“Respect for making the distinction between work and photography! No, I didn’t work per se, but the body of work I produced went into my archive which has been generating enough royalties to live off for quite a while now.”
— Photographer Timothy Allen responds to a woman who asked him, “I’m curious, did you work while in India, or just photograph all day?”
I met Timothy Allen this past weekend.
Not in person, but close to it, for I heard his HO‘OHANA.
“No matter who you are, it is vital that you work on developing your own brand and elevating its presence on the web… these days the photographer’s own brand may well supersede that of [a publication or agency] which is something you should definitely be aiming for, and the reason why I say that creating a strong personal brand on the internet should be your ultimate mission for the next 5 years.
My best advice to you if you want to be a successful photographer is to practice your craft passionately and not to be afraid to share what you have with others. By this I don’t just mean your images… I’m also talking about your ideas and knowledge. It’s important to share what you know with others, especially your contemporaries. Many photographers fall too easily into the trap of believing that they will somehow put themselves at a disadvantage if they reveal their ‘secrets’ to others. As far as I’m concerned, this kind of attitude will never take you on to great things as an image maker.
Most of all. Do what you love doing. The rest will naturally fall into place in my experience.”
— Photographer Timothy Allen
Our world view is a window of possibility.
I understand what Allen is saying about web branding too. What I most appreciate about the internet, is that it turns our viewing screens of choice into windows opened to the rest of the world.
To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, Oh! The Places we can Go!
Not taking that wondrous magic for granted is something I deliberately practice. Age is my blessing in this regard, for I’m old enough to remember, yet young enough to remember well, a time when I didn’t have the web at all — when we didn’t have it at all. Ignorance was a kind of bliss then, yet I still can’t resist contemplating, “but what if I’d had that window to the world back then? How would the story of my life have turned out?” I conjure up different scenarios, particularly in regard to specific work projects tackled with past teams and work cultures. I don’t believe my calling would have strayed that much, but I do surmise that its expression would have taken on a more varied interestingness — and more inclusiveness, an inclusiveness that would have rounded off and softened the edges of our group-think.
For more context, 1990 is the year that Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web, thus creating our ‘www’ nomenclature for its many windows. In the parallel universe of my world view, this was the same year I left a fourteen-year career with the Hyatt Corporation, and began working for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. It was the year I moved from O‘ahu to the Big Island of Hawai‘i, further rattling the cage of my Sense of Place. One of the benefits I had in working for hotel corporations who could afford them, is that I already used computers, and had relied on them for my daily work since about 1978-ish, but that meant I’d never touched one until a few years out of college; I completed my formal schooling without them. I guess that makes me a “fourth generation microprocessor” of the human variety.
A moment to share two reference points: Back then, computing referred to word processing instead of typewriting, using computers as fancy calculators that would remember mathematical macros, and highly proprietary job-related software. The programs I used, were little more than slick diaries for convention bookings and the banquet rooms that would contain them, but they were truly amazing to us. There was no web surfing, and more often than not, no web connection at all. Here’s a Brief Timeline of the Internet and Five Generations of Computers preceding the internet, both at Webopedia.
Thus the internet window existed, but I didn’t get to look through it until the late 90’s, when I bought our first desktop computer for the home. So sloooooowwwww… and completely unreliable. No Google search yet, you had to know what you were looking for, and the precise web address where it could be found — maybe. What a complicated, frustrating, and expensive endeavor it was to get that internet connection in our remote, rural neighborhood.
But I had to have it.
Once the window opened before me, there was no turning away from it.
I’m one of those business people who was introduced to the developing world of that decade by Fast Company magazine, for my employers were busy erecting firewalls that would keep us out of any internet time-sinks and safely away from its radical, public influences (including the otherwise forward-thinking Hualalai Resort circa 1996). Fast Company published one issue in 1995 and five the following year. It went monthly in 1998, and I was a raving fan, but with corporate work tyrannically and incestuously dictated as it was then, and young children to raise, I didn’t have much time to do anything but occasionally dream with it.
