Morning Serial

kaila_identity.jpg

Thesis proposals are in full swing at school, midterms have just finished, and I am sitting here thinking about  the incredible artists that share their work with me every week. I have the honor of being able to teach this art form that I love every day, to students at many different places in their lives and careers. At the beginning of every semester I warn my students that I ask a lot of questions and it is very true. Every week during critiques I have more questions than answers because I believe that the concept of the work, the reason each person is creating in the way they do, using a particular subject and process, is just as important as the final product. Besides needing to prepare students for thesis projects, I am also honestly, insatiably curious. I’m sure I probably drove my parents crazy always asking, “why?” Our set of encyclopedias was well used by the time the Internet came along and I had a new way to research the questions - historic, philosophic, artistic, spiritual, or mundane - that intrigued me. One of the things I noticed early on is that we each have a unique perspective based on our experiences and interests. The ability to see these different views depicted visually is one of the things I love about art, especially when looking at the subject of a particular artist’s work.

In the case of academia, I have the ability to see work develop over semesters or even years, understanding some of the back-story and seeing the eventual triumph of transforming something from an idea or a feeling into a personal, authentic, physical work of art. It inspires me to keep pushing my own work and to seek different ways of working with some of the recurring ideas I work with, namely home, identity, memory, and personal metaphor.

Last November I saw the Serial Portrait show at the National Gallery and was intrigued by the sets of images showing some of my favorite photographers’ ongoing work with a particular person, place, or group. From Emmet Gowin’s portraits of his wife, Edith to Nicholas Nixon’s “The Brown Sisters” to Nikki S. Lee’s personal transformations, the show was a clear depiction of what an artist can accomplish when dedicated to one subject over many years.

Gowin

Gowin

Edith and Moth Flight, by Emmet Gowin, Danville, Virginia, 2002

The depth and the connection of the work challenged me to push beyond what is comfortable and familiar and continue to re-examine the people and places I capture. With each image I continue to question how I see, and each time I open the shutter it is with the intent to change how others see the world. Whether I am using the Canon or the iPhone, the intent to record and to use the captured images as more than just a document of a moment remains the same.

This intent, the way an artist approaches a particular subject, is also an inherent aspect of artistic vision and style. I have been amazed many times over by photographers who tell me they don’t have a style, though by the end of the conversation I have usually managed to bring them around. At the beginning of one’s journey, perhaps this is true, however it is important to understand and define your style sooner rather than later. (Otherwise I will reach through the computer and shake you.) Believe in yourself and your work enough to take this important step and work intentionally with your subject, your process, and your approach to the world.

If you are still unclear on your style, look back over your images from the last few years and notice what you are capturing. When you look at the images, what do you see? How do you use color? Framing? Focus? Time? Light? What are some of the themes that occur in multiple images? Consider having other people look at the work and talk about what they are seeing. And always come back to why you pick up the camera in the first place.

Kaila_Ophelia

Kaila_Ophelia

Kaila as Ophelia, Rock Creek: 1998, 2006, 2012

Morning Serial

kaila_identity.jpg

Thesis proposals are in full swing at school, midterms have just finished, and I am sitting here thinking about  the incredible artists that share their work with me every week. I have the honor of being able to teach this art form that I love every day, to students at many different places in their lives and careers. At the beginning of every semester I warn my students that I ask a lot of questions and it is very true. Every week during critiques I have more questions than answers because I believe that the concept of the work, the reason each person is creating in the way they do, using a particular subject and process, is just as important as the final product. Besides needing to prepare students for thesis projects, I am also honestly, insatiably curious. I’m sure I probably drove my parents crazy always asking, “why?” Our set of encyclopedias was well used by the time the Internet came along and I had a new way to research the questions - historic, philosophic, artistic, spiritual, or mundane - that intrigued me. One of the things I noticed early on is that we each have a unique perspective based on our experiences and interests. The ability to see these different views depicted visually is one of the things I love about art, especially when looking at the subject of a particular artist’s work.

In the case of academia, I have the ability to see work develop over semesters or even years, understanding some of the back-story and seeing the eventual triumph of transforming something from an idea or a feeling into a personal, authentic, physical work of art. It inspires me to keep pushing my own work and to seek different ways of working with some of the recurring ideas I work with, namely home, identity, memory, and personal metaphor.

Last November I saw the Serial Portrait show at the National Gallery and was intrigued by the sets of images showing some of my favorite photographers’ ongoing work with a particular person, place, or group. From Emmet Gowin’s portraits of his wife, Edith to Nicholas Nixon’s “The Brown Sisters” to Nikki S. Lee’s personal transformations, the show was a clear depiction of what an artist can accomplish when dedicated to one subject over many years.

Gowin

Edith and Moth Flight, by Emmet Gowin, Danville, Virginia, 2002

The depth and the connection of the work challenged me to push beyond what is comfortable and familiar and continue to re-examine the people and places I capture. With each image I continue to question how I see, and each time I open the shutter it is with the intent to change how others see the world. Whether I am using the Canon or the iPhone, the intent to record and to use the captured images as more than just a document of a moment remains the same.

This intent, the way an artist approaches a particular subject, is also an inherent aspect of artistic vision and style. I have been amazed many times over by photographers who tell me they don’t have a style, though by the end of the conversation I have usually managed to bring them around. At the beginning of one’s journey, perhaps this is true, however it is important to understand and define your style sooner rather than later. (Otherwise I will reach through the computer and shake you.) Believe in yourself and your work enough to take this important step and work intentionally with your subject, your process, and your approach to the world.

If you are still unclear on your style, look back over your images from the last few years and notice what you are capturing. When you look at the images, what do you see? How do you use color? Framing? Focus? Time? Light? What are some of the themes that occur in multiple images? Consider having other people look at the work and talk about what they are seeing. And always come back to why you pick up the camera in the first place.

