Living With ADD

Lone, dissenting, different sheep

I have semi-jokingly said I am probably ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder. I grew up before it was popular (or profitable) to label it. I may be, and if so, I am proud of it. It actually has benefits. (Yes, I know – potentially debilitating… It’s generally called ADHD now. I have at least one family member diagnosed with it and I probably have some form of it. But I’m looking at the positives.) By the way, I resent being labeled as having a “disorder” just because I’m different.

My “problem”

I suspect I am ADD because I get bored easily. I am impatient. It is hard for me to suffer fools. My mind wanders a lot and I am easily distracted at times. I don’t like to follow instructions. When watching training videos I greatly prefer recorded ones, so I can listen to them at a higher speed and skip through rambling or useless parts. And I try to avoid boring tasks.

This makes a seriously mind-numbing task like preparing taxes agony. It is well worth it to me to pay someone to go through the tedium. Yet my annoyance is selective, depending on my interests. I used to be a software developer. I could sit and focus single-mindedly on designing or writing code for hours, not even realizing the time. Likewise, now I can get lost spending hours at the computer processing images. What would be tedium for some is not necessarily so for me if I am interested in it.

On the positive side, this “malady” gives me a huge curiosity about a wide variety of things. I love to pursue new subjects and learn new things. It makes me very attentive to things happening around me. So I am predisposed to notice things most people pass by. That is a secret to my style.

Modern ADD

Those are some of my “problems” that make me what I am, but there is a trend going on in the modern world that concerns me a lot. Much of the world seems to be captive to a new type of attention deficit disorder – our communication devices.

I may be easily distracted by things around me, but much of the world now seems in a box, oblivious to the world except what they can see through their phone or computer screen. This scares me.

It is the norm now to see everyone walking, but glued to their phone. To see many people who can’t even drive without dangerously checking email or texting. To see that most people sit at a computer or TV most of the time instead of getting out into the world.

Stuck to the screen. That becomes many people’s world.

FOMO

The new anxiety seems to be fear of missing out. Fear that if we are offline for a few minutes we will miss something important. That we might be irrelevant if we do not immediately comment on the latest trend or viral video.

It is common for people now to check their email or messages or Facebook dozens of times a day. I have read that the average (young) person looks at their phone over 250 times a day. Fear. An impossible treadmill.

What is the actual benefit of that to you?

Virtual living

The virtual world has become a surrogate life for many people. But it is a poor substitute. Real life is happening in the real world. The things we do do not require a Like or an upvote to be significant. The world does not need a smiling selfie of you to make an event important.

I read that most people spend most of their time everyday consuming media. These are packaged experiences being fed to us to entertain us. Sounds like the Matrix or other dystopian science fiction. Wouldn’t it be healthier to be out exploring on our own? Wouldn’t it be healthier to create our own adventures?

Living in the collective means we lose the ability to think and feel and plan for ourselves.

Missing out on life

I readily admit to being neither a fan or a user of Facebook or most other social media. While I see some benefits of connection with long lost friends or relatives, the downside is the addictive power it has in many people’s lives and the amount of information they accumulate about us.

First, make a life worth living. Then spend a little time telling other people about it. If we don’t have the discipline to unplug and be independent we should treat this as any other type of dangerous addiction, like alcoholism. ‘Hello, my name is [____] and I am a Facebook addict.”

Embracing my ADD

I readily admit I am probably ADD. I accept it and live with it. Even more, I embrace it for the positive aspects it brings me.

I have a bottomless curiosity. I will take “side trips” anytime to explore things I do not know. Because I have always done this and learned new things, I have a large base of knowledge. That makes it easier to build on and connect the dots as Steve Jobs said.

I hate passing by a road if I don’t know where it goes. I really like to find out what is around the corner or over that next hill. When you look for them, interesting things are everywhere. Learning to see takes practice. Perhaps my ADD, if I have it, makes that easier for me. No matter the reason, I love that and am thankful for it.

