each other further than you would maybe do alone. You inspire each other. You find new solutions together. And more than anything it’s simply fun. Or as Corwin Hiebert writes in his e-book Your Creative Mix – Growing Your Photography Business through Creativity and Collaboration: «The creative process, as chaotic as it can be at times, is a beautiful thing when the hard work involves an experience we can truly share. […] Together we can spur each other on to create more, and do more».

Creating together is a wonderful example of a dialectic method. The idea of the dialectic method is an old theory going all the way back to Ancient Greece, in which you put a thesis and an antithesis up against each other, and the combined solution between the two not only makes for a compromise, but creates something that is better than the thesis or the antithesis alone, what in the theory is called the synthesis.

Theory away, collaboration is truly inspiring and can be done on many levels. My good colleague and friend Sven Creutzmann, who is an eminent as well as awarded photographer, and I have over the past many years and from time to time been photographing together side by side on more personal related projects. In doing so we push each other further, we encourage each other, we enjoy the time together being focused on the shooting, and despite the fact that one would think that we might end up with pictures looking similarly, the collaboration spurs our separate creative visions and results in quite different pictures even at occasions when we stand side by side. Finally when working together like this, the help and encouragement we give each other in the editing process and even how to photoshop the pictures, is almost worth the whole process in itself.

The collaboration between Sven and me has also lead to various photo workshops we teach together. This is really collaboration as intimate as it can possible be. We develop the programs and classes in tight partnership, we teach the workshops together and of course we get to spend a lot of time socially together. As a matter of fact we have two workshops up in the air this year, both in Cuba. One takes place in the beginning of May and is the workshop Street Photography in Cuba that Sven and I have run for many years. New this year, is the workshop In the Footsteps of Che and Fidel in November. This is still in the planning, but will be a two weeks photo tour where we travel to the important, historical places of the Cuban revolution. This workshop will take the participants to areas not travelled a lot and will be quite an adventure.

Creative collaboration is so stimulating and so inspiring; I can only recommend it to everyone involved in the creative process. Of course it’s not limited to photography, but holds value for any creative outlet or artistic expression. To quote Corwin Hiebert one more time: « A successful collaboration provides credibility, it gives you an opportunity to gain experience, it expands your knowledge base, widens your sphere of influence, deepens your relationships, and gives you a real-world resume. But one of the most important takeaways from a collaboration is that it promotes your work ethic».

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Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged | 44 Comments

Building a Creative Fire


The creative process is like building a wood fire. You have to build it over several stages, start small, and slowly make it grow. And you need to attend it, unattended it will die. On the other hand a good fire – and a good creative process – does not need obsessive attention, just a bit of awareness every so often.

Fire building is a wonderful analogy for the creative process. When you build a fire, you are taking actions toward a result. The circumstances are constantly changing, but these are distinct stages of development, from preparation to maturity. The type of actions you take in the beginning stages would not be suitable in the later stages, and vice versa. Also the initial stages have a big influence on how the later stages develop. If you don’t prepare the fire well from the beginning, it will later be difficult to keep it burning.

There is something primal and vital, while at the same time elegant, timeless, and almost scientific about building fires, just as there is with the creative process. Building and tending a fire requires a blend of human skill and knowledge.

Basically there are four stages in fire building. In the kindling stage, you ignite small amounts of highly flammable material, such as newspaper or twigs. Soon you will need to bring the fire to the next stage; otherwise the flame will quickly burn itself out. In the structuring stage, you begin to establish form to the fire. You build a little tower with larger sticks around the burning kindle. In the building stage you then add small logs and make sure to place them so that air will be sucked into the fire. Finally, during the tending stage, you every so often place new logs on the others. These will burn easily because of the already established fire and the build-up of glowing coal from the previous sticks and logs.

Creating also has a kindling stage. Easily taken steps add energy and lead to more involved steps. Smaller acts lead to larger acts in creating, just as in fire building. If you have not used proper kindling, the fire will be hard to light. If you do not take easy beginning steps, the creation will be harder to make. If, once you have ignited the kindling, you place a big log right in the middle of the small fire; the fire will go out before the log will be able to burn. The same happens in the creative process. Too often people want big results too fast. But if the supportive structure is not in place, the fire of the creative process will go out, too.

One of the wonders in a good fire is the amount of space there is in the structure. Logs do not fill the centre; air does. Although you cannot see the air, this invisible force is a major component in the success of the fire. In the creative processes there are many invisible forces, too. Like the interaction between the conscious and the subconscious mind, the tapping into the creative well or inspiration.

