Are You Lucky?

Vision comes from within. That is sometimes easy to forget when we who create, fight against bad luck. Because we have all fought and been discourage by lack of luck. I know I have, and I know all my creative peers, friends and colleagues have. Some get over it and some don’t.

Most of us believe that luck is random and arbitrary. But the fact is, we are all in position to channel good luck. Studies and stories of people how have turned the dime to their advantage, are many. We all have the ability to amplify or diminish how luck strikes us.

Study after study reveal that lucky people have a special quality about themselves and how they see the world. They are like metal detectors that are always turned on. One who has studied luck is Richard Wiseman, head of the psychology department at the University of Hertfordshire. According to him, lucky people generate their own good fortune by following four basic principles. They create and notice chance opportunities. They make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition. They create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations. Finally, they adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

This may all sound very good. However, when you stand in the middle of period when nothing seems to work out, it’s not easy to keep expecting things to change to the better. It’s much easier to give up. I know, I have been there myself. Some time ago, I had put in a lot of effort, money and time into preparing a project that everybody told me was going to be a success. I was selling the idea for the project to a big national institution in hope they would finance it, in fact they had asked me to propose the project. The people at the institution were all positive and made me feel like it was only a formality before the project would be accepted. But, when it came down to the final decision, my project was turned down. Instead, money was given to another project that seemed to have nothing about it at all. Later on, I heard that it came down to connections. The person behind the project that “won” knew the people on the board of the institution. It was a devastating blow to my self-esteem. I was about to give up.

When you are there, it’s not easy to be enthusiastic about anything. Nevertheless, enthusiasm is really what makes things change and creates luck. Enthusiasm is raw energy for life. It’s a powerful force. It draws luck like a magnet. When you do something out of passion and enthusiasm, out of yourself, things will start to change. You start to create luck and those self-fulfilling prophecies that Wiseman points to. Making luck happening is not about fate, really, it’s about finding your life’s call, or to put it less pretentious, to do what you love. If you take the chance on what you believe in, and don’t give up, good things will start to happen. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way: “Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success”.

Your unique view of the world is your most valuable asset, regardless of what you do. “Don’t ask yourself what the world need. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who come alive.” That’s according to the African-American author, Howard Thurman.

So maybe luck has less to do with chance and more to do with how we live? In the international best-selling book The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho crafts an allegorical narrative around this idea. The main character in the story, a young man named Santiago, works as a shepherd until he has a dream that awakens him to a deeper calling for his life. Fear holds him back from responding to the call, but the dream persists. Eventually, Santiago musters up the courage to follow the path for which he was meant. Leaving his comfortable life behind, he journeys into the unknown and is invigorated with the possibilities of this new path. Following his path seems to have some generative power, almost like a gift that fills him with strength, enthusiasm, and good luck.


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.

Patiently Painting Walls

Each and everyone of us have a desire to become recognized for the artistic work we do—at least to some extent—whether we are professionals or amateurs; whether we are photographers—like me—or performing artists or something else; whether we are pure craftsmen (or -women) or genuine artists. We all want others to see, hear or feel our work, and we all want to be praised—at least that is what I think—for our artistic quality and originality. At the bottom of all this then lies the desire to become great artists—whatever that means.

That’s all fine, as long as it doesn’t become the motivation in itself for what we do. And it’s all fine if this desire doesn’t make us impatient and give up because we feel we get nowhere. I am not going to talk about what is success or not, or what it means to be a great artists or not, but I think we all hope for a certain development, artistically, and for our artistic reputation as well. I certainly know how frustrating it can be when you feel you have an idea or a great vision, but aren’t able to manifest it through your craft, simply because your craft isn’t developed enough. It takes time to understand the underlying rules of your craft or how to bring your creativity to life, it takes time to develop your artistry to a level where you feel comfortably able to express your vision. It might be a frustrating time of development, but just remember that’s how it’s been for all artists, even the greatest of all times.

There is no instant or fast success with creativity. It takes time. And that is part of what makes some artists so expressive, they let time work to their advantage. It’s also part of what makes being an artist so fulfilling; you never stop learning or improving—that is if you don’t make yourself stop.