I fear that younger people coming up will not have that curiosity and drive. I fear they may lose the ability to even look around and see the world for what it is or to live as an independent being. That will be a great loss for all of us. The benefits from the always connected, media driven world are not worth losing touch with the real world around us.

I encourage each of us to have the courage to think for ourselves. Learn to be alone in our own head occasionally. Inside is our spirituality. Inside is where creativity comes from. Step out of the hamster cage and see the Matrix.

Don’t waste your opportunities

For all his faults, Steve Jobs was wise in some ways. I will close with a famous quote from him:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs

Keywording

Ambiguous abstyract image

Keywording is a pretty mundane subject. But I recommend not ignoring it. It is valuable to you and good discipline. I have tried to ignore keywords at times but I have always changed my mind.

What

The photo filing software you use probably has provisions for adding keywords to your images. It probably also has ways to add a lot of other meta data, like location or client or your copyright information. Use this other information, too. I use Lightroom Classic for my organization and keywording.

Keywords are simply arbitrary tags that add words or phrases to help you locate or identify your image later. This is important, the keywords are completely chosen by you and for your use, unless you work for an organization that enforces standardized keywords. I will assume here that that does not apply to you.

So they are only meant to be useful information for you. They may tag location or subject or color or mood or anything that seems relevant to you. You can add as many keywords to an image as you want. Perhaps there is an upper limit, but I have never found it or read about it. Again, let me emphasize that you decide what they are.

Why

Why go to this trouble? Because one of the problems with digital images is that we tend to collect a lot of them. And since they are “hidden” on your computer and not nice physical prints you can flip through, you need extra help finding things. Someday you will want to find a particular image or images of a certain subject or those pictures of a red cardinal in a winter snowstorm you took a few years ago. Keywords are one of the means of locating or grouping your pictures.

One of the challenges of keywording is to Goldilocks it: not too much, not too little, but just right. How do you know what is just right? That’s the challenge. Partly it has to be sort of backward looking. That is, when you find you can use your keywords to locate the images you want and it did not seem too much trouble to have added them, it may be just right. Sorry, not a really helpful description. The trouble is, your mileage may vary.

Strategy

Most photographers eventually determine a strategy for keywording that works for them. I have seen people who do a lot of wildlife photography who tag images with the common and scientific name of their subjects. That is too much work for me. Since I don’t shoot much wildlife I may only tag the occasional one with “elk”, or “deer”, or “pronghorn”. Or a very generic thing like “bird”.

Works for me. Would not work for some people I know. Choose an approach that is right for your needs.

There are places on the internet where you can find lists of keywords. I have looked at some of them, but they tend to be too detailed for me. Plus, since I did not create them, I have trouble thinking of the words the author chose. So I make up my own keywords as needed. A quick export of my keywords shows that I have nearly 2200 unique keywords in my main catalog. I am completely sure many people have far more.

For the most part, I use keywords to identify subjects, attributes of the image, and “housekeeping” information.

Example

Let me give a simple example. This is a somewhat randomly chosen image that seemed fairly typical of my keywording.

Sunset, wide open spaces

This image has 14 keywords currently. For the subject ones, it is identified as a cabin on the eastern plains of Colorado with interesting clouds. For the attributes that seemed important to me, it is a landscape, it is abandoned, it is made of wood, a sunset image, taken in summer, and showing an expanse of distance.

The potentially most interesting are what I term housekeeping keywords. I use these to track important information that often has nothing directly to do with the image. An example for this one is that it is copyrighted. Yes, all of my images are copyrighted technically at the moment I take them, but this extra level signifies that the image has been filed and accepted for copyright by the United States Copyright Office. In addition it has keywords indicating the copyright registration number and date of grant. Other example housekeeping tags are that it is in my Select5 group, one of my highest ratings, and it is used in this blog.

Why do it this way? Because I developed a system over time that works for me and is based on real needs that needed to be solved. I do not claim it is the only way to do things or that it is the best way. It is just the workflow I use. I encourage you to also adapt your tools and process to meet your needs rather than bending your needs to match the tools, or what someone has told you you should do – including me.

