Robin here. I’m writing to you from a small Parisian hotel, hidden in a back alley in the 2nd arrondissement, and I’m still dazed from the trains and the walking and even more trains on top of that.
Last night we stumbled into the hotel foyer where cool bank robber music bounced along the walls and welcomed us from every direction. Well-dressed and dimly-lit strangers whispered French and German and Japanese behind enormous plants and swirling wine glasses. It was the most beautiful sight after a long day of travel—enormous windows opened up into a courtyard full of strangers and bright plants swung (swang?) from every surface so that I assumed that we’d mistakenly walked into a greenhouse.
In short: it was cool as hell.
Speaking of cool though, this week I’ve been really inspired by reading Colly’s blog where he documents the process of writing music. I think this is what blogs are best at: working in public, figuring out this project as you go, beautifully-amateurish-but-serious-making-mode-stuff. Although I’d say that “working in public” isn’t quite right there. Perhaps it’s more “loving in public”? And yes that sounds very cheesy to my ear but I will always encourage being super excited and enthusiastic about a thing and just sharing all that in the open on the web.
So: Colly’s posts got me to thinking. I’ve always wanted to improve my photography skills and this trip to London to see my family for the first time in two years and then onwards to Paris was the best time to start. I’ve never really dabbled with pro photo equipment, I’ve never slung a proper camera over my shoulder, I’ve never dug into Lightroom and understood all the things that are possible with it, and I’ve never tried to look at photography from every angle to figure out how that all works, too.
Alas, I’m the rare designer who barely knows his f-stop from his ISO.
So so: after a bit of research I picked up a FujiFilm X100V. It’s an extremely lovely thing; well built, sturdy, and even in a short afternoon I could get it to take pictures that (although unedited and unpolished) have that lovely desaturated look that I’m drawn to.
Look at those shadows! Look at that handsome boy! Gah!
Right now though I’m huddled over a tiny desk with a tiny lamp in our tiny hotel room, excitedly watching all of the tutorials in Lightroom and ooo-ing and aaa-ing as I realize just how naive I’ve been in the past with this stuff. Lightroom is truly, exceptional software. Unlike Photoshop which has always felt like this very bloated thing that’s doing too much and thus asking too much of me, Lightroom reminds me more of InDesign; lightweight, coherent, powerful. It’s extremely fast, real easy to get started with, and the built-in tutorials are the best I’ve seen in any app I’ve ever used.
That’s not hyperbole! All you have to do is boot up Lightroom and it shows you a ton of images to start with. Select one and then the app will show you how to edit a photograph like a pro.
It sounds obvious but I was expecting to watch a thousand youtube videos before I begin and learn about all the intricate what-evers and what-have-yous, but nope! You boot it up and it’s off to the races.
This reminds me that there’s a…feeling…that any great tool gives me: it doesn’t just let me do a thing but it shows me new ways to see the thing. In this example, Lightroom has shown me that I’ve never thought about space and objects in a photograph clearly before. I’ve never taken my time and spent hours and hours tidying up all the imperfections, or manipulating the image to make it cold, warm, or serene. These tutorials show me how little I’ve…uh…seen.
It’s real exciting!
In this pic I even edited out a few people from the background at the top of the stairs. But look at that light on the right hand side! Perhaps I could polish it up a little bit, turn a few nobs, but compared to just two weeks ago when I hadn’t picked up a camera before I feel like this is somewhat-progress.
Back to the FujiFilm X100V though: there’s also a sizable community built around it. There’s tutorials and accessories and vlogs about how to set it up for the first time, what options to avoid or change, etc. That’s probably because this camera is a couple of years old, so I can benefit from years of conversations and folks figuring things out.
But anyway, my point with all this isn’t to brag about my camera. Let’s go back to Colly’s blog where he wrote about making music:
I’d been assembling clips in Ableton in a linear way for three days, either on the timeline or as rigid session scenes. Don’t get me wrong; I was learning lots and ending each day giddy with progress. But on this day, something else happened: I realised how to map the session grid to the Minilab, allowing me to navigate rows and columns and push buttons and interpret colours — and I started to jam, to actually jam. Like a musician! And I lost myself for an hour playing and jamming and live-looping.
This is the point where Colly stops seeing music as art and instead begins to play a game that he can enjoy in isolation. He’s not working, but playing instead, and that’s the key to success with anything really, whether it’s writing music or taking photos: do not see the art as art! Otherwise it’ll be overwhelming and you’ll spend the whole time trying to be Beethoven or Picasso or ripping off Nine Inch Nails in your bedroom for years on end (absolutely not me).
It’s a little frustrating though because this is a lesson that I have to keep learning over and over again. It’s how I learned to make websites after years struggling to copy my web design heroes (I started playing inside Codepen) and it’s how I learned to write after a decade of copying Orwell and Wilde (I started playing/writing newsletters on a weekly schedule).
So now with photography I’m trying desperately not to take it seriously. I just want to tinker with jpegs and sit inside of Lightroom for hours and hours as a way to relax, instead of trying to make it a career or improve my design job.
The other day I told C that that’s the biggest difference between us. Whenever she does anything—sudokus, puzzles, etc.—it has nothing to do with her career or her job and it’s not about kickstarting a fledgling youtube or tiktok career. She earnestly just wants to do the thing. No there’s no dreams of blowing up twitter with a hot take or getting an award on stage. But me? Sometimes I want to take over the world. There’s a deep-set narcissism in my belly and in my weaker moments I want to see my songs and pictures and writing frozen behind glass in the Louvre. I want RENDLE to be etched in stone along NAPOLEON. I want to see my name in flashing lights across skyscrapers and I want parades in my honor.
But all this ego gets in the way of being truly happy. And it also gets in the way of making neat stuff. So I need to remind myself once again, this time much more loudly:
DO NOT SEE THE ART AS ART.
Until next time,