Becoming INEXPERT
 INEXPERT2018

INEXPERT2018

The INEXPERT2018 Challenge:

Step up to the mic and speak on a subject about which you know nothing for 10 minutes.

And try not to be intimidated by the 100 people watching you.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed making images at INEXPERT2018 but, as @SiobhanHRSheri pointed out, my efforts to be an INEXPERT photographer turned out to be, well, inexpert.  

The event, conceived by @stevexoh, was a brilliant social experiment into inexpertise and not-knowing disguised as a conference.  A perfect antidote to the smooth production values and worshipful attention to 'status through knowledge' which underpins the vibe of the now over-familiar TED talks.

As the event photographer,  I was given an opportunity to creatively unhook myself from the requirement to produce 'expert' images yet my brief also contained the proviso, '... but they mustn't be deliberately bad...'  

Suddenly, a yawning space of failure opened up before me. What could I do?  

Poorly exposed or out of focus images would fit into the 'deliberately bad' category so what would it mean to be creatively or technically inexpert? 

I gave myself some 'creative' constraints: one camera, one fixed focus lens.  (I also edged towards inept crapness by turning up with only one half-charged camera battery... That's another story.) I also formulated a plan to simply hit the shutter button whenever I 'noticed' myself framing, tweaking or waiting for one of the speakers to move into just the right light... whenever I found myself 'looking for the shot' I would simply go with what I had.   As the event unfolded I was really pleased with the pictures; it's been a while since I did this kind of work and the aesthetics of the deep blacks and stark stage lighting on a minimalist set looked great.

But, ultimately, I think my experiment failed.

What went wrong for me?

As I wrestled with my own 'be perfect' demons, I  realise that I was gently derailed by factors that would be familiar to anyone attempting to encourage creativity through coaching , consulting or organisational leadership.

  • I couldn't get my fear of the improvisation mantra 'fail happy' out of my head. I knew there was a serious job to be done. Business as usual. Photographs to be produced, a website to be populated, tweets to be illustrated.  With that kind of responsibility (or any), I don't 'fail happy'.
  • My 'default setting' is to offer witness and honour the people whose images I have the privilege to make. I want them to  know they are seen.  It's a commitment that takes all the skill I can muster (and more..)
  • The ethics of photography hold considerable significance for me. I would be uncomfortable publishing images that might make people look stupid or cause distress regardless of how authentically 'true' they were.
  • We live in a digital world and the images could appear anywhere. Egotistically, I don't want to see bad work with my name attached to it.

Yet no well-designed experiment is ever wasted and my INEXPERT learning is slowly coming into focus.

The exercise let my own values and principles become increasingly clear to me, as have the habits and rituals that both frame and constrain my creativity. I have also been confronted by the fact that everything I see or act upon is, quite literally, viewed through my own interpretive lens and I'm putting regular creative experiments on my schedule to flex and develop my sense of 'vision'.

Final thoughts?

As an academic, consultant and photographer, I am make a living from helping people work through personal change. Any significant transformation is edgy, it entails risk, the possibility of failure and requires the courage to step bravely into 'not-knowing.'

It was great to have some skin in the game.

 

Notes.

Spend some time on the INEXPERT2018 website. It's a fabulous artefact of an event that will never happen again.

See Steve Chapman's 'Can Scorpions Smoke' website is here.

A selection of my INEXPERT2018 images is here....

 

Steve MarshallComment
Alienation, Change & Love Letters
 Soho; NYC.

Soho; NYC.

"Skilful perception is a devotional practice. It is essentially learning to see, and thus consists of cultivating those aspects of the visual process that are modifiable, or that can be developed by a kind of mindfulness." (Laura Sewall)

 

Last week I wrote a blog  for the folk @MayvinLtd to celebrate James Traeger and Rob Warwick's  'Organisation Development: A Bold Explorer's Guide' book launch. It's a fabulously rich, practitioner orientated book which pays careful attention to organisations and our efforts to change them.  I was honoured to be asked to contribute and the Mayvin blog tells the story of the 'shot brief' and a little of my own creative process and accompanying anxieties.

I'm constantly trying to use images as an artful, accessible way to 'feel' my way into my work as a practitioner and academic. In action research, we label this 'first person inquiry' and I'm now reflecting on the images as a method to recognise my own habitual processes and ways of seeing, to find some insight into how or even why I see the world in the way I do.