Worth it?

It is solely up to you to decide if it is worth it to you. It is to me. I often do searches to locate a particular image or a certain type of scene. The more identifying information I have, up to a point, the better. I also use smart collections sometimes to group together all images of a certain criteria. For example, I mentioned using a keyword for my selection level. I have smart collections that will show me, for instance, everything at select level 3 that has not yet been evaluated for possible promotion to level 4. This is a key part of my workflow.

I always keep in mind what I termed the Goldilock effect. If my keywords are not adding value for me I will modify or abandon the process.

These are your images and your process. Do what works best for you. But it is good discipline to enforce on yourself. I can say that if you go a long time ignoring something like keywording and decide later you should do it, it is a lot of boring work for a while.

The tradeoff for me is that keywords are valuable for my work and useful for my processes. I will put in the effort to do it. Taking a little time to think about an image from several aspects like subject and attributes and housekeeping has benefits for me. It is one of the steps that ensures I am curating my valuable assets rather than just accumulating a big bag of pictures.

Postscript

A growing trend is software that attempts to analyze your images and automatically generate keywords. One new one I’ve seen is Excire. Another system I have seen described is fotoKeyword Harvester. I’m sure there are more. Lightroom itself agressively tries to get me to let it scan to identify people. It’s little brother, now named just “Lightroom” also automatically tries to keyword images. All this comes with the increasing penetration of so called AI technology.

I don’t use these tools. As a matter of fact, I don’t trust them. All that I’ve seen will suck your images into “the cloud” for analysis. I have no sure way of knowing what will happen to them then. I am very protective of my rights and possession of my images.

Yes, I may be a Luddite, but it is not entirely out of ignorance. I am a Software Architect who had done AI work and even developed practical applications based on some of its research. I have some idea of the downsides of using it.

Besides, as I indicated above, my system is based on a network of keywords I have grown organically over a long time. I am not interested in some software system deciding to re-describe and re-interpret my image data.

So for the foreseeable future, I will continue doing my keywording manually.

Themes

Old, weathered boat

I have come to realize I am attracted to certain themes in my art. Before I fall off into art-speak, what I mean by a theme is just the simple dictionary definition: “a subject or topic of discourse or of artistic representation”. In other words, what subjects do we chose for our art. Themes tend to be bigger than a subject. A theme may tie several seemingly separate subjects together.

Think about artists you admire. Do you also picture the typical subjects they do? Ansel Adams – grand black and white landscapes of the west. Georgia O’Keeffe – modernistic flowers. Monet – impressionistic rivers and ponds in northern France. John Paul Caponigro – abstract and ethereal seascapes and landscapes. They tend to go together in our minds because we know they very often do these subjects.

Chicken or egg?

Do artists pursue themes because that is what they like or do they pick something to get known for? Kind of a trick question. It doesn’t have to be just one or the other. Sometimes themes choose artists. Sometimes artists choose themes.

What is available to us often has a huge impact on our themes. Ansel Adams lived in California. Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas were his back yard. John Paul Caponigro lives in Maine. Seascapes are common to him. Monet lived along the Seine River. He painted what was around him. This is quite common. We tend to grow to love what we see most. I live in Colorado, right on the dividing line between the mountains and the arid plains. Both are beautiful to me. I see them every day. The more I see them the more I resonate with them.

Some artists deliberately choose themes or subjects to become known for. They want a “signature”. Joel Grimes is well knows for his commercial work and stark, gritty treatment. Some people become famous portrait artists or wedding photographers. In general these are things they have consciously decided to build their career around.

I won’t claim there is a right or wrong. If you pick a certain subject matter to build your career and reputation on, I hope you really love it. Otherwise you could be like these old rock bands still touring around whose audience only wants to hear their hits from 40 years ago. It would get very frustrating to me.

I am a searcher and explorer. Themes are less conscious for me. Looking back through my portfolio I can detect a few. The ones I have detected make it less surprising now for me when I find myself drawn to them. I recognize it and have come to expect it. That doesn’t mean I am not open to new things, just that I can see larger patterns in my work.

