Don't Think About Elephants

During this shoot, I was reminded of a scene in "Inception."

Arthur says to Saito: "Ok, this is me planting an idea in your mind. I say: Don't think about elephants. What are you thinking about? 

Saito: Elephants. 


Giving direction to a subject can be just about the mechanics, telling them which way to turn their head, where to stand, whether to smile, or not. But if you can direct your subjects emotional state, you can get some real, genuine expressions that you couldn't otherwise get. I got the idea in the NLP reading I did recently and tried to put it to use (NLP: Neuro Linguistic Programming, is probably equal parts genius and hokum).

It was an awkward start to the shoot. Always is. I needed a little time to settle down. And Lexi and I needed to remember how to do this. Once we got comfortable (and once the technical part was figured out), we were ready to get to the real work of making photographs, but I still needed to give Lexi some direction. 

The trick is to direct your subject to a memory that's connected with the emotional state you want them to express. It's simple enough. Want your subject to smile? Ask them to recall their happiest memory. Ask them to describe it to you, in detail. Where did it happen? Who was there? Phrase your questions to engage their senses, ask them about what they saw and heard. The details are important, they can be emotional triggers.

But don't interrogate your subject either. Use questions to direct them towards the memory, but allow them to fill in the details.

I'm certainly no expert on NLP. I haven't even finished the book yet! But I found some use for it during this shoot. 

I didn't ask Lexi for her happiest memory. I asked her for an intimate one. The results are the images you see here:

(A side note: as it happens, Lexi has a a strange obsession with elephants. You'll find them on her jewelry, her clothes, her bags, even framed pictures on her walls. This made the title for this blogpost seem more appropriate.)


Our first and second sessions were so productive, there was no question about a third. 

This time, we shot in a studio, raising the roll-up door to make one whole side of the studio our light source. 

I like watching people at work, especially if it’s creative work. I like the intense focus, the confident, almost effortless movements, and the small details in the work. 

Here’s a few of my favorites:

Retrograde, Part 3

This wraps up this series of posts. 

I was surprised, actually, at how few images I found while going through my backlog. I was even more surprised at how few of them are really meaningful, impactful images. Most of them were taken as a lark, during random wanderings, fits of restlessness, or tests of a new camera or lens.

This is not a put-down of my work. And to be fair, during half of 2013 and well in to 2014 I was busy at work on my 100 Strangers Project. That project has meaning, impact, at least for me. Finishing it was extremely gratifying, and I'm proud to share it with people even now, two years after it wrapped. 

But for someone so obsessed with photography, it sure feels as though I've hardly participated in it over the last couple years. I have the desire to create, I'm often inspired, and yet I'm frustrated by my lack of ideas and my wavering, unsteady motivation.  

So at the start of every year, I decide that I'm going to shoot more. I promise that I won't allow a single day to go by without making at least some progress. If I'm not shooting, then I'm editing, and if not editing, than studying. And the effort usually starts well, but then I fall back into old habits, and the result is what you see here. The problem is not how often I shoot or how hard I study. The problem is: I have no good story to tell you. 

So maybe, instead of saying "I'm going to shoot more," I should be saying, "I'm going to experience more." Then, maybe, I'll have something to say.

Again, at the start of every year, I decide that this is going to be the year, finally; this is going to be the year when I make my move: I'm going to quit my job, buy a one-way ticket to anywhere, abandon anything and everything that is familiar, take my leave of it, all, and renounce finally this lifestyle of hesitation and fear and doubt and half-measures, and go and have an experience, and then, accept whatever comes my way next: success or failure, happiness or regret, answers or just more questions. In reality, it would likely be some measure of all those things. And I could accept that, because the alternative is to do nothing, and gain nothing, and collect more pretty pictures that are empty of value except for the part where they are well photographed. 

But running away is not a solution either, at least, not on its own. Whether I travel 1 mile or 10,000, if I don't have an aim, a purpose, then the trip is wasted. And I have to figure out the root cause of this blockage, this inertia, that keeps me from making any real progress. That's the real puzzle. For all the efforts I've made, I've never been able to understand why it is that I can't seem to just do things. I know what I want. I've identified what makes me happy. But for reasons I don't understand, I am either unable or unwilling to act. I've lived my whole life in a straight line. A big change is necessary. It's long overdue. I'm just not sure how to do it.  

Honestly, I didn't expect a trip through my backlog to turn in to this lengthy blog post. I might be taking this too seriously. I only meant to share some photos I thought were good. This is all just for fun. Perspective is important. Let me just be grateful that I have the ability and the means to make and share some photos. They were not very meaningful to me when I started editing them, but they are now.

Part 1

Part 2