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 ‘ 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.’



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...