Stephen Mayes – Liveblog from Flash Forward

 

Stephen Mayes, Managing Director of VII Photo and one of my favorite photo thinkers, is presenting a lecture titled, “Restructuring the Photographic Process,” during the Flash Forward Festival today, June 3, at noon EST.

If you’d like to see what he has to say but can’t join us in Boston, please check in here, where I’ll liveblog his talk and any subsequent discussion.

[liveblog]

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

“Highway #2 Los Angeles, California, USA, 2003” ©Edward Burtynsky

I’ve been wondering lately if I’m ready to write this post. The post where I tell you what I’m doing here, on this blog and with my life. You can tell from my first post that I haven’t been ready to explain myself yet. That my motivations and goals are unclear, even to myself.

Getting clear on my own motivations and goals is very important to me. I basically have three therapists right now for exactly this reason. (One is a traditional talk therapist who’ve I’ve been seeing since I lived in NYC, one is a somatic therapist in Berkeley, and one is a good friend who has started coaching people through career transitions.)

So what have all these insightful people helped me come to understand about motivations and goals? They are a moving target. Like anything else, especially things like being happy or satisfied, they are not something to attain, but something to work on every day for the rest of your life.

That’s why this explanation post is hard to write, because my ideas for what this blog should be change quite literally every few hours. Or rather, they expand. I do not abandon my original ideas for what I want this to be when I have a new one, I just pile it on top. So now I have so many goals, the idea of encapsulating them in one post is overwhelming, daunting to the point that I’ve been unable to start until just now.

Let’s try this. I’ll write down all my ideas that I can think of. Knowing myself, I’ll probably think I’ve just made things worse by the time I get to the end, but I’m promising you right now that I won’t erase any of it. Ready? Ok, here goes….

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I love working with people. I love talking to people and hearing their stories. And photo people are some of my favorite people to talk and work with. I got to do that regularly when I was editing RESOLVE; when I quit, I started thinking of ways to incorporate that into my current sabbatical.

For the next six months I’ll be traveling around the country and a bit in Europe, mostly seeing friends and searching for the root of my own passions. Many of those friends are photo people, and since I’m very interested in the idea of creative collaboration, I decided I’d like to put together some projects with them while I’m in town.

I’ve observed the power and importance of collaboration many times in my work on RESOLVE. In The Future of Photobooks, we saw many artists joining forces, almost always from far ends of the earth, aided by new social technologies. And one of the main reasons I created the AFTER STAFF project was to help photographers who had lost the close, caring atmosphere of the newsroom feel connected to others who were going through the same thing. That project uncovered several groups that have already formed to take the place of that kind of collaborative community. I also organized a webinar for OPEN-i about collectives and the ways that teams can weather the fluctuating media landscape better than lone individuals.

Personally I’m drawn to artistic collaboration, too. I’m giving more attention to my own creative impulses these days, but because I’ve suppressed those urges for so long, because I was afraid of people’s rejection, creative endeavors are overwhelming for me. I realized that working with professional creatives in the cities I visit would help me gain confidence in my own creativity.

Listening to feedback from friends, I also realized that these questions and doubts about the creative process are common to all artists, maybe all people. So, loving to educate and help people as I do, it only makes sense that I should write about my experiences here, in the hope that people might gain some insight from them.

On top of all that, I’ve always thought in the back of my mind about writing a memoir, mostly to satisfy a deep need to have other people know me and understand me. Now that I’m no longer “editor of the liveBooks photo blog” or “senior editor of American Photo Magazine,” I feel a particular need for people to get to know me better professionally. I’ve also decided recently that I need to get better at being myself. At making decisions based on my own needs and desires instead of the expectations of other people. At being the same person in the office that I am with my friends or my family or myself.

That’s why I want this blog to be about both my professional and personal lives. Because I don’t want those things to be separate anymore. When I discover the passion that runs deep enough  to sustain me for the rest of my life, I know it will be something that flows through every aspect of my life.

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I have trouble admitting vulnerability. I’ve heard I’m not the only one. My facade used to be very thick. I was always together, always on top of it, always OK. That works better in a professional situation than a personal one, but either way it’s unsustainable. And then I learned that it makes other people feel bad, to think I never have any problems, and that I’ll judge them for theirs. And then I learned that it actually makes me feel bad, too. Because I’ve never given people the chance to see me mess up and then decide to give me a second chance. So I’m terrified of messing up. I’m convinced that people will fire me, hate me, stop loving me if I do.