Kaila_Ophelia

Kaila as Ophelia, Rock Creek: 1998, 2006, 2012

From Personal Identity to Professional Plan

Letting go. Holding on. Remembering. Dreaming.

There are so many phases to figuring out anything important  - art, love, identity, business plans, life goals - yet so many of these questions come down to defining who you are and what you want to do in the world. A definition that evolves throughout one’s life and experiences, certainly, but a question that is important to answer now. Today. And to continually remember.

Then comes the challenge of putting your work, your art, your life out into the world.

I talk to many creative people who want to do more, to incorporate their chosen medium into their daily lives in a way that is sustainable long-term. Making this happen requires passion, tenacity, community, and balance, and it looks different for everyone, but I truly believe that it is achievable.

We can talk about timelines, marketing plans, business strategy, the evolving world of social media, the power of referrals, and all of these tools are important and also teachable. But before you build the website, design the business cards, or meet with the clients, slow down for a moment and really define who you are and what you are doing. Your identity. Ultimately, your brand.

The term “personal brand” began popping up a few years ago, but many people still think of a brand in terms of a corporation, something that they might be working toward in the amorphous future, but separate from daily life. For creative professionals and entrepreneurs this personality, this identity, already exists and it is built every day with each interaction. So, you might as well take responsibility for it now. Your brand is your promise, your business, and your reputation. Many pieces go into creating and communicating a clear understanding of who you are and what you do. It is more than just a logo, color scheme, or tagline. It is more than your product or your art. You don’t leave it at the office at the end of the day. Your brand is the story of you.

When you talk to clients, when you network, when you send an email or post a tweet, your personality is on display and it is linked to both your business and personal endeavors. Before you hit send, before you post that shot of your dinner on Instagram, before you walk into the next networking event, ask yourself: How do you define yourself? What is important about you? What do you want people to remember about you? What is your niche? In other words - what makes you different from the 76 other people who live in your town and do what you do?

This is an opportunity and a challenge and it will build the foundation of your business, your brand, your decisions. Once you answer these questions you can then decide how you are going to communicate your message to the right people so they understand how incredible you are and why they want to work with you.

When you need a break from this personal soul-searching, try Googling yourself. What comes up? This is what many other people are seeing - make sure there aren’t any surprises and that your online identity lines up with your intended message.

Once you know who you are and what you do it is time to think about incorporating your personal brand into your marketing and business presentation - those tools we were talking about earlier in this post. The equation is different for everyone, but think about everything your potential contact or client will see, including your business card, letterhead, website, Facebook page, Twitter account, email address, even your personal appearance. It might seem shallow, but we all remember first impressions - make sure your clothing and speech are situation appropriate.

As you are thinking about the tools you need to communicate your message - the ways you can get people excited about your work - don’t get overwhelmed by trying to do everything. Instead, choose a few key venues and do them well, then add pieces as necessary. Do you enjoy writing? Try a personal blog and Facebook. Are you constantly glued to your smartphone? Try having your Twitter feed post to your website. Before committing to any of these, however, make sure that you really are committed. Starting a blog and posting once every few months is worse than never having one at all (part of why we are now having these Sunday morning conversations, because sometimes I have to remind myself to take my own advice). Facebook and Twitter are time-stamped so people can see whether you are posting on a regular basis, or only logging in when you have an announcement to make or an event to promote.

When creating a website or blog, think about the domain name and how it links into your personal brand as well as your business. If there are a lot of people who know you, but few know about your business, maybe a domain name that is based on your name in the best route. You want to be professional and you want people to know something about where they are going when they click that link. Same with email, sarah.smith@gmail.com tells consumers absolutely nothing about your business, and it looks like you aren’t committed enough to setup a business email. Sarah.smith@teaandcookies.com makes me curious, tells me your name, that you likely run a tea shop, which I now want to see, and makes my mouth water thinking about cookies. Sarah@wordsmithnyc.com give me your location and vocation, and, personally, I say bonus points when I figure out that you have incorporated your name in the web address.

Then there is the style and aesthetic of your presentation, how you visually communicate your identity, but as this post is getting rather long, I think we will save that conversation for another day...

Remember, no matter what tools you choose, there is still no replacement for a handshake, eye contact, a smile, and personal conversation. Your brand is your promise and if people have a personal connection with you, they will be much more likely to work with you professionally.

Make sure you first know yourself and that you can communicate what you do. Believe in it. If I can tell you are committed to and passionate about your life and work, chances are pretty good I will be, too.

Let go of past definitions. Hold onto the pieces that you know in your core are an integral part of who you are as a person. Remember that everything you do, each action and word, makes up who you are. Dream as big as you can imagine so that you always have more to try and work toward.

Persona

I notice patterns. Serendipity? More than mere coincidence, though it is fair to note that once you begin looking for something, you find it everywhere. In letting go of one identity, or, perhaps, the need for a clearly defined and quantified self, I have found the conversation, this search for definition, coming up in every conversation over the past week.

We all wear masks - the question is whether you will allow me to see behind yours. Or, more importantly, whether you know you wear one in the first place. I forgot, for awhile. For years it fit so tightly, so smoothly, that it became a mark of honor. Ingrained. I counted the mask as an accomplishment - look how quickly and quietly I can become...anyone. When I looked in the mirror I saw skin, but on camera the mask was inescapable. Staring back at myself, I knew all I had given up. All I had become. Through dedication and loyalty, hope and expectation. Fear and love. Once I finally saw her, I was more terrified than any hero faced with the snake-crowned Medusa. I was already stone. It took 4000 miles, two months of sunlight, humor, patience, and whole lot of pop music to finally crack the marble mask.