It's Always Worth Doing Something That Terrifies You

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Until very, very recently, I've never entered a photography competition. Well, that's not actually true: I entered, I think, one competition at the Lancaster Photographic Society some part in the last decade. But nothing national, or international, or indeed particularly outside my little bubble. Partly because failing was scary, but mostly because I was absolutely convinced that there was nothing in my output that was competition worthy.

If there's one thing that I've finally started to learn this year, it's that you've got to do the stuff that scares you. If you don't, it will continue to scare you, and you'll never know if you could have done it. Fear will have won, and all you'll be able to do in the future is make some excuse about not giving it a shot — "I didn't have anything that was a good fit for the competition," for example, which is just code for "well, I was too scared to try." If you're really honest with yourself and the people with whom you're talking.

So this year, I decided to throw my cap over the wall this year. And because I'm a lunatic and I don't like to do things by halves, I decided that the competition to enter would be the British Journal of Photography's International Photography Award.

Yes, I am that mad. I've got no illusions that I'm actually going to win anything. After all, I'm just a guy submitting some work. Maybe next year I'll do something more considered. Photo competitions like the IPA are about getting your work in front of the judges, and about making sure that people know you're alive. Other than that, it's pointless caring about winning — there are so many great photographers out there and so many stunning images.

I entered two sets of photographs this year: one of character studies — partly drawn from my Fifteen Minutes Portraits project, partly from stuff I'd shot on other commissions — and one of evening.camera images. Because after 400+ images in that project, why the hell not? 

Here they are for your enjoyment: hope you like looking at them as much as I liked making them.

Conversations with my Inner Dickhead

It's World Mental Health Day today, so I thought I'd share something that I wrote a couple of days ago, when I didn't know that today was going to be World Mental Health Day. This piece was sparked by listening to Wil Wheaton being interviewed on the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression, a truly wonderful podcast that's well worth your time.


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I have an inner dickhead. An imaginary frenemy. He likes to try to make me miserable; as far as I can tell, for his own amusement.

I have decided, just now, to call him "Jeff". Important note: Jeff is not real. Except to me.

Jeff doesn't think I'm very good at what I do — as an artist, anyway. Tech, code, building devices that do interesting things over networks, sure. Jeff says I'm good at those. Art? Jeff thinks I suck.

And Jeff not only thinks that I suck. He thinks that I suck so hard that everyone has noticed, but that all the people who have noticed, all the people I've ever worked with, are just far too polite to come out and say it.

Jeff tells me that everyone who ever congratulated me, who ever told me my images were good, was lying or a fool. Friends, loved ones, professionals. All of them, Jeff says, are either full of shit or empty of brains. And if someone doesn't congratulate me — if a client, say, isn't overflowing with adoration for the work we did together — it's evidence that they, too, think I suck; they're just keeping it to themselves to spare me the embarassment of having to face my failures.

I think Jeff has been with me for a long time. I can remember him not being there — or at least I think I can. He wasn't there when I wrote plays at school that were largely Star Trek rip-offs, and got my friends to star in them, and filmed them, and made props for them.

But he was there when I was meant to solo in the brass quartet that I played in back then. And when I hit a bad note, he shouted at me as I played. On stage.

Jeff is the art teacher who told me that my self portrait was pretty rubbish, actually. He's the boss who told me that I wasn't shaping up, and asked me where my pride was.

Jeff's a shit.

Jeff will happily take anything that I'm happy with and turn it on its head within minutes. He's why I procrastinate about looking at images from a shoot — because I know Jeff will pipe up. He always does.

The worst thing of all, though, is that Jeff is a part of me. And so by hating him, and getting angry at him, all I am doing is hating and getting angry at myself. Which makes Jeff all the stronger — he feeds on that kind of thing.

The only ways to combat Jeff are:

  1. To accept that he's there, and give myself permission to sulk, and hope he'll be gone by morning.
  2. To tell him I don't have time for his bullshit right now, and to get on with what I'm doing.

I haven't really tried #2, if I'm honest. I really ought to. Because I often don't have time for Jeff's BS — but I give it to him anyway.

If Jeff had had his way, I would have thrown all of my camera equipment, and hard drives, and negatives, into the Manchester Ship Canal years ago. Sometimes, Jeff likes to have me think about doing this from the top of the Barton Bridge (he always neglects the fact that there's no hard shoulder there, so it would be impractical and inconvenient and would get me arrested).

