Photography

Darkness and light to draw us into a deeper emotional experience

What is the relationship between subject, photographer and audience? Is it more than just keeping a record of a scene or is it about sharing something much more personal??

The experience of seeing a scene through the choices of the photographer sets up an emotional connection between the two parties. The photographer is not simply creating a record of what is in front of him or her but is, in fact, opening a dialogue with the viewer.

Thoughts, feelings and observations become a shared response to a specific setting and context transforming photographer and audience together. A collection of images presented by the photographer can over time represent a deep level of personal disclosure and vulnerability.

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Discussion about church and corporate communications

Many thanks to All Saint’s Church in Otley for their hospitality last night. We were talking about communications and in particular social media. The church would like to reach out to the local community. They are planning a church re-ordering programme which will involve architectural changes and more importantly a re-invigorating of church life.

In this post I want to capture a few thoughts about the need for the organisation to become comfortable and confident about its own identity, to understand the needs and perceptions of those they want to reach, and to organise opportunities for response. 

Communications is a complex topic and so I think it is important to pin down what the purpose of the communications from the outset. Social media can build relationships between individuals across the community in a very organic way, and/or can be used to support a single corporate identity? Communications can be a functional exchange of information in the short term or a highly creative crafting of perceptions over time, maybe through story telling.

I think the communications challenge we were discussing was to help form a clear identity for the church, to challenge perceptions of what church is about and to encourage participation and membership.

I think these three things come in a logical order. Firstly we need to be clear about who we are as an organisation. If we don’t have that clarity then we can’t hope to connect with the outside world. Once we are comfortable and confident about our identity only then can we embark on the task of changing perceptions. Having changed perceptions and won the argument for belonging we then have to make opportunities for people to actually participate. This last step is where the more functional aspects of communications kick in – creating events, offering invitations and managing the volunteers. But it all starts with confidence of identity and common purpose.

Once we have been through this cycle we begin to generate stories which then help to support our corporate identity and the cycle then begins to feed itself. I repeat that without clarity of identity and purpose we won’t ever get off the starting block.

In the world of corporate identity and brand building, in which I was absorbed at the BBC, single mindedness is very important. There is frankly no point in shooting off in all directions when we are dealing with communications. The way to have impact (or any impact) is to focus a single most powerful message and on an audience you can clearly identify.

To this end we discussed four questions which I think show promise. The four questions come in two pairs. The paired questions are related to each other.

The first two questions are as follows:

1. What is the most outstanding thing we do and have achieved? (part of identity)
2. What single thing are we bursting to tell the world? (our most important message)

The second pair is:

3. To whom must we deliver our single most important message? (specific target audience)
4. How will we reach them? (medium appropriate for audience)

Then when we have the answers we are then able to set out the challenge in a couple of sentences:

We want… (audience),
to believe that… (message),
by showing them… (evidence to support message).

We will do this by…(creative ideas for reaching them).

So for example you may end up with: We want young parents to believe that our church is a safe place to bring up children by meeting our trained and caring staff and seeing what they do. We will arrange a special children’s event at which they can talk to parents and show them our activities. This event will be advertised on the popular local parenting website.

If all this sounds like hard work then so it should be. It may also sound a bit corporate and like running a business but I think we should reflect on some of this.  The task of maintaining a consistent and focused identity is something which the whole community should share and get behind. This requires vision, leadership and organisation. In my experience vision and leadership can be found but the organisational aspects are where it often comes unstuck.

I will reflect more on this, but organising creativity is something which less about control and more about framework and boundaries – much too difficult to reflect on here.

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Saltaire Conversazione – ideas for the future

On Saturday we nipped over to Saltaire  in Bradford to visit the Conversazione event held at Victoria Hall. The demonstration that caught my attention particularly was the 3D printer. I’d not seen one before but what an amazing thing! A 3D printer builds complex objects layer by layer in much the same way as a paper printer does but as functional objects.

3D printing is relatively new technology but, as the man said, it is a technology at the discovery stage. We don’t actually need 3D printers, but creative minds are now figuring out what to use them for. In due course there will be applications for 3D printers which will revolutionise the world in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

So here’s a point. Do we only invent things that solve today’s problems or do we take a risk for the sake of the future? To invest in new ideas sometimes means pursuing something which appears to have little practical business benefit – at the moment. Creating a tool, or a space, or a structure which is not yet strictly needed may be the requirement for future progress.

