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Is this a nightmare or an adventure? Sometimes it's a fine line. The more prepared you are the more likely you can treat it as an adventure, it's like wearing a different pair of glasses that admit more light because you are no longer scared and apprehensive.

Instead of being scared you can actually learn, improve, develop. Steep learning curves are where it is at, and steep learning curves are to be found some way out of your comfort zone...

The adventurer seeks new challenges- which is when we are most open to learning. Recent research into brain growth shows we are most receptive and our memory best when a situation is novel, shocking or we are deeply focused. Better still if we 'into it', then our brains really suck up what we are trying to learn. Anecdotal evidence of this abounds- the child who can't learn a single maths equation but has hundreds of jokes and pop lyrics off by heart- because they are not 'into maths'.

I'm a writer by trade and this blog is here to pass on some of what I have learned through adventure, travel, life and writing. It has 500+ articles relating to travel, personal development, adventure, smarter thinking, mastery, polymathy, and writing. 

Much of the blog entries spin off from the 10 books I have written, all available at Amazon among other places. 

Monday
Jun152015

Interview with Alias Johnny Stiletto

This pic of Francis Bacon- his favourite portrait- is just one of the more famous photographs in Johnny Stiletto's genre defying collection of photos and mini-essays: Shots from the Hip

I found the book a fascinating and refreshing take on photography- very inspiring for anyone at all interested in street photography- unique and utterly memorable photos and far and away the best writing on the subject. Johnny kindly agreed to be interviewed- here are his answers to my questions...

Q1: Your unexpected and quite brilliant photographs in Shots from the Hip amount to a kind of intellectual autobiography; it becomes a revealing diary but also a series of autobiographical essays touching on the two wars, women, film, London, ageing. It really is 'another way of looking through the camera'- why aren't there more books like this? Are there any you can think of?

A: What I try and do with my photographs is tell stories, quite often the story isn't particularly clear at the time I take the shot, I might have a feeling, or the circumstances might be interesting or even exciting so I try and shoot as intuitively as possible. Afterwards the shots are there and the circumstances have settled into some sort of logic or story and that's the point at which I look at the shot, think about what was happening at the time, what I was thinking about and what I was going through and write round it and through it. Like most people I suppose my thoughts are all over the place a lot of the time. Shots From The Hip took over ten years to shoot, photographing on a very regular basis. Commissioning editors are quite brutal and they want to see a proposal of somewhere between 120 and 160 shots that exist now and not in the future. They want to see photographs that are immediate, original, or to put it another way photographs they like. They also want to see something you’ve written and had published. They don't buy hopes, maybes, bluff, excuses or it'll be alright on the night. The photographs have to be taken by one person, if you include other people’s photographs and describe how they shoot them, you’re writing fiction. You just have to be very focused to do these kind of books and you're rather held to ransom by the quality of the shots you get so this may account for the fact that there aren’t many or any books like Shots.

Q2.I notice you mention that you shouldn't be a slave of the camera- which is something Daido Moryama also says, were you influenced by his street photography at all? If so, how?

If I'm completely totally honest I don't know Daido Moryama so that really slices the top off the question. Sorry about that. All I can say, though, Don't be frightened of the camera, don't be in awe of it, it's just a machine, a technical slave, feel comfortable with it, press the button when you see something you like or interests you and let the camera do the work. Cameras aren’t children, they’re grown ups, they can look after themselves.

Q3. I'm interested in the way words and pictures work together- something that is really effective about Shots from the hip- how far into taking the pictures did you plan it is as an essay/manifesto?

A:It was always going to be about words and pictures and again, I think goes back to telling stories and I think pictures quite often need a bit of help. Also if you think about it, words and pictures slide naturally together. Think about press ads, films, posters, comic books, editorial. Words and pictures are working partners, words can do things that pictures can't like setting a scene and a time and pictures capture emotion. When you add words to a picture you quite often add a layer of excitement that isn't there in the picture alone. With words you can direct people into a photograph, get them to look into it, see it your way, linger, enjoy, I hope. Putting words and pictures together just seems a natural thing to do.

Q4. You used an OM SLR (I think) for 'Shots', digital makes it easier - or does it?

A:They're two different things and they're both brilliant. In practical terms shooting digital is much cheaper, no negs, no prints. Also you can shoot a lot more on digital and you don't really have to worry about reloading, flicking the winder or the noise of the shutter. Digital is faster and quieter, the only thing I'm very careful of is using small memory cards- if you get stopped or somebody gets upset about a shot you might have to hand over the card, (the Paris police are particularly excellent at this and 75% of them are plain clothes) so if you've got a weeks of work on a memory card you risk losing a lot. What I like about film is that you can force it to the limits and does some very interesting things by accident. In a way I'm always looking for small accidents in the shots I take. I don't like them fixed and perfect, again it goes back to the story telling thing, if everything's frozen and perfect there's nothing left to read into it. It's much harder to bend digital, it's do-able but more difficult. I think that’s the overall problem with digital, it’s often a bit too precise everything’s there and that’s not really how we see things, in reality eyesight is a series of slightly imperfect impressions. You can give digital a slightly more narrative filmic look by under exposing by two thirds of a stop, in other words by making the exposure slightly darker than the camera’s programmed to do and it’s forced into doing a bit of dancing in the dark. On balance, if I'm completely honest I think it's archaic in 2015 to be shooting film.