Artistic development is like painting a house. When you start out you know you have hours—or more like days—of work ahead you. You keep at because you know that’s the only way it will get painted. You long for the day when it’s all done, but just because you aren’t able to do more than half a wall one day, you don’t give up, and you don’t give up even though you know you will have to give the house three coats of paint. You know that one day the house will be shining beautifully and newly painted. So it is with art and the artists. If you only know that your work won’t be shining from the first day, you will not give, up, but have an incentive to keep developing, to keep working. In reality it never stops. Just like painting. Because, of course, next year it’s the garage, and then the deck, and then the cabin by the sea, and before you know it, you are back painting that house again. It just never stops. And so it is with art. It never stops. You never stop developing as an artists, and isn’t that really what makes creative work so exciting?

You could say, I don’t like painting houses, so I hire someone to do it. Fine, no problem. But would you rather start buying art instead of making it yourself? You know what the really good thing about the cycle of painting your properties is? Next time around you are so much better and proficient than the previous time. And so it is with creativity and artistic work. In the end the development in itself is the reward for those of us who seek to express ourselves creatively or artistically.

Finding That Balance

I want to pick up the thread from my post two weeks ago about finding the right balance between the conscious and unconscious mind in the creative process. This time, though, I will try to be somewhat more concrete by drawing on my own experiences in trying to find this balance.

I believe most people often find it hard to combine the two forces of the mind. Some have a problem using the rational part in the creative process. Instead they flow over with inspiration without thinking too much about craftsmanship or technique—the conscious part of the process. For others it’s the other way around, they know all the ins and outs of using a camera (if speaking about photography), but lack the creative vision to bring a picture into being something more than a plain reproduction without any depth or emotional or visual interest (this is by the way where I started out long time ago).

In a more general perspective I think most people are able to somewhat easily learn the craftsmanship, the technique, how to plan and execute an idea—and yes, just learn. Some might find an inner inhibition or a lack of interest for this conscious part of the creative process, but they would have no problem doing it, if they decided to do so. On the other hand finding inspiration or opening up for the unconscious mind at will is much more difficult; it’s like being consciously unconscious. So let me start here, with some strategies for opening up the unconscious mind.

It’s all about letting loose, not letting the rational mind take control when creating. One trick to boost the unconscious part of the process is—again if we talk about photography—to put your camera on all automatic and let it handle the technical parts by itself. Then go out on the street or in Mother Nature or wherever you feel drawn to and start shooting without thinking. Whenever something makes you react, photograph it in that same moment without any analysis or considerations as to composition or technical aspects. Just do it. Or pick a colour and go out and shoot anything with that colour that makes you react—and shot the same way as just mentioned. Plain reactive shooting. Or go to an event where lots of activity is going on and again react with the camera. And don’t ever look at the screen on the camera to check what you have gotten, that turns on the conscious mind! Of course you will come home with lots of unsharp, badly exposed and uncomposed pictures. But by carefully looking through the whole bunch you will most likely find jewels and strong emotional loaded pictures that you would normally not have taken. Takes these and put them in your mental notebook for later use.

The more you do it, the more you train your unconscious mind to take control during shooting. How then do you get the rational mind to play alongside so that exposure and composition will actually be part of the picture? By training of course! But now you only practice the craftsmanship without worrying about necessarily making inspiring pictures. The more you shoot practising this part of the photography process, the more it will become ingrained in your backbones, too. And the more you learn and put into practise the more you will improve upon your craftsmanship. The point is to get the rational part of the shooting becoming almost as unconscious as the reactive part of it. Whenever you need to stop the flow of photographing to think about lens or aperture or composition or light, you break the flow of the unconscious mind and you lose that very important part of the creative process. So if you are starting out as a photographer you will have to train each mindset separately and let time and practise make them merge together.

For writers, doing morning pages is one way to boost unconscious writing, but it’s also good training for photographers and everybody else who is creating even if they don’t believe they can write. It’s not necessarily about writing, but about getting those unconscious processes to flow and becoming an integral part of creating. For painters, starting to paint on the canvas without any prior planning and just paint whatever comes to mind is a way to practise using the unconscious mind. Again it most likely won’t end up being a masterpiece but it’s all about training to be unconscious almost at will.

