advertising, Uncategorized

I don’t care if you read this.

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“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” William Bruce Cameron

I couldn’t buy a camera for about twenty years.

I was a photographer when I was younger. I had done everything from being a photo-journalist in the townships of South Africa as apartheid ended, fashion shoots and portraiture for magazines as well as having to do awful weddings including being mistakenly hired for a right wing wedding and being paid in biltong (A dried meat delicacy). As you can see, it was a pretty mixed bag. But, I had made a living.

Over the years, it was always a scramble to make ends meet. And then, one day, the ends didn’t meet. So, I had to find something else to do. I had to put photography away. It is a strange thing when you make money from being creative. You become professional don’t you. You forget about joy and what it was that made you love your craft in the first place. I had this strange block that taking photographs as a hobby or for fun was a step backwards. Doing something for a living had baked in the idea of measurement and money. I had lost the ability to take a photograph for no reason.

Cut to fifteen years later. I started writing this blog. Just for fun. I enjoyed it. I liked people sending me messages and their stories. I just enjoyed the process. And then, I noticed a change within myself. As it became more successful I started to worry about likes. I started to think about how many blogs were publishing what I was writing. I started to worry about measurement and what other people thought. I started to lose the ability to write for myself.

If creativity and vanity are strange bedfellows, advertising is definitely the bed.

At this point, you may be saying go and see a therapist. An excellent suggestion. However, before I book a standing appointment I will try an make the inkling of a point.

Our business counts creativity. It measures it. I understand why it happens and the purpose of doing it, however, think about the insanity of trying to measure creativity and creatives. To use an idea from an old Saturday Night Live Skit, it’s a bit like saying you are the World Champion at Meditation. You are missing the point.

Compare that kind of mad measuring tape to the joy and honesty of seeing a young teams book and finding the most insane, unexpected idea. An idea they did because it made them laugh or they thought was beautiful.

In my own life, and the advertising business, I have seen what happens when measurement becomes more important than what is being measured. It makes you professional. It makes you efficient. It gives you a clear goal. However, I think it also makes you think about the wrong things. It makes you think of the picture frame rather than the picture. It makes you think of the outcome not the process. This is a very brittle mindset that seldom gives you anything new.

I can’t quantify or prove the following but I believe it to be true. For real creativity to exist there has to be a space for joy. There has to be a space for randomness and the unproven. There has to be a gap for chance and the unknown. There has to be a place for something intuitively just feeling good.

When it comes to real creativity, the messy and inconvenient truth is it often all begins with doing something for no reason.

So, I tried out my theory. After twenty years I got over myself and bought a camera. The picture above is the first picture I took as I was unwrapping the camera. It is of my dog Scooby. It isn’t great but it made me fucking laugh.

And then, I wrote this blog. And for the first time in a while I really didn’t give a shit if anybody read it. I felt like I was being creative again, rather than being involved in some strange vanity project or inane popularity contest.

I guess that is the problem with trying to mix numbers and creativity. For me, it is an unending lesson I keep trying to learn.

How do you measure the value of freedom?

How do you measure the value of doing something for no reason?

 

 

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

11 seconds with Madiba

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I met Nelson Mandela twice. Each time it was fleeting but those 11 seconds have stayed with me. The second time was about 4 seconds long and we were completely alone. I was working at an agency called TBWA Gavin Reddy in Houghton in Johannesburg. Houghton was the suburb where Mandela lived.

I was walking to work early one morning because my Beetle had broken down for the third time that month. I was walking down a road and not really looking up. I sensed somebody in front of me. About 10 metres away stood Nelson Mandela. His bodyguards were a little way back. He was going for a walk. I was going for a walk. We were walking. We were alone on an empty street. Fuck. What do I do?

You get this stupid shit eating grin on your face when you meet famous people don’t you? And Mandela is much more than that. My grin must have been especially shit eating that day. You just don’t know what to do. I couldn’t speak. I put out my hand, he shook it. I said good morning in that voice you have before coffee. You know raspy and high pitched. Ridiculous. He had that massive smile. He could see this was weird and saw the humour. He said good morning and looked into my eyes when he spoke. And then he was gone. And I was standing there alone on a beautiful Tuesday morning. It had all happened in about 4 seconds.

But I had met him before.