Q5. What other photographers are there that mean something to you and you have learnt from, and what you have learnt from them?

A:Robert Capa is the photographer who I really first became aware of and who influenced me most. He photographed the D Day landings and most of the film was destroyed in excitement by the lab, about 12 shots survived and one of them is a very blurred image of a GI in the water struggling to the beach, you know nothing about the detail or the man and everything about everything else. That for me is when photographs stepped out of the phone booth and became superman. If there's a point the point is that you don't need to do crisp perfect to tell a story or take a great shot, always try and leave something to the imagination.

Q6. What is the most useful encapsulated advice you have for street photographers?

A:Blend, be part of what’s going on and switch off the auto focus light.

Q7. The second most useful?

A:Shoot your life. The best photographer's photographs are all about them. Hello Me. They photograph the times they live in, the places they inhabit, the people they come into contact with the events that surround them. It’s a sort of universal rule, doesn’t matter what you’re shooting, interiors, fashion, war, reportage, it’s the personal bit, the interconnection with what’s happing in front and around the camera. Good photographs are autobiographies.

Q8. Anything else on mixing writing and photography that comes to mind?

A:Final last thing is a thought: if you're writing to a photograph it's often very nice to write to music.

Johnny Stiletto

Many Thanks.

Johnny Stiletto' s excellent website can be found here.

Shots from the Hip can be bought here on amazon

Wednesday
May202015

Rod or net: the big question

 

I have to admit an admiring fascination for Bear Grylls' The Island. In this program a team of men have to survive for 40 days on an island. One guy, Vic, is good at fishing with a rod and on a good day brings home five fish.Vic is a loud northern type who has a chip on his shoulder about posh people...like Sam. Sam seems a bit of a dreamer and is no good at manual work. Vic leads the group in denigrating Sam as a skiver. But Sam is tough. He steadfastly keeps working on his own project which is to repair and use an old fishing net. Everyone thinks he is wasting his time but he keeps going. Every day he sets it and every day it's empty- but that's how you learn with fishing. You keep fine tuning and you keep trying. The others begin to ignore Sam but then one day he asks them to help him with the net...he's caught 23 fish!

Sometimes it's worth going out on a limb, against the group, sticking to your guns and using creativity to be audacious.

Tuesday
May192015

Stupidity is a form of dishonesty

I have been reading and immensely enjoying a war memoir by an Irish woman married to a German official living in Berlin during the second world war. The block leader- the party member whose job it is to collect dues and spy on the other residents is the local gardener. After WW1 he lost all his savings in the inflation of the early 1920s. In the crash of 1929 he loses his job and again all his pitiful savings needed to get married. He joins the Nazi party and finally gets married though its too late to have kids. the author remarks on a Berlin joke of the 1930s- intelligent and dishonest=nazi, stupid and honest=nazi, intelligent and honest=anti-nazi. And the gardener is honest, though portrayed as stupid- he cannot through the many lies told by his beloved party. When the war ends he is hanged by disgruntled locals- or perhaps by Russians- from a lamp-post. His luck has run out yet again.

But it made me think- we often describe people as stupid but honest- meaning they won't cheat or lie to you. But this is a child's definition of honesty. Real honesty- the only kind that has developmental potential- is knowing when you are deceiving yourself. It's having a propensity for self-deception, it is, in fact, hypocrisy by another name. 

Stupid people are forgiven for being easily deceived. But most deceptions are a result of greed not a simple mistake (you can tell the difference- a simple mistake allows of correction, the greedy reject outside correction). We are greedy for an outcome we don't deserve, or something plainly unlikely- we deceive ourselves that something is true when it is obvious to outsiders that it isn't.

Focusing on the stupidity or intelligence of a person seems less use than seeing how much they choose to deceive themselves. But even this doesn't quite hit the mark- the moral censure isn't needed. Those that deceive themselves are lacking mental flexibility. They can only see things one way, the greed makes them inflexible. By focusing on mental flexibility you outwit stupidity and dishonesty.

Saturday
May092015

What path are you on?

I like paths. They seem to wobble arbitrarily but actually they follow the path of least resistance. They reflect a group intelligence- all the people or animals that have walked the same way. A dead straight path would actually be less efficient, you'd go up and down more than necessary. The more hilly the terrain the more tortuous and crazy seeming are the paths. Of course you're much more likely to lose your way on a winding path.

 

Monday
Apr272015

King of the Headhunters

Taken on Burmese border, nagaland. the number of heads equals the number of brass skulls around his neck.

Monday
Apr272015

Meryl Streep quotation

Meryl Streep on acting, but it could be about many things: "Pretending is not just play. Pretending is imagined possibility." Worth musing on that one. 

 

Monday
Apr272015

Car seen in Kohima, Nagaland

You see strange things in India and Nagaland is right at the very edge of India. Christianity is the main religion here, Buddhism is unknown except among recent immigrants. So this is very definitely not a Buddhist swastika.