So I started admitting to people when I wasn’t OK. When I didn’t know what to do. When I knew I’d messed up. In little ways at first and then for big things. And when people didn’t condemn me for it, I was able to stop condemning myself so much. And, best of all, people felt like they could be themselves around me, that they could open up and share their own fears. And, like I said at the beginning, I love talking with people. Communicating with their honest, human center, which you can only do when you make yourself vulnerable first.

So I know that being vulnerable is also really important for this blog. I think that honesty is almost always rewarded, especially in this online world that values authenticity above almost all else (one of my favorite things about it). And I also know that another thing about making myself vulnerable is that people see I need help, instead of thinking that I never need help. And then they help me. And that feels great.

That’s why I really don’t want this blog to be about me giving anyone answers or even just sharing my own experiences. I want to share my experiences, but also ask questions, and have you respond (yes you, reading, right now). Then everyone will start responding to each other, and I can draw some major ideas out of those discussions (I like doing that 🙂 and THEN maybe some answers will arise — or at least some good ideas.

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OK, honestly, that feels like it only scratches the surface of all the things I’ve been thinking about, but I know that’s already an overwhelming number of words, so I’m leaving off. Oh, one last thing about this blog: I know I’m going to be continuing to figure out what exactly it is as long as I’m writing it. This is just one post of many.

Future of Photobooks :: The power of crowds

The month-long, multi-blog Future of Photobooks project we hosted on RESOLVE was the trigger that really got me thinking about the growing potential of collaboration and crowd-sourcing.

Andy Adams, the founder of FlakPhoto, was my co-conspirator and I learned a lot from working with him. His connections are vast and well organized and he will work tirelessly to mobilize them for a project. See for proof the more than 50 bloggers who contributed posts to the Future of Photobooks project.

As RESOLVE editor, I sometimes felt like an army of one, so working with Andy also brought my attention to the logistics of collaboration: recognizing and playing to each other’s strengths, streamlining communication, giving credit often and publicly. I PLAN TO CONTINUE TO EXPLORE THE SUBTLETIES OF CREATIVE COLLABORATION ON THIS BLOG AND SHARE WHAT I FIND WITH YOU.

Probably the most eye-opening aspect of the Future of Photobooks project was seeing the power of group knowledge being harnessed to create a valuable resource.

By asking bloggers to write on their own platforms, we decreased the burden on us as editors and also connected automatically with a wide range of audiences. And instead of one or two cool links and interesting ideas on a couple blogs, we ended up with enough for three link-packed posts, plus three separate discussion topics, which were also moderated by top bloggers.

Finally, rather than asking readers to follow this trail of posts all over the blogosphere, we indexed all the articles in a central post, along with all the related posts on RESOLVE, creating a stockpile of information about new directions in photobook publishing.

While we were helping readers learn about photobooks, I think it’s safe to say that Andy and I were the ones who learned the most. I know that for me, because I had to read every post in order to synthesize the information for the summary posts, I often felt like I was getting a personal class in photobooks.

And once people saw the impact of the Future of Photobooks project, they asked Andy and I to share what we’d learned: I gave a presentation about it at the Apple Store in San Francisco, he just presented at FotoFreo in Australia, and we’re both joining a panel this fall at the Flash Forward Festival in Toronto.

As someone who was trained as a magazine editor in the traditional sense, this new concept of an editor as an organizer, coordinator, and refiner of not only words but also relationships and activities is super exciting. I hope you agree, and will follow along as we explore those ideas here.

AFTER STAFF :: Resources for former staffers

The first big collaborative project I organized on RESOLVE was AFTER STAFF, five days of posts drawing together a range of advice and resources for photographers leaving staff positions and moving to self-employment.

An image that ran in AFTER STAFF from David Leeson, whose career provides an incredible example for photographers exploring new mediums and models. (I also like it as a metaphor for throwing yourself into a new paradigm.)

Besides putting up several posts a day interviewing photographers who had moved from staff photojournalism to commercial, fine art, editorial, and more, we also ran “Expert of the Day” posts where an expert would answer real-time questions in the comments of the post.

This is also where I started to really wrap my brain around the concept of crowd-sourcing. Because most people had made the staff-to-freelance transition so recently, no one really wanted to speak up as an expert. So instead, I asked 30+ photographers the same few questions, about how they felt when they left, what they’re doing now, and lessons they’ve learned.

I collected their answers in a series of posts that not only provide useful insights for photographers in similar situations, but also show all photographers making that transition that they’re not alone — something many struggled with as they left the camaraderie of the newsroom.

Unfortunately, organizing and editing that amount of content on my own almost killed me, and I couldn’t possibly have done it without the help of contributing editor Emily Miller. The Future of Photobooks project was a vast improvement because I had a dedicated collaborator (Andy Adams from FlakPhoto) and asked bloggers to publish on their own platforms.