When building a fire, if you use too much wood, the fire will go out. If you use too little wood, the fire will go out. If you use wood that does not burn well, the fire will be harder to get going and might go out. A good fire feeds on itself. A good creative process does this as well. Energy is generated by what has gone before. In the creative process, conscious choice, actions, learning, adjusting, an intuitive sense of timing and «lucky accidents» can combine in just the right proportions. It is true of both fire building and creating that you begin to get a «feel» for it after a while.

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Impressions from Sundance

Young Thomasin McKenzie did brilliant acting in the movie Leave No Trace.

As always, Ben Foster did an outstanding performance in the movie Leave No Trace that premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2018.

The young crew behind the touching and very personal film Minding the Gap.

Actresses Stacey Sargeant and Condola Rashad talk about their involvement in the movie Come Sunday.

Sundance Film Festival is an overwhelming event. With 110 independent movies from 29 countries this year, 16 theatres only in Park City (with additional theatres in Salt Lake City and Sundance Mountain Resort), close to 100,000 visitors and attendees cramping into a small town with only a little more than 7000 residents and a traffic congestion that at times could be worthy of New York City; visiting the film festivals takes mental strength and steady nerves to survive. But, man, is it great fun!

As I have done for the last many years, I once again got a chance to cover Sundance Film Festival. As always, it was a hectic week, to say the least, but also a week full of strong impressions, sharp movies and a stirring community of filmmakers that got a chance to talk about their films and their creative sparks. The films are what we all come for, but what makes the film festival, like Sundance, shine is the meeting between filmmakers and movie lovers. Movies we can always watch at any given time, although it could probably be hard to get to see seven in one day, if that is the desire. However, what really makes the difference is the chance the audience get to hear and experience the thoughts and ideas that the people behind the films—whether filmmakers, actors, writers or producers – put into their projects.

Sundance Film Festival is a festival for independent movies, that is, movies produced under a limited budget and with limited resources, at least compared to the big Hollywood productions. Personally, for me, it usually makes for much more interesting movies. Independent movies are made by people who do it for the love of it. The films are generally stronger, more authentic and more creative than the middle of the road blockbusters.

This year I watched close to 30 movies, and none of them were bad. That is by and large the case for all movies shown at Sundance Film Festival. Although some are better than others, there is such a gap of styles and genres shown at the film festival, that it’s almost impossible to compare. Nevertheless, a couple of films did make a stronger impression – this year, as always.

In particular two documentary films left me shattered and almost in a state of chock—although not really, since I have long stopped believing in a fair and equal world. Both films put a spotlight on underlying currents that in their nature is disrupting democracies—whatever idea we may have about what democracy may entail.

Dark Money will certainly be a shock for anyone who believes USA is a democracy. The filmmakers have visited the State of Montana and shown how big money buys out elections through foul play, and ensures that candidates they have in their pockets get elected, whether it’s in the legislative system or the judicial system. Both politicians and judges are bought, not in a direct, transparent way—because that is after all illegal – but through series of shell companies and clandestine operations. One way they do it is by putting in millions of dollars into slander campaigns. They send out ghastly and untruth allegation leaflets to constituents of candidates the big companies dislike, incriminating them in ways that throws the voters completely off. And of course, it happens shortly before election day, making it impossible for the affected candidates to defend themselves and answer the false allegations before it’s too late.

The filmmakers of Dark Money have dug deep into the material and show what nobody wants to get out in the open—nobody being (mostly) men behind big money. Why Montana? Because the state is the line in the sand, where honest politicians after all have fought hardest to get rid of the influence of big money and where the pressure from big money for the same reason is the hardest.

The Cleaners is another earth-shattering documentary. The cleaners are people who clean up social medias for unwanted posts and entries. All social medias, whether it’s Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter—to name the most influential—audit their users’ feeds. They will never talk about it, but all companies outsource the auditing to companies in foreign countries—The Philippines, with its low-cost labour, being among the leading facilitators. The cleaners delete all inappropriate, immoral and illegal posts on the feeds, with each of the social medias defining what they see as inappropriate. At first sight, it seems reasonable that social medias audit their feeds. However, the way it’s done, in combination with how the social medias work, have a least three destructive implications.

On a personal level, for the cleaners themselves, it has nothing but devastating consequences. For hours to an end, day in and day out, they will have to look through the most appalling posts imaginable, whether it’s child pornography or decapitation of heads. Needless to say, many of them end of with serious mental problems, depressed and losing their humane grounding at the least, and even taking their own lives as the most extreme implication.

