Be nice if the CofE could do some proper brand advertising

It concerns me that the Church of England for whom I work sometimes equates the transfer of text based information with communication. A word written or read out loud is not the same as a word received.

The written or spoken word in a religious context is often a kind of legal transaction which establishes the terms of membership. The words are a statement of what we are signed up to. We are connected in a formal sense but it requires creative expression to bring the meaning to life. I wish we could be more like the advertisers, or at least learn from them.growing-younger-header.png.576x260_q100

In fact, I spoke too soon! Birmingham diocese has grasped the advertising thing with both hands in this message – “we’re growing younger”. In an unconventional move the diocese wants to install significant numbers of young people in positions of leadership.

Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.
Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.  An accessible and creative brand. A live product demonstration.

It has been said that St Francis of Assisi urged his followers to preach the Gospel, “use words if you have to”, but maybe he never said those words, I don’t know. The point is that it’s the stories that make the communication – every colourful detail of how we live our lives becomes our sermon.

We are compelled to tell our story by whatever means we have at our disposal. It is no use saying that words are better than pictures or any other medium for that matter.

What matters is the connection. The famous theme at the start of EM Forsters Howards End is “only connect”. That’s just it – THE CONNECTION. We live in fragments searching for a connection and in the end that’s what we strive to achieve.

Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds
Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds positioning banking as part of your life story and values. It takes no time at all to read.

I think it is fair to say that we live in a time where the captured image is the medium of choice when it comes to communicating stories; from films to magazines, to websites.  The power of the photograph to connect with people is extremely powerful.  But we must remember that according to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. I understand from this that the words on the printed page can be spoken, and that the voice may convey images, and that the images can embody the stories.

Pictures have always been engaging and in our busy, mobile world pictures are now also extremely convenient.  An image can communicate an idea far more quickly than a paragraph of text. It is this convenience in our speeded up world that is the important thing to remember. This surge of interest in photography is not to diminish the power of words at all, it is simply to say that in our busy lives we need to keep it short. In fact pictures can assume tremendous power when accompanied by a few words of text. Poetry is a wonderful form. This leads me on the Twitter.

Twitter is a social media channel that restricts posts to 140 characters with the option of accompanying image, as you may know. The two most striking observations we can make is firstly that brevity (both in expressing and reading) is important and secondly that the message does not persist, by which I mean that it is designed to be visible only for a short time.

iPhone 6
The on-screen image is the message of this iPhone ad. Design and creativity.

So, the way we consume messages today is in the fleeting moments available to us.

As a society we are expected to be in sync with the conversations going on around us as they happen. These fragments of conversation are connected to other fragments of conversation and eventually coalesce into coherent ideas. We must be alert to the conversation.

The ideas are forming collectively with many voices participating. There is a flow and a rhythm to the dialogue which can be a beautiful thing. The connectedness of these conversations is a step towards being connected as humans and so here lies a wonderful prospect.

Yes I love photography and I love advertising because those who excel in these arts have understood that communication is about connection and  relationship not simply the transfer of information.


Waiting to be found

I am trying to be less calculating and rational about taking photos. There is a sense in which it is important to be found by an image rather than to search for it. It was something Simon Armitage said about writing poetry – about not thinking too much but allowing the words to find you. Bishop Nick Baines of Leeds said something recently about discovering that we (all of us) have already been found by God. This inspired me in so many ways.

So here I am wondering what else is going to find me., words, images, ideas. There is something wonderful about not being so intent on searching but being still and listening, watching, waiting. The less we struggle to find something the more likely it is that we will be found by it. This seems to me to be an important element of creativity.

14585109686_08dbe7b2c1_zThis photo and the idea behind it found me. What struck me most was the way the gate post seemed isolated in the field. This field is near Swinsty reservoir.

In some of the reservoirs around here there are abandoned buildings beneath the waters which occasionally reappear when the water levels fall. This gatepost is in a field, a reservoir of grass and wild flowers, but it evokes the feeling of an abandoned place which is slowly, but not quite, being submerged by nature.


Close to home

Today, amongst other things, I had a conversation with a charity which has been producing some very professional video to promote its cause. These videos are produced centrally as generic promotions – by their head office somewhere.   This made me think that organisations that keep a tight reign on their corporate message, produce media centrally and filter messages through communications departments can sometimes be a real handicap to effective connection.  

In many cases people want to connect with people who share their particular circumstances and share their view of the world – and that can be very localised. They want to know that the person with whom they are connecting shares their experience and is walking side by side with them.  Centralising communication and taking it further away from the local context can lead to a feeling of disconnectedness.  For this reason I have been thinking a about how we can make local voices heard and reduce the tendency for filtering out those people who are close to where the need is – the people we really should be listening to.  

This picture is from an early walk in Middleton Woods today. The Bluebells are starting to come out and the young leaves are breaking out. This is a great time of year. 


Golden Hour

I have an App on my phone which alerts me to the golden hour. The golden hour is that period that starts just before sunset when the light becomes particularly delicious. This hour is prime time for walking the dog down by the river. This is the old bridge in Ilkley.


Let’s Talk – the vital exchange of ideas stimulated by real life stories

The act of talking is very powerful, but let’s make a distinction between talking together and commenting.  The world is full of commentators, but much better than commenting is the vital exchange of ideas stimulated by real life stories.  

This week I will be spending some time in Skipton as part of a Yorkshire Housing project called Let’s Talk.  The idea is that the residents of the estate can be encouraged to talk about the place they live.  What’s good about it, what could be improved and, importantly, stories about positive action.

The best kinds of conversation are often between people who would never normally choose to talk with each other – people who’s experience and outlook are quite different.  In the last couple of years I have been involved in projects to get conversations going.  “Can We Talk About This?  was a conversation with teenage boys about sexual exploitation in Sheffield – a subject we rarely acknowledge let alone discuss.  In Leeds we filmed a series of “conversation dinners”  with a large housing association.

Here in the Skipton project we are generating conversations though combination of filmed interviews and associated events where where the films are shown and discussed.  We’re also organising a photo walk, talk and eat event.   A range of people from the community will be walking along set routes and encouraged to take photos and talk together.

If you are in the Skipton area, particularly The Greatwood Estate please spread the word and maybe download the poster.  May see you there on the 20th.


Change the way we see

I’m often encouraged to believe that how we see things can be a matter of choice.  Someone said, if there’s something you can’t change you can always change the way you see it.  If I am feeling depressed and negative about the world there may be good reason for that, but there is always a choice in the way we look at each situation.

This photograph is of a common tree. There’s nothing unusual about the tree and if fact it’s the kind of tree you can see everywhere.  But this tree is seen through a filter, a lens, from a particular angle. The exposure and contrast is chosen and the colours rendered in a particular way.   So is it the tree we are seeing but the effect?  Does the treatment mask the object?  I like to think that the choice of treatment helps us to see something we may otherwise have taken for granted. The treatment helps draw attention to the wonderful nature of this structure with its flowing form and delicacy.



Hawk Overhead: Seeing the Wood for the Trees

If you only ever see the world from head height looking forward you’re bound not to get the full picture.

The surprising thing about this picture is that I wasn’t really looking at what was there, I was simply trying to emulate something I’d seen someone else do.  Really looking and seeing what’s there is one of life’s great challenges.  Often you need photographers, filmmakers, artists to show us what’s in front of our noses;  sharpening our perception to the extraordinary things we’re inclined to miss.

Walking in Middleton Woods I took one of those ‘looking up’ picture of the trees.  Deborah had taken rather a good one and not to be outdone I thought I’d better try.  The thing I didn’t spot until I saw it on the computer screen was the interesting piece of wildlife overhead.