In 1990 I was a photographer in Durban. At the time I was 20 years old and politically naive. I was asked to take some pictures of Nelson Mandela at the book launch of Fatima Meer at the University of Natal. I was near the stage. We used film in those days, so I was loading my camera with my back to the entrance.

Suddenly, there was a sound that I hadn’t heard before or haven’t heard since.

It was a mixture of roaring and intake of breath. It is the sound you make when language cannot help you. It was very human. It was the crowd. Up until that moment I don’t think I really understood what Nelson Mandela meant to people. As he walked in people collapsed. They were rolling on the floor. People were ululating. Women and men were crying. Collective, pure, raw emotion. In a single second a normal university auditorium had been turned into the most powerful gospel revival you have ever seen.

In that instant, I realised that I knew nothing about the country I lived in.

I had to get pictures of him speaking, which I did. But I wanted to try and get a picture of him. It became this burning need as I listened to him speak. A portrait as opposed to something for a PR release. I didn’t want to just take a photograph I wanted to make some sort of connection. I thought the only chance would be on the way to his car afterwards. He finished his speech and I followed him through the crowd until we were both outside. I was completely inexperienced. I didn’t know what to do. I was beginning to panic. As he got into his car I remembered him giving an ANC salute (raised fist) when he walked into the auditorium.

For a brief moment everything fell into place. He was sitting in the backseat and looked at me through the window. I lifted my arm and did probably the worst, uncool ANC salute in history. I didn’t understand its significance or its meaning. I was out of my depth. He looked at me and my fist. He understood everything. I was a dumb, shy, white kid who really needed a picture and was trying to connect but didn’t know how.

He didn’t look at the camera, he looked at me. And when I say me, straight into my eyes. This single second felt like an hour. He started to laugh and raised his arm. He gave me the picture. He waited until I shot it and then told the driver to go. 7 seconds. 7 seconds, that tell you everything about his greatness.

His incredible strength and power never got in the way of his humour and his ability to make time for everybody. His humanity was on the outside. For most of us it is on the inside.

I handed the pictures over and I don’t know where they are today. Strangely, I don’t feel sad about the loss. The memory for me is so strong and personal it has become more valuable than the photograph. And trust me coming from a photographer that is saying something. There is just this lingering memory of potential. Of what we all could be if we were a little kinder to each other.

In 7 seconds he made me feel like it was going to be OK. He gave me some of his humaness. He could have looked away and told the driver to go but he didn’t. He understood my situation and accepted me as I was. There was no judgement or irritation. He solved it with humour and time.

He had the greatest gift of all. In that moment, he showed me what true greatness is. To simply be human. And he did it with the world on his shoulders.

It was only eleven seconds but I am grateful for each one. I will never meet a man like Nelson Mandela again.

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advertising, Uncategorized

It’s the cracks that let the light in.

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I shot this photograph 20 years ago on Rockey Street in Johannesburg. It’s an important photograph for me because
it represents my philosophy on creativity.

Creativity is a very strange process. It involves having a vision that you completely believe in and would defend to the hilt. It also involves having the ability to throw your vision away because during the process you saw something better. I think the expression is strong beliefs lightly held.

The photograph is 90% the way I planned it. As I was shooting the photograph I could see out of the corner of my eye a woman standing in the background. She was a maid that worked in one of the homes in the suburb. She was amused by the fashion shoot.
She thought the model was funny. I could have cropped her out but I didn’t. This was 1994 the year of the first democratic election in
South Africa. The photograph says so much about the country at the time. Old versus new, identity, change, South Africa meeting the world. It’s a photograph that hangs in my house and each year I like it a bit more.

If I had photographed this the way I had planned it would have just been a nice picture. Nothing more. Instead, I captured a small moment in South Africa’s history. What that day taught me was the power of being aware in the creative process. It taught me there is no such thing as a mistake.

Creativity is not a thing, it’s a way. That means creativity is not an answer, it is a process. Many don’t like the uncertainty of that statement. They try and mitigate against it. The reality is if you want to do something truly great you have to believe with your heart you are right. And accept there might be a much better way than your idea. And you have to try and do this at the same time. Tricky.

Never believe you have everything figured out. Never call something a mistake. Always look for the cracks. They let the light in.

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