On a more overall level, the audit has political consequences that directly affects democracy in societies. In many totalitarian or suppressing countries, social medias have agreed to remove posts from oppositions because that’s the only way they will get access to those countries—and making their money, which is the only driving force for the companies behind social medias. However, also in so-called democratic countries there are political implications by the work done by the cleaners. As an example; last year, Facebook removed the famous photo by Nick Ut, showing a girl running naked on a road after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese napalm attack. All social medias will remove any photo of naked children (and naked people in general). However, Nick Ut’s is not about nakedness, but about the devastating impact the war had in Vietnam. The removal of the photo lead to an outcry among Facebook users and Facebook finally had to allow the photo back again. The moral codex of social medias are as such problematic in themselves. As much I am very much against child pornography, I don’t mind seeing naked people in general. Of course, I know others will appose any nakedness, but for me this goes directly to freedom of speech being limited by social medias. I don’t need them to be moral guardians on my behalf.

The third implication is maybe the most disturbing. As the filmmakers of The Cleaners point out, social medias aren’t “evil” in themselves—or the people behind the new medias being cruel or wanting to inflict any bad activities. But the way the social medias work, is escalating the hatred in the world. The social medias want to drive traffic to their sites—they promote posts that attract the most likes – and nothing drives traffic more than expressions of hate and anger. Thus, social medias encourage more hatred and more stigmatizing in the world.

As for the previous movie I wrote about, the filmmakers of The Cleaners have dug deep into the material and show what nobody wants to get out in the open—this time nobody being the social medias. The German filmmakers were clear about the need for not only changing the whole auditing system, but the social platforms themselves and how they work.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival 2018. Here the director Desiree Akhavan and the actresses Jennifer Ehle, Sasha Lane and Chloë Grace Moretz presents the movie.

Jon Hamm makes an excellent figure in the equally excellent movie Beirut.

Damsel is not the movie for everyone, but the Q&A at Sundance was one of the funnier, with the actor Robert Pattinson and actress Mia Wasikowska, along with director-brothers David Zellner and Nathan Zellner—and their mini pony on stage.

Sundance Film Festival is not only films, but also other activities such as music and here Michael Franti playing at the Music Cafe.

Posted in Films, Photography | Tagged | 68 Comments

Talent Doesn’t Matter

It’s hard to accept that talent hardly matters. I know—particularly if you thought you were benefiting from a special talent yourself. We have become ingrained with the idea, not the least from media, which likes to push the idea of superhuman talents far beyond any reasonable credibility, if for no other reason than because it sells. Be as it may, numerous contemporary studies do indicate that talent has been overly overrated for too long.

As I wrote in last week’s post, Matthew Syed in his book Bounce refutes the, in my view, outdated idea of special talent being necessary to excel it in sports, business, school, arts or any other endeavour that requires more skill-sets than we all are in possession of. The illusion of talent arises because we only see a tiny proportion of the work that goes into the construction of virtuosity. If we were to examine the incalculable hours of practice, the thousands of baby steps taken by world-class performers to get to the top, the skills would no longer seem quite so mystical, or so inborn. That’s exactly what Syed does in his book; he deconstruct all the work some of the world’s biggest “talents” have had to put into becoming the success they have become, whether it’s Tiger Woods or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The belief in talent is not the least a natural derivation from a Darwinian believe-system. I certainly don’t oppose Darwinism and won’t discredit the fact that, at least part of the variation in ability in young people in everything from math to football is determined by generic inheritance. Some start out better than others do, there is no denying that. But, the key point revealed by the science of expertise is that the relevance of these initial differences melts away as the number of hours devoted to practice escalates. And why is that? Because over time, and with the right kind of practice, we change so much in ourselves. It’s not just the body that changes but also the anatomy of the brain. The region of the brain responsible for controlling fingers in young piano players, for example, is far larger than the rest of us. But pianists were not born with this, it grew in proportion to the years of training. Similarly, the area of the brain governing spatial navigation in taxi drivers is way above average—but it developed with time on the job.

And then think about this: It takes generation after generations for humans to adapt the genetic composition to new environmental conditions. How would it be possible for natural selection to change genes for kids growing up today and make some of them excel in computer gaming? A generation ago, nobody even knew about computer gaming. Two generations ago, computers hardly existed.