Jeff is, I know, the scared part of me that doesn't like doing something he's not used to doing (or at least not used enough to doing yet). He's got my best interests at heart, but unfortunately he's a complete cock-end about actually trying to look after me. He's the cruel-to-be kind voice of friends who half want to not see you hurt, and half want to hold you back because if you get happy, they'll have to look at their own lives and realise how much they don't have themselves.

I could say that I hate Jeff, but I don't. That'd be like hating my left kidney, or my nostril. I don't like him much, either. But I do have to live with him.

So some day, if you're with me, and I'm seeming a bit glum, don't worry. It might just be that Jeff's jumping around and throwing a tantrum because I'm doing something cool and scary. He'll go away again.

He usually does.

Except for me.

Why I cordially loathe Instagram

This image has got bugger-all to do with this post, really, but I like it, so…

This image has got bugger-all to do with this post, really, but I like it, so…

Instagram. You're expected, as a photographer, to be on the damn thing these days. And for a long while I was. I would try to post daily, to to be "intentional" with my feed — though I'm not really sure what that means, if I'm absolutely honest. And then, earlier this year, I decided to ditch my Instagram account, just like I'd ditched my Facebook account some years ago.

I am quite definitely measurably happier. Not necessarily better off, professionally — we'll come to that in a bit — but happier? Sure.

My loathing of Instagram boils down to precisely two things, when I come to examine it in the cold light of day. There are other reasons — it being owned by Facebook, for one thing, and its ridiculously puritanical attitude towards the female nipple for another —  but the point is that even if those other things were not true, the following would still lead me to shut my account down:

  1. You can't automate Instagram
  2. Looking at other folks' social media streams can be an intensely depressing experience.

The second of these is, I admit, my own weakness rather than a weakness in Instagram itself. I realised that the more I looked at Instagram — especially during the time when I wasn't making pictures but instead was off doing other things — was bringing me extraordinarily low. And yes, yes, I know: don't compare your life with other folks' highlights reels. I get that. But it was inevitable that I would do just that, and the easiest way to not do that was to turn off Instagram. Point 1.

By far and away the thing I hate most about Instagram, however, is its utter lack of automation.

Consider Twitter (but not for too long, because it's a cesspool). One of the things it did right, very early on, was to have an open API that allowed you to make posts from any manner of Twitter client. They locked it down later because they believed that the proliferation of Twitter clients was hurting their bottom line (whether locking it down actually helped or not I don't know; Twitter still gives me the impression that the senior management hasn't yet figured out what their business model actually is). Facebook too allows for automated posts.

For someone like me this makes a huge amount of sense. I like to keep control of the stuff I create. I post it in one place (evening.camera, say) and then I use IFTTT or similar to post it to Twitter and elsewhere. Back when I used Facebook, I did exactly the same thing there. But you can't do that with Instagram, because it offers no public API by which to create posts.

There are ways to sort-of automate Instagram. "But use Buffer," some will say. Well, yes. And for a while I did. Buffer is a brilliant (and monetised) solution to many of the problems faced by those with social media streams. But the trouble with using Buffer with Instagram is the workflow:

  1. Something adds the image to your buffer queue.
  2. Buffer sends you a push notification when it's time to post. If you ignore this, the photo goes into another tab in Buffer, and it's a bit more clicking to find it again to post it.
  3. You open Buffer, which copies the caption for the image into your phone's clipboard for later.
  4. Buffer opens Instagram for you. (If you have more than one account you need to make sure you're logged into the right one).
  5. You fiddle with the image in Instagram. If you just want to zoom out so that your whole image is posted rather than a square crop, you sometimes have to do some fiddling around and then cancel it and do it again.
  6. You paste the caption that Buffer put into your copy/paste clipboard and do any necessary hashtagging.
  7. You post.

I. Cannot. Be. Bothered.

I can understand some of Instagram's reasons for not having a public API for creating posts, but for people like me who want to keep control of their own stuff (let's ignore that Instagram can use your pictures for advertising, etc., yadda yadda) and who don't want to have to faff around with each and every social media app in order to be able to put stuff out in the world, it's a complete and anger-inducing waste of my time.

Instagram is great for consuming stuff. It's great for interacting with other people who've put their work on the site. But it's dreadful for actually putting your stuff out in the world in any kind of organised fashion. I guess that's because it was built for sharing stuff on-the-hop, and we're mis-purposing it a bit. But Instagram has positioned itself so that it's the place to share images if you're a visual artist of any stripe. And if you want to do that and have time to do other things, Instagram is bloody awful.

(Of course, I maintain my right to change my mind about all this at some point.)