In my present role working with the Church of England of England we are discussing new ways of doing things in the West Yorkshire and Dales diocese. Whenever change is on the cards there is a temptation to evaluate the proposed changes on the basis of present needs. There is an old saying, “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it”. But inventing new technologies requires us to imagine that we can only grow and be transformed in the future if we take a step of faith today.

Creative thinking requires us to do things which may not seem rational – driven by play, instinct, experimentation. Once we have made something new there will be critics who can’t see the point of it. There will be others who are inspired to make something of it.

It may be good strategy to deliberately break what we are doing today in order to promote transformation in the future.

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Creative Project – order or chaos?

I've been reviewing some of the projects I have been involved with recently and thinking about how they could have been improved.

The conclusion I have come to is that most creative projects are to some degree chaotic and uncertain; You can't always predict how they are going to run. You have to be flexible and responsive to new ideas and directions as they come up.

That said, there is possibly value in at least attempting to structure the management of creative projects around tried and tested ideas. A creative project, like any other, has process steps and milestones. One reason why creative projects often fail is because not enough time is spent understanding the purpose of the project and refining the ideas around that purpose.  Sadly is is all to easy to forge ahead with half baked ideas with no idea of why we're doing it!

Step 1: The brief

Be sure about the purpose of the project and why it has come about. You might call this the creative challenge.

Get down on paper a description of what you hope to achieve, who it is for and why it is important.  For example –  Encourage year four children to take pride in their town by revealing its glorious history. We're doing this because ……

Set out what you want to achieve, how you are going to approach it,  who it is for and  why it is important.  

Step 2:  Ideas

Once we have a brief we can set about coming up with ideas (in the above case for revealing the town's glorious history).  Not enough time is ever spent coming up with ideas or evaluating them.  I would say that this is one of the biggest reason for the failure of creative projects.   The temptation is to settle on the first and most obvious idea you come up with. Often the crazy ideas are sidelined at the outset, and yet these are often the most interesting.

Make plenty time for coming up with as many ideas as possible, even the crazy ones, and evaluate them according to the brief.

There are many techniques for coming up with ideas – here are some.  Thinking Hats for evaluating ideas, Mind Mapping with which I'm sure you are familiar, and a favorite of mine, The Creative Whack Pack

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Step 3: Planning

Do you decide on the team and resources before you have an idea or after?  I would say that it's sometimes better to come up with the idea first with a small core team and then pitch for people and resources once you have the idea.  That way you'll get what you need rather than having to put up with what you have got.

Careful planning of the resources and the timetable, setting of realistic deadlines and getting agreements.

Step 4: Action

Well planned activity with a great idea behind it should be exciting. Any problems will be quickly resolved because of a solid commitment to the purpose of the project.

Step 5: Celebration

The positive outcome should be shared and celebrated beyond the immediate team. The more external praise and feedback the better. A public film screening, a party for those who contributed, a commemorative web page.  The legacy of successful projects should be preserved so that the benefits can be made available to the greatest number of people for the longest amount of time.

Step 6: Review

A constructive examination of the project should always be part of its legacy.  Did it meet the brief? What were the points of learning and so on.

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This may all seem obvious – in which case I apologies – but I need to remind myself just how important these project steps really are and that to skimp on any of them will weaken the outcome.

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on the spot

At the Ilkley Flickr group we have occasionally discussed the way constraints can often lead to creativity.

When you have a free reign originality is often more difficult to find than when there are limitations; somehow a constraint sets us off on a different path and we see things differently.

There's also the idea of using what we have in front of us. Sometimes we feel that we wish we had more than we've got. We might wish for better tools, a better viewpoint and so on. There is something quite refreshing about seeing what is in front of us and making the best of it.

These two thoughts about embracing constraints and looking at that resources we have (rather than those we don't have) can be very constructive.

At the ilkley flickr meet-up in November we have in mind to take photos on a pre-designated spot. The challenge will be to make the best photo we can with the given situation.

on the spot