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It is I, Mitchel Lensink, with another edition of my monthly newsletter Dialogue. Welcome, everybody who joined in the past month! We mostly talk about photography, walking and related things here. Sometimes also about other things, but it's always photo-adjecent. Next to that, I use this space to share my recent work, feel free to send me yours! This newsletter is called Dialogue for a reason. No longer care? Unsubbing is always one click away at the bottom of each email.
Past editions have been about AI in photography, imposter syndrome, and street photography. Though, honestly, it's always a little about street photography. This month's missive is about motivation and discipline and how one is arguably better than the other. Let's dive in.
No days off
There’s a purple speck in the bottom right corner of my iPhone 5’s camera. It looks like dust or dirt made its way inside the device but I can’t notice any apparent flaws on its exterior. It makes no sense. Bummer, because it’s clearly visible in my photos and I’m only a couple of months into my 365 project. I guess I'll just have to clone-stamp it out each day. The project must continue, no matter what.
A couple of months pass, and it looks like I no longer have to deal with a broken camera. The iPhone 6s comes out today, and I’m in line at the local Apple Store. My photography skills have increased quite a bit recently, but image quality has taken an equally sized hit. Gear only doesn't matter when you have something that's at least base-level good and with my ever-growing skill level, I can't wait to re-align the two again. More importantly though, completing my photo project should definitely be much easier with this shiny new gadget.
It's been six years since my last 365 project and I'm ready for that type of commitment again. In fact, I need that type of commitment again. Covid has been raging around our world for nearly a year now, and I'm overflowing. I have ideas, thoughts, energy, frustration and an urge to create. To put myself out there. To share. Photography no longer fulfills me as it did previously. I've watered it down for my clients too much. I'm not really sure who I am with this camera right now. Maybe I just need to give myself some time to figure out what to point my lens at next.
The clock strikes midnight. A new year starts and with that, my 365 project of 2021 as well. The goal is to write daily and, hopefully, figure out what to do with all this creative energy. I have been grinding as if I'm in a rush, and focussing on the outcome instead of acting out of sincerity. No wonder I feel lost. Let's start this year with a little more patience. Take the time to wonder, to wander, to find focus and allow myself to be the best I can be. With that in mind, I start writing.
I sit down at my favorite place in the house to write. I like this place because it's in a quiet corner, with a window right next to me. I enjoy staring out of it, watching the clouds move past our fifth-story apartment. The only sounds are the soft purring from the cats in their sleep and the water in their drinking fountain falling in endless circulation. Evaporating slowly each time the drops come in contact with the air. I 'discovered' this place in my house about 18 months ago, around the same time I started taking my writing more seriously. I've become in tune with it ever since, in a way that brings me the clarity of mind I need to write. It's my little sanctuary.
Being in tune is a fitting description. I became in tune with my surroundings but also with my internal drive and processes. The moment I started being honest with myself is the moment everything started to fall into place. It required saying 'no' to so many things (jobs, opportunities, partnerships, money), but I received many more yeses in return (creative fulfillment, a sense of direction, purpose, ownership). This writing thing has been a real forcing function to reflect on my thoughts and create some coherence. Doing it publicly, with the Monologues and Dialogues alike, has brought the accountability to continue even when I otherwise wouldn't. As a byproduct, which wasn't entirely unplanned, I also rekindled my love for photography and now make images with a rediscovered enjoyment and meaning. Sitting down in this corner of the house really helped bring everything into perspective.
It's time to leave this safe cocoon of cloud-staring and comforting noises and go on my routine walk. It's a quick 5-ish kilometer walk that allows me to pop out my front door, leads me through the city center while passing all its cliche-for-a-reason sights, and gets me back home in about an hour. The old city center is an area I used to live in a couple of years ago, and now realize I greatly under-appreciated for its photographic qualities. Now that I return to it often, I start to understand its value more. It's a beautiful part of town and a great place to default to when I have no plans but still want to go out and shoot some photos.
I have learned how the sun moves through the narrow streets and how the light falls on different details throughout the day. I see the same people working on their gardens, and I observe the slow progress they make. Dig a hole here, plant a flower, sow some grass there. Everything changes but still remains the same. There's a rhythm to the streets that's invisible when you're merely passing through. It can only be seen by regulars. Only when you show up often enough, taking the time to feel the vibrations, is when you start to hear the song these streets sing.