Those dreams however, would begin to infiltrate my waking hours more incessantly, especially since they were so closely related to the calling I had already defined, and was actively working on much as I knew how — they were talking about my Ho‘ohana!
“[Fast Company] made a statement that summed up to a view that we live in a world where all these 19th-century collective views of the workforce — where you’re categorized in cohorts and treated like digits, where you sacrifice your individuality and become a company man — that era was over.”
— Mark Fuller, chairman of Monitor Group and an investor in the Fast Company magazine start-up
“It was a really weird magazine. A guy senior to me said, ‘You’ve lost your money, George. It’s gone.’”
— George Stalk, senior vice president at Boston Consulting Group and an early investor
By the summer of 2003 it was crystal clear to me that I would have to leave corporate life behind me. Managing with Aloha was published in the fall of 2004.
Experiencing “a more varied interestingness” is never too late for me, for you, or for any of us, is it. Incredible, the change which has occurred in 22 short years. The windows which have opened are endlessly fascinating.
Treasure hunting the World Wide Web
‘Tis true that the internet is portal to a wasteland of rubbish too, but oh the delight of the gems when you find them! These days, our high-speed, wireless connections make it so easy to look for them, so why not Hō‘imi?
[Palena ‘ole Positivity is Hō‘imi— look for it!]
I’ll do my best web-wide treasure hunting in those quiet times I have the house to myself and am successful with ignoring the should-ing guilt attached to pending work and other chores. Photographer Timothy Allen’s work was the treasure I found most recently, after filling my french press with the morning’s coffee: I could sit awhile, and indulge in deeply focused, unrushed reading.
Allen is the still photographer who shadowed BBC film crews during the production of the landmark television series Human Planet. It was the first time that a stills photographer of Tim’s caliber had worked on location with BBC camera crews: He narrates a wonderful 7-minute slideshow BBC produced here. His work is strictly copyrighted, and while he’s generous with bloggers, I’m not sampling any of it here, to encourage you in your own treasure-hunting: Do visit his website, or start with one of the other links I have included in this paragraph and the next one. You’ll enjoy the pleasure of discovery for yourself.
The web lends itself to stunning photography exceptionally well (as do the pixel-rich screen choices we now enjoy), however what I’ve noticed about Allen and several other photographers, is how their pictures beg insightful and personally articulate storytelling, beautifully building the writing talent behind the lens. Photographers who blog to share the stories of their photos rank highly among my favorite contemporary authors, whether they shoot for a living or for their curiosity, and the unabashed joy of seeing our world more completely. For some, (for many of us, I suspect) it may be a way of “finding our way home.”
Allen illustrates this well in the fascinating posting in which I initially found him: Forget Your Past, describing his photo-journey to Buzludzha, Bulgaria. It is quite the story of how a dedicated photographer will hunt down his subject, far beyond driving up somewhere and parking your car!
The valued voice of HO‘OHANA
HO‘OHANA is a value you hear when people talk about the work they do, and will explain why they do it, and what it has continued to do for them in return.
I meandered in my own storytelling, framing the way I discovered Timothy Allen’s work, now able to dip so easily into treasure hunting the web. The following excerpt is what I wanted to share with you, triggering my desire to write this posting in the first place. I am pulling it from another of Allen’s blog posts, in which he publishes the answer to a recurring question from others who admire his work, and feel a similar longing.
I want to quit my job and do what you do, any words of advice?
“Speaking from experience… Do it! I quit my job at a British Newspaper a few years ago and bought a one way ticket to Delhi. Just me, a Canon 5D, a few prime lenses and a huge smile. My biggest concern at the time was my mortgage. So, I sold my apartment and cut my overheads down to the barest minimum. A year and a half later I returned home with some great pictures and a revitalised passion for both life and my photography. Meanwhile, whilst researching story ideas for the series, a fledgling Human Planet team stumbled across my images from NE India on the web and the rest is history.