Is this important?  Yes.  Because we have a tendency to see the world as we are rather than as it is.  As I consider my own leadership and the change interventions I make, the material I write, the way I work in academia, I know it is all founded in my interpretation of the world.  It may be that my interpretation is wrong or it could be right, but the 'first person' work is to help me at least become more aware of my own perspective and open up the possibility of other alternatives.

The images in the book are part of a collection  of 'moments' when I've felt aesthetically curious and challenged by an unfolding scene or vista.  Sometimes I travel around looking for them, at other times they just seem to present themselves. As Laura Sewall says, there is a 'practice' to this kind of 'noticing'; I know that I have to be alone, in a particular frame of mind, open, available, receptive.  Which, honestly, can take a me while...

But what did I notice about the collection of 'Bold Explorer's Guide images?  

I see my tendency to portray the world through a 'lens' of dystopia, deficit, tragedy, maybe... I am caught by moments of curiosity and beauty but the overall frame is still one of alienation and dysfunction.  So I'm now challenging myself to 'notice' differently; to 'see' our world in ways that are generative, gentle and hopeful, softer, more beguiling.  I'm not sure how I will do this or where it will take me (though I do think the 'Photo-Dialogues' are part of this experiment) but I'm trying to hold myself open to the challenge. The inquiry will undoubtedly have a significant influence across all of my work.

As I go, I am holding in mind the ways in which the alienated perspective has implications for the ways in which we work with change and the  aggressive, controlling methods we often deploy.  You won't need to look far to see the impact of this kind of approach across our politics, the way we work and how we look after each other.

A while back I was listening to Michael Glickman on a radio programme about the mystery of crop circles.  As the programme host pressed Glickman towards a declaration of extra-terrestrial life forms visiting the earth I heard him resist the familiar configuration of alien intelligence. The crop circles were, he claimed, indicative of a form intelligence, though ‘...it is not landing metallic craft on the lawn of the White House.’ ‘Rather,’ he said, ‘it seems to be gently pushing love letters under the door.’

 

Notes:

In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes refers to the a way of perceiving the world without specific acuity as the 'studium' and what might be the 'moments' when we are 'pricked' by an image, a vista, as the 'punctum'. For me, the 'punctum'  in the Soho image is the 'Death is Free' sign. As Barthes would recognise, I can't really say why...

While I am searching for generative images,  I'm not saying that distressing images don't do their work too.  Mark Edwards' 'Hard Rain' has captivated me for years....  Take a look at the Hard Rain Project website...

Witnessed (This is who I am)
 Steve Marshall: 28 April 2018

Steve Marshall: 28 April 2018

Offering witness through photography is an incredible privilege.

Yet turning the camera on myself is never easy.

 

Though I mostly use chunky, heavy gear, I also have some very small cameras which fit in the palm of my hand. The thing is, even though I am 6'2" tall, I can still hide behind them.

So, last week I took a step towards the dark side and spent a few days alongside @nicaskew working with video. 

Nic's approach is deceptively simple; just put the camera onto the subject and... nothing else... As he says, there is, "Nothing to fix. Nothing to do. No-one to do it." It's that easy, and that difficult. Take a look at his (beautiful) films over at Soul Biographies.

We live in visual world that mediated by filters, photo-shop and other masks or cloaking devices; turning up with our selfies on Instagram and Snapchat all posed, poised and polished.  We are rarely seen for who we are.

I know, that through my photography, I aspire for something else. 

Yet in witnessing another person, there is connection, respect and care, and it doesn't need a camera.  

In one exercise, I worked with Patricia Ramaer, an artist and photographer (whose fine art work, by the way, is simply stunning.)  Though I could hold Patricia in my gaze, finding affection and humanity in the eyes of someone previously unknown to me, when we exchanged roles I just couldn't maintain eye contact...

Several times I had to break away and regain composure; the incredible experience of really being 'seen' by another human was almost too much. Patricia's care of me was exquisite but it took a while for me to face into the vulnerability, intensity, exposure and intimacy; there was nowhere to hide.  

While consultants, coaches and change agents everywhere tell us to 'fully show up' in our workplaces, to be our 'whole selves', I don't think it's that easy.

But today I am trying to show up on the blog just as I am.  If I put the people in front of my camera  through this then I should at least know how I inhabit that space...

Of all the pictures I made, somehow this one felt most authentic.

This is who I am. Still struggling to hold your gaze.

 

Notes:

Take a look at Rose Kumar's or Judith Johnson's blogs on bearing witness via Huffington Post.

"...no masks, no bargains..."  Ever since I read Margaret Wheatley's poem 'Flawless', I've been going back to it.