This is often the hardest part for most artists, being inspired at will. We have all experience the agonising vacuum where inspiration seems to have vanished. And the more we try to make it happen, the more it just slips away. Inspiration is a play by the unconscious mind and you can’t really force it to happen. But you can make circumstances favourable for inspirations to come (for more about this I recommend the book The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry). And to some extent you can push on by just starting to photograph, write, paint or whatever you do. I often experience when I am photographing and I feel uninspired, that if I still start shooting, at some point if I just keep going, the inspiration or the flow will come.

To round it up: My usual way of working and balancing the powers of the unconscious and conscious mind is like this: I will start to plan the project by doing as much research as possible. I will think about what kind of pictures I need to get and just pick up ideas from anywhere about how to resolve the challenge in a best possible way. This part is mostly conscious. Then the shooting starts and the unconscious mind takes over. I might have to force the shooting process into momentum by conscious control, but the sooner I can let go of the rational control the better, and usually when I get caught up in the shooting process, I lose this control. At this stage I don’t think about technique or light or composition, but trust my backbones so to speak. I don’t even think about all the research I did but let my unconscious mind play with it at the moment of shooting. It’s really all instinctive play at this stage of the process. Afterwards when the editing starts, I turn to my conscious mind again. Now it’s about analysing the result, to understand what worked and what didn’t work, so I can do better next time—and of course to pick out the pictures that will become the take of the shoot and sent to post-processing. And here again the interplay between the conscious and unconscious mind starts all over again. But that will have to be for another time.

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.

Develop Your Photography

Learning is a way to both improve and to develop. I believe in lifelong learning—as long as I am willing to learn I stay alive. There are many ways to replenish one’s knowledge and further develop oneself. Personally I find attending workshops one of the most inspiring ways to learn and develop. I try to attend at least one workshop every year. For me there is something about the format of workshops, being incredibly attractive and just evoking pure stimulation. This goes for whether I am a student or a teacher.

This year I am planning to teach more photo workshops than I have ever done in any year before. I am setting up two complete new workshops, in addition once again to organizing two workshops that have been successful in the past. They should cater to any level or interests of photography, whether you are a beginner or already a pro, whether you want to dig in and really develop your photographic voice or just want to have fun while getting a better grip on your photography.

I hope one of the workshops I offer may trigger your desire to further develop and learn. Maybe travel to a place you have not been to before, or maybe finally spending full time immersing yourself in a photographic learning experience. I promise your photography will progress profoundly during any of the workshops. I say so based on having taught workshops for more than ten years and not the least from responses from former workshop participants. As one participant stated: “The workshop was all about constructive critique that inspired to stretch myself to levels I had never perceived before. I believe I am a better photographer today than I was 10 days ago.”

This year I will for, the first time, teach a workshop in England. It’s going to be an extended weekend in the picturesque and distinctive city of Bath. We will stroll around in the historical city, which is built on a heritage extending back to Roman time and beyond. “Street Photography in Bath” will run from September 21th to 24th.

The other completely new workshop is going to be quite an experience. I am really proud to be able to offer a two weeks combined photo tour and workshop in Cuba, where we will follow the footsteps of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and their revolution. I am teaching the workshop together with my friend and colleague, Sven Creuztmann. We will visit cities with important landmarks for the two revolutionaries fought, we will visit places that most visitors to Cuba never get to see and we will go deep into the mountains where the revolution started. “In the Footsteps of a Revolution” takes place from November 24th to December 7th.

The workshops I have taught before will run in spring. I will once again do the intimate photo workshop about how to develop your photographic expression in my hometown of Bergen, Norway. It’s going to be a very small workshop where we meet up in my apartment, when we are not shooting the streets of Bergen. “The Personal Expression” runs from June 15th to 17th.

Finally, Sven and I are running our regular workshop in Cuba this May. It’s a one week photo workshop, and one of my most popular. We already have a good group signed up for the workshop, but there are still some spots left. “Cuba in Essence” takes place from May 5th to 17th.

Maybe one of these workshops could be something for you? I would love to have you come along.

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.

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».

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.

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».