There are two important points to acknowledge here. Firstly, trying to predict the future is futile. However, as human beings we are all blessed with an inbuilt mechanism that tells us when we are moving in the right direction in life. It’s called enthusiasm, and in my opinion it forms the necessary essence of any fulfilling, creative lifestyle… in whatever line of work that might be. Enthusiasm is the gift that allows us to live in the moment without worrying about what lies ahead, so if you’ve got that niggling feeling in the pit of your stomach and you’re looking for a change in life then why not trust the feeling and let something that really enthuses you guide you in a new direction?
Second point… Whilst I was in India having the time of my life, I was spending a fraction of the money that I would have been parting with had I have remained in my well paid job back home. Relatively speaking, I was far better off. More importantly, I had the luxury of time again… something that gave my passion the space to naturally unfold once more. The space that I literally couldn’t afford back home.
If you are lucky enough to be reading this on your own personal computer then I am guessing that you also have access to sufficient funds to make the kind of trip I am talking about. You don’t need a state of the art camera. If you shop around a bit, a second hand mark 1 Canon 5D will set you back as little as 400 quid these days, and you can get hold of a used 50mm f1.8 for about 50 quid. Both these pieces of kit were my work horses on that trip along with the great value for money Canon 85mm f1.8.
The moral of this story… Without sounding too corny… follow your heart. And for those of you that think that a statement like that is too wishy-washy, then I’ll rephrase it to… pursue the vocation in life that you feel most enthusiastic about. You know… the one that you’d do regardless of how much it pays you. In my experience, if you live this way then no matter what transpires, you will be walking in the right direction in life.
The likelihood is that nothing will turn out the way you expect, so I would recommend not bothering with any expectations of the future. Just concern yourself with enjoying what you are doing in the moment. That’s the place where all the magic happens.
… and if you have discovered that photography is your passion then think yourself very lucky. Many people go through life never knowing such a feeling. Don’t waste it.”
Take a look at the picture which crowns the post I pulled this from. Be sure to read the caption!
From the Managing with Aloha archives:
What should you do with your life? Find out! As Allen says, “Do what you love doing. The rest will naturally fall into place.”
I offer you the complete chapter on HO‘OHANA here:
Book Excerpt, Chapter 2: Working with intent and with purpose.
Feel free to skip this, for I’ve tacked it onto the ending of this posting rather self indulgently as I remember the context of my own history described earlier. However if you do have the time to return to it, and take the link offered, you’ll read more examples of HO‘OHANA talking out loud in the value voices of strong beliefs and convictions.
This is the beginning of a conversation in which the two founders of Fast Company talk about the magazine’s formative years:
“Bill Taylor, founding editor: I spent a lot of time in the 1980s and early 1990s in Silicon Valley. It was very much the era when the semiconductor and personal computing were transforming not just the technology landscape but the competitive landscape. The logic of the technology itself, which was speeding everything up, decentralizing how computing worked, and putting processing power lower and lower in the organization, was reshaping both competition and leadership.
Alan Webber, founding editor: The seminal event for me was a trip to Japan in 1989, at the peak of the bubble there. I had gotten this fellowship with the idea of meeting the next generation of leaders there–in business, government, bureaucracy, and journalism. What I came back with were very clearly formulated ideas about these themes I thought were transforming business.
The first was globalization. In 1989, people were still in denial about opening up borders. But there really were no boundaries in terms of the movement of money, ideas, and talent. The future was going to be all about global competition and cooperation. The corollary to that was a generational shift of bright young leaders. We were seeing the baby boomers become leaders. My hypothesis was that this generation was different from the one that came before. They had different attitudes and aspirations. They were interested in finding meaning through work.”
Read the rest of the conversation here:
A Brief History of Our Time by Keith Hammonds
The full write-up is interspersed with comments from founding employees, early readers, and people profiled in notable stories. For someone like me, who cut their internet teeth with Fast Company, it reads like a trip down memory lane, where reading their magazine was like hanging out with the cool kids.