Very personal

Themes or typical subjects tend to be personally meaningful in some way to the artist. It is hard to keep on doing art you don’t care for. That is probably one reason we have themes. The subjects we are drawn to are somehow meaningful to us so we keep coming back to them.

I don’t want to go too deep on the need for meaning. Our themes do not have to align with deeply meaningful social or environmental causes for them to be meaningful. If they are meaningful for us, that is sufficient.

I used Georgia O’Keeffe as an example earlier. Her mentor and, later, husband Alfred Stieglitz promoted the idea that her flower pictures had deep sexual significance. It helped build her reputation in the modern art world of the time. She later vigorously denied this was true. She maintained it was only the form and color that was important to her.

Maybe meaning is a very nebulous and personal thing. What is meaningful to me may not be to you. And vice versa. Or you may see meaning I didn’t when I made the image. I have never thought that pictures have significant meaning in themselves. The themes I discover in my work have meaning to me, but I do not try to force it on you. Maybe on the rare times I try to express my feelings in words the viewer may occasionally get a glimpse of the meaning there is to me. But I do not expect you to get one of my images and hang it on your wall unless you like it as an image and maybe, there is something there that is meaningful to you.

Consistent over long times

Themes tend to be a persistent feature of an artist. We are drawn to certain subjects. Maybe we understand there is a theme there that we are pursuing. But regardless, we keep coming back to certain things.

Our themes can fade with time and be replaced with new themes. We all grow and change our values and interests. This tends to be a slow process, but it happens for most of us. I hate to try to quantize it, but I would guess that when we find we are interested in a theme it will stick with us for a few years. Sometimes, for our whole life.

Unifying themes

Sometimes we find that several seemingly disparate subjects that interest us are really part of a unifying theme. This is a wonderful realization, because it unites large parts of our work and brings a new meaning, or realization to us to understand why we are drawn to it.

Let me give a personal example. I am drawn to old things that are worn and aged, but only certain ones. Some old things excite me and many are of no interest. Old rusted cars, abandoned buildings, old machinery, these have always been interesting subjects to me. As I’ve gotten older I have discovered the Japanese term wabi-sabi. I realized I was embracing the philosophy before I ever heard it expressed. It has become a unifying theme for many of the subjects of interest to me.

It is apparently impossible to succinctly and even correctly translate wabi-sabi to English. There are too many subtleties in the Japanese meanings. Some day I will attempt to write a better blog on it.

Here is one very compact description of wabi-sabi: “‘Wabi’ expresses the part of simplicity, impermanence, flaws, and imperfection. On the contrary, ‘Sabi’ displays and expresses the effect that time has on a substance or any object. Together ‘wabi-sabi’ embraces the idea of aesthetic appreciation of aging, flaws, and the beauty of the effects of time and imperfections. The two separate parts when put together, complete each other.”

I discovered that I am drawn to flaws and imperfections and the beauty of aging and the effects of time, especially of things that are bravely standing against time. This theme unites my collection of old rusty cars, broken down buildings, and broken flawed objects. I was happy to be able to wrap a higher vision around my old rusty things.

It makes us different

Our affinity for themes is one reason we can go out with a group of other photographers and still come back with our own unique images. We each have a different viewpoint. We are drawn to different aspects of a scene. Even if we shoot the “same” scene, we probably each have our unique viewpoint. This causes us to frame it differently, isolate a different part, emphasize different things.

Or, for some of us, even turn away from the classic landmark and shoot a different direction entirely.

Our themes help unify our images. They give a meaning and long term point of view to our portfolio. In another sense, our themes are an indication of our values and world view. What we are drawn to shoot are often things that are meaningful to us because of the themes we embrace. We still shoot other things, but something keeps drawing us in certain directions…

This image

The image with this blog was taken in Blaine Washington. It is on the seacoast right at the border with Canada. It is a lovely small town. I was across the harbor. There were good views all around of the harbor and the sea, but I was fixated on this great old boat. Rusty fittings, deteriorating paint, obviously it had seen better days. But it was still standing against the elements. That is encouraging. For me, a perfect wabi-sabi moment.