Get going, then get good
Despite finding more focus and purpose in my photography, I still have days where I'm unsure what images to make. It's easy to get distracted by the thought that my work needs to fulfill some function or needs a deeper meaning beyond just 'being pretty'. Aiming for those things can be good, but having that aim paralyze you into doing nothing until you find that thing certainly isn't. I learned that it’s pointless to wait for great ideas or grand plans to present themselves to you. They just won’t. Certainly not for your stagnant ass. Instead, it’s much better just to get going first, to try a couple of things, make a few mistakes, have some experiences. You’ll have a much better chance of finding something good in that process of, you know, living your life than you would when just sitting around waiting.
So I step out on the streets and inhale deeply. It's still fairly cool outside but the light is nice, so I'm looking forward to what I'll see today. My little routine walk makes it easy for me to get my juices flowing without giving it too much thought. It’s a principle I recommend to other people as well. As long as your legs work, just start walking. All the other things, the photographing, the writing, the concept-developing, the meaning-behind-the-work-finding, will flow out of that naturally. Just ensure you are in tune with what’s happening inside and around you, and the process will take care of the rest. Get going first, get good after.
Motivation is overrated
I arrive at the 'Koppelpoort', the medieval entrance to the city that survived the times, and slow down my pace. I always stop here for a second to take in the atmosphere. Most photographers that come here take the same photograph of this medieval gate. It's the epitome of a cliché image for its obvious prettiness, which makes shooting a good image of it very challenging. I have an unfair advance though. I can visit as often as I like and look for different approaches each time. I find a new (to me) composition that uses the main gate as a frame around the old buildings in the distance. It's a shot I wouldn't have thought of from the comfort of my couch.
It's important to note that I don't wait for motivation to hit before going out, it's a myth. Motivation is hard to rely upon, because it rarely hits when you're just sitting there. Doing something repeatedly doesn't require motivation, it requires discipline. Discipline is what causes you to show up every day and do something, however small that may be, and see where that takes you. You'll probably make a lot of bad stuff in the process, but that's okay. Get it all out there. Flush your creativity pipeline from all the piled-up dirt and gunk that's blocking your good and original ideas. Shoot those couple of cliche images of the over-photographed city entrance, and maybe that will cause you to discover that new angle.
If you manage to do this on a foundation of discipline rather than motivation, you will see that it's much easier to set the first steps. Just make an active decision to start walking, nothing more. After that first step is set, the next one almost naturally follows. Before you know it, you've walked around the block and are ready for the next one. You hear the birds sing, feel the fresh air on your face, smell the flowers. Suddenly, you don't even want to go back home. You didn't find motivation, but motivation found you, all thanks to a little bit of discipline. I keep those thoughts in mind when I return from my walk. I sit down behind my computer to find my best image of the day, so I can post it to my favorite social media: Glass.
First year with Leica
I've been on Glass (a community by and for photographers) since the beginning and have been following along with a 365 project of one of the other users that really encapsulates the persistence I've been talking about so far. It's a project by Swedish photographer Gustaf Jansson. He shot and posted an image every day during the first year of owning his Leica M10 rangefinder camera. Shooting with a rangefinder isn't easy and takes some practice to get the hang of. Leica lenses are all manual focus only as well, so it requires quite a bit of skill to produce an image with that setup. None of that deterred Gustaf though. He actively decided to do this thing every day for a full year, and he did whatever was necessary to complete that goal. The project has recently wrapped up, and he has now made a digital book out of it. It's a wonderful totem that represents his willpower.
I think this is the perfect example of just starting a project to challenge yourself and then seeing where that takes you. Gustaf knew from the beginning that not every image would be great, but through all that trial and error, he managed to squeeze out an admirable 73 shots that were worthy of making it into the book. He sells the book for 9 euros, and I can recommend it. You can find and purchase the project on his website. If you look hard enough, you might even be able to find a 50% discount on his Glass profile somewhere.
That's enough talking for this month. Let's go do some shit.