Yes, it would be anti-Darwinian to deny the existence of talent, defined in terms of the initial skills we inherit from our parents. However, it is in no way anti-Darwinian to deny the importance of talent. Given the adaptability of the human body and brain, it turns out that pretty much all healthy individuals can accumulate the knowledge that creates excellence, regardless of where they started out from. The evidence also tells us that we learn at pretty similar rates, at least on the long term. Certainly, there is no shortcut to excellence.

It takes a lot of work to excel in any field. Studies of grand masters of chess, top golfers of the world and top scientists—just to mention a few areas that have been studied—show that ten years is the magic number for the attainment of excellence. In the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of five books, he points out that most top performers practice around one thousand hours per year, so he re-describes the ten-years rule as the ten-thousand-hour rule (as some comments in my previous post about talent already pointed out). This is the minimum time necessary for the acquisition of expertise in any complex task. Ten thousand hours is a lot of devoted time. It means practicing around three hours every day—for ten years. Most people are not willing to pay this price, but it’s what it takes.

However, it’s not only the quantity of training that matters, but also the quality. A study conducted at a music academy in Berlin shows that top performing violinists had not practiced more hours than the lesser violinists had. The top performers had pushed themselves harder for longer. The others had not. That was the crucial difference. Anders Ericsson, a leading psychologist at Florida State University, calls it deliberate practice, to distinguish it from what most of us get up to. In Bounce Syed calls it purposeful practice because this training of aspiring champions have a specific and never-changing purpose: Progress. Every second of every minute of every hour, the goal is to extend one’s mind and body, to push oneself beyond the outer limits of one’s capacity, to engage so deeply in the task that one leaves the training session, literally, a changed person.

Purposeful practice is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it; it is about grappling with tasks beyond current limitations and falling short again and again. Excellence is about stepping outside of comfort zone, training with a spirit of endeavour, and accepting the inevitability of trials and tribulations. Progress is built, in effect, upon the foundations of necessary failure.

This can be translated directly to us who perform in the arts. If we do the same kind of work time and again, we will be good at this, but we will not otherwise improve. If we want to become better photographers or better painters or better writes, yes, we must do the work, but we must also step out of the comfort zone—all the time. Same with exercising. I run and exercise quite a bit. Sometimes I get frustrated because my shape doesn’t seem to improve. Every so often, I run a marathon. When I do, I always want to improve my personal best. It rarely happens, though, and if so only marginally. For me to improve, I need to train harder than I already do, and if I want to keep improving, this is a never-ending upward spiral. I am just not willing to do so and have finally accepted this conclusion.

There is more to excel in any task than training enough and training right. It’s also about mindset, of course. Otherwise, you won’t be able to put in the 10.000 hours and keep pushing yourself out of comfort zone. Yes, clocking up thousands of hours of purposeful practice ultimately determines how far we make it along the path of excellence. However, it’s only those who care about the destination, those who are motivated enough, who are ever going to get there. There a ways to sustain the motivation, for instance through encouragement and through internalized belief. This will have to wait to another post, though, as it could be a book on its own. I just wanted to mention that there are more to the equation than enough and right exercise. Talent hardly matters, though.

I have written these posts about how we tend to overrate talent, not because I think we should all strive for excellence. For me it’s just important to know that I can get as far as I want to by my own will and willingness to go the necessary distance. My talent or lack of it is not going to be hindering me. As Syed writes: “The talent myth is not just widespread but it is also powerfully destructive, robbing individuals of the motivation of change.” I encourage you to take this to heart, and just do whatever you feel like doing—and enjoy the journey.

Let me end this rather too long post with my own experience starting out on a photographic career. Well, it’s actually before I even got started, professionally that is. In my teens, I really thought I had a talent for photography. I had won some prizes and I won a few photo competitions. However, just as with my exercising these days, at some point it stopped. My photography wasn’t going anywhere anymore, and I didn’t get the recognition I had started to get used to. What happened was, I had too much trust in talent, and didn’t put in the work. Thus, I stagnated. It was only after some years working professionally that my photography began develop again, simply because you cannot work professionally without doing a lot of work and you get pushed into situations that you have no control over. I didn’t know then what I know today. The moral: Don’t trust talent.

On a different note: When you read this, I have located myself to Park City, Utah, for the annual Sundance Film Festival. This week I will probably be seeing 20-something movies and be covering the festival. Unnecessary to say, it’s going to be work around the clock. But all fun and pure joy.

The first post about talented being overrated was published last week. Go to Don’t Trust Talent to read it.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/640 of a second. Aperture: f/13. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

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