A Private Journey

Obscure found image. Track to nowhere

Being an artist is a private journey, but one the viewers are invited to participate in. I don’t collaborate or take votes to guide my journey. It is just me. It is intensely private.

Private

I have to make my own way in the world. As such, I am stuck in my own head. Creativity has to somehow spring up from within. Being an artist is lonely. LIke a writer, there are those terrifying times when you are facing a blank page (or empty frame) and you have to create something. No one else can do it for me.

Not everyone agrees with this approach. Some people, especially if they are young and just learning, want to run in a crowd. They have to immediately post every image to social media to get feedback. To me this is a form of insecurity. My values and style is deeply ingrained and I do not seek immediate validation from the internet. But that is just me.

What works for me is to explore, to be receptive to what I encounter. I seldom have a detailed plan for what I want to shoot. Rather, I turn myself loose and let myself be drawn to scenes that interest me. It doesn’t always work, but that is what inspires me. The word that keeps coming up is”me”. Not in an egotistical way, but in the sense that I am the only one who can take this journey. If it wasn’t me it would be someone else’s art.

I also find, and this is just me, that when I put pressure on myself to “have” to come up with something creative the results may be good but they are seldom great. But when I let go and just react and experience then creativity can flow. Understanding this about myself has let me keep my art constantly being a joy.

A journey

Virtually all my subjects are collected outdoors. It is extremely rare for me to set up a controlled indoor shoot. So a shoot for me involves movement. I have to leave my studio and get out in the field where my subjects are.

This is a joy for me. I am an explorer. It is hard to pass a road I haven’t seen the end of. As an example, just a couple of days ago I was exploring up along the border of Wyoming. I went down an obscure dirt road I knew was a dead end, but I had never been down it. It was great! I loved the sights, the remote wildness, the windswept barrenness, the newness. It was fresh. Something I had not seen before. It energized me. Even if none of the images make it into my portfolio, it was well worth it for me personally.

But a journey doesn’t have to be far. I do a lot of shooting while walking around within a mile or 2 of my studio. Journeying is an attitude. A sense of exploring and investigating. It is sometimes difficult to feel a sense of discovery in an area I have been over and over so many times. But that is part of the game. It is a mental discipline. If I can find new and fresh sights in a familiar area then it is even easier to get inspired in an interesting new place.

Viewers

It is true that my art makes me happy. If I never showed it to anyone I would still have the joy of creation and discovery that would compel me to make it.

But artists are also somewhat egotistical. We feel we have something worthwhile to share with other people. I hope those who see my work enjoy it and can share in the sense of wonder and amazement I felt while making it. I’ll be honest, I also hope you decide to buy some of my prints for your walls. The money is nice, but even more is the knowledge that this had an impact on you and that it will now continue to influence you. We all would like to leave a legacy.

I know your time is valuable and increasingly scarce. I seek to make art that is captivating enough for you to give me some of your time to view it and think about it. I hope my art will awaken some new thoughts and feelings that will make your day better, to refresh and renew you. I like to feel that some of my pieces on your wall will have a long term benefit as you see them every day.

Internal and external

My art is a private creation of my own mind and energy. I do not collaborate with others or shoot assignments. What energizes me is exploring and finding wonder in the everyday sights around us. I may work a project or a theme at times, but mostly I let myself be drawn to whatever is exciting me at the moment. I am very much in the moment when I am creating, even when working at the computer.

Even though my art and my process is intensely private and personal, I also have the viewer in mind. I am constantly reaching for something creative and fresh to share with my you. If you give me some of your time and attention I want to give back. I hope I can succeed with you. It is my private journey but I want to share it with you.

Go to my web site at photos.schlotzcreate.com to view a little of my work and let me know if any of it resonates with you. Please join me in my private journey. I welcome your feedback.