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.
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'.
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.
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....