We spend so much time online researching how to do things. How to lay bathroom tiles. How to setup three-point lighting. How to buy the perfect lavalier microphone for under $13.
What we don't spend enough time on, is why.
Why do we want to capture a time-lapse of the stars? Why do we want to make short films? Why do we want to score points in a camera club competition? Why do I want to write blog posts on how to improve your skills in photography? Why did I make a cookbook based on our travels in the Scandinavian Arctic? Why do I design ever more esoteric tours in the Himalayas? Why do I rage-tweet about govt failures during an epidemic?
There is a connection. On one level we all like to have an audience. As someone who grew up without a voice, literally, the ability to engage with other humans and strangers on social media is a big deal. It’s novel and exciting and kicks my amygdala like an angry mule.
But connection is not always about audience, or influence or fame. I know for some people that’s true, but I’ve recognised for me there’s something much more basic at play. It’s about “finding your tribe”, with credit to Richard Stubbs who would use that term ten times a week on radio. And he was absolutely right. I’m looking for that space where I feel I belong, where I fit in, where my talents are appreciated and reciprocated.
For a long while I’ve looked at YouTube as a channel for glossy extroverts. Skinny folks in great lighting who can talk up a storm. It’s not that I ever wanted to be like them, although I do envy their skill. Folks like Caleb Pike and Gerald Undone deliver deep dives into the gear, but oh so polished. And then there are some great personalities that kind of short circuit the “structured” approach by just being concise and witty and likeable... but also very skilled. Gene Nagata and Casey Faris for example.
I would look at these people not just with admiration but also trepidation. That negative part of my brain kicks in and says “I can’t do that”. Because I’ve had decades of practice in undermining my abilities, why should the new frontier of internet enabled social media be any different?
Then I found some really lovely content by a DOP named Lewis Potts. He’s a gentle fellow and very understated and he decided the teal+orange YouTube studio wasn’t his thing and records himself talking to camera in the lounge room with a RodeGo. And he speaks gently. Slowly. Naturally. He’s someone I’d enjoy talking with over a coffee. He’s really good at what he does, yet he’s still young enough to get a lot better.
Not sure how many people in their 30s appreciate how lucky they are to be living through the most dynamic and powerful stage of their lives. Anyway, that’s another post.
What is it that makes me share my content? Why would I spend years working on my photography articles for magazines? Why would I give away so much information on my website? Why would I publish a book on photography that weights 2.2 kilos? Yes, two point two kilograms.
I used the word "connection" earlier, but I was holding back a little. The better word is community. I want the interaction with an audience, and for them to influence my thinking. It’s a two way thing. I learn from their experience of learning, even when they’re learning from me.
I see this in the food photography workshops most intensely. I run these with my wife Shellie, and they’re very small groups because space is limited. Creative space, physical space, discussion space. For those who sign up usually they’re pretty driven and they have a REASON to be there. They have a business to photograph for, or clients, or they want to quit their job and start creating beautiful photos. WHY they want to be there is so much more important than HOW to photograph a cupcake.
That WHY determines so much of their experience. Sometimes we get people who turn up on workshops for the wrong reasons and it’s difficult for everyone. Them and me. Sometimes there is no WHY, just HOW. And that’s a problem.
Have you noticed how much content on YouTube is focused on HOW to make content on YouTube? That’s the core of my conflict. As a society we have evolved to the stage of an internet enabled hamster wheel. I myself am just another hamster. I have learned all these skills and can make things look lovely and technically on point and yet... it can feel hollow. Totally hollow.
I literally survived the pandemic by shooting videos to sell microwave ovens. As an aside, the microwave oven folks have been one of the best clients I’ve ever worked with and I feel so lucky to have been on that journey. To spend a period of time with a clear focus on what you want to produce and how that content will be consumed is a rare treat. Am I making the world a better place through microwave ovens? Not sure if I can stretch it that far. They’ve made my world a better place though.
Climate change is going to destroy the planet, covid killed millions of innocent people, the US Supreme Court hates women and Putin is wiping out an entire country because his balls are shrinking. Focusing on ovens instead of the rest of the world has personally been good for me and my sanity.
But, I also want to focus on the real world when I have the energy to do so. I do want to help share stories about people lives. I do want to remind everyone on the planet of how precious our wild places are, and the wild creatures that live there. I do want to be a part of celebrating the nuances and complexities of cultures across the planet, be they reindeer herders in the Arctic or Indigenous custodians in the Outback. I want to give a voice to everything and anything that is beautiful in the world.
That is my WHY, and from there forward I keep looking for the HOW.