The Power of an Apology

November 9, 2009

I had an interesting experience recently while swimming.

As I was preparing to get into the pool, another swimmer was getting into the same lane at the opposite end. As is the normal etiquette, I waved to her indicating which side of the lane I’d take, and she waved back. As I started to slide in, I realized I’d forgotten to shower so I went back into the locker room, took a quick shower and hopped into the pool

The other swimmer was about mid-way up the lane, semi-stroking, floating along on her back as I pushed off. As I passed her, she let out a screech and started screaming at me. “What are you doing? You scared the hell out of me! Why are you in my lane?!?”

I wish I’d had a picture of my face. I came out of the water like a jack-in-the box, jaws wide open, eyes bigger than my goggles. What shot through my head and hit the tip of my tongue was “You stupid &!*#! What do you think I’m doing? I waved, you waved back. I’m swimming my laps! What’s with you? What are you doing in a swim lane if you don’t understand proper etiquette?”

What actually came out of my mouth was “I’m sorry. When I waved and you waved back I thought you knew I was sharing the lane with you. I didn’t intend to scare you. It was my fault. Do you mind if I share the lane with you?”

I don’t remember the response other than anger and dismissiveness as she bee-lined for the lifeguard to report me. I found out later that she was a first time swimmer and thought I was just waving earlier to be nice. When I ducked back in for my shower, she had thought I’d left and she started swimming.

When she finished her tête-à-tête with the lifeguard, she got back into the pool in another, now-open lane and we both went about our work-out. When I finished, I went over to her again and repeated my apology, almost verbatim. I genuinely was sorry that I’d startled her. She scolded me slightly and accepted my apology. I said, “Thank you. Take care.”

To be honest, I was slightly irritated that I was taking the rap for doing what was a normal custom. But, what the hell? In my mind, I startled her and I didn’t want her to feel she was under any kind of threat. Was there any cost to me to be kind rather than acting defensive?

The next time I swam, she was a couple of lanes over and waved at me as I popped up between laps. Later, in the whirlpool, she laughed at a story I told a buddy and we chatted like we were old friends. Again, to be honest, I found myself wanting to defend my actions and let her know that I’d been right in following decorum. After all, who was she to question me? Hell, I’ve been swimming for years. I know the rules!!! Like, who are you, lap-queen?

At the same time I was thinking, “You know, this is childish. Who gives a crap? Let it go and just be friendly.”

One of the greatest realizations I’ve come to through the years is that most of the baggage people carry through life is of their own choosing. And most of that weight is caused by lack of forgiveness over relatively small matters. Most problems come down to simple misunderstandings between people, over who’s following the proper “rules.” But through listening and not being defensive, even the most complicated problems really aren’t as complicated as they’re made out to be, once people just take the time to understand one another.

Anyway, I think I have a new pool buddy. Her name is Sandra.

Charles Gupton

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Are You a Crazymaker?

October 12, 2009

Every family has them. So it also seems with every office, church, PTA, community group or anywhere there are a handful of people gathered in real or virtual proximity.

They are crazymakers.

I got the term from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and they’re people who seem to have too much time on their hands to mind their own affairs, so they focus their attention on minding other people’s business to the point that it seems they stir up trouble for trouble’s sake. In Cameron’s words, they are “charismatic but out of control, long on problems but short on solutions…the kind of people who can take over your whole life. Crazymakers like drama…everyone around them functions as supporting cast.”

I hate to admit it, but when I first read the term I thought, “Ouch, I resemble that.”  Creative people, I believe, are especially prone to become crazymakers when they become focused on something besides the work they need to be creating.

A number of years ago, I was cranking out a lot of very profitable but less than inspiring images in my work. Even though I was shooting a good number of photographs, very few of them inspired or even involved my heart. That seemed to leave me plenty of time and energy to “make crazy” in the relationships around me. Few people were safe.

Fortunately, I saw the problem in time enough not to dismantle all my relationships. What that period did do for me was cause me to see that: 1) my creative energy and direction was more important than merely focusing on the financial goals and 2) even more importantly, to recognize other crazymakers for what they are so that I can avoid being drawn down into their pit of uncreative despair.

This doesn’t mean that crazymakers aren’t creative – it’s just that most of their creativity goes into their drama rather than productive work.

All of this came up because a couple of crazymakers in different compartments of my life recently raised their heads and tried to make crazy. In the past, I would have reacted and been drawn into their game. But, being a recovering crazymaker myself, I called their bluff and turned back to the work before me.

So I ask, are you doing the work you need to do to keep you from making crazy in the lives around you? Or, are there crazymakers around you whose emotional baggage you need to jettison to make the way easier to be more productive in your work?


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Will Falling in Love Make You Creative?

October 7, 2009

In the past week I’ve had the opportunity to attend two ASMP sponsored presentations by photographers Paula Lerner and Gail Mooney. Although I saw them on different nights, in different cities, I was not surprised to learn that they occasionally do presentations together. Both of them come out of a still photography background and have moved in the direction of coupling their knowledge of stills with video and audio skills to create incredibly moving multimedia pieces.

What continued to move me after both nights was more than the beauty of the work they’ve created. What added inspiration to my heart was their continuous passion to pursue their individual vision. Each of them showed personal projects that were obvious labors of love. But just as exciting were the commercial projects that revealed their love of communicating a story. The key in both

Visit Gail Mooney's Blog

Visit Gail Mooney's Blog

instances was not just their technical skills but their passion as storytellers. The love they have for their work is palpable.

Their photographs were still playing in my mind this morning as I was reading a story at about one’s creativity being enhanced by falling in love. As I scrolled down the page, my perspective on the creative process got dialed in a little tighter. In essence, the research the article is based on looks at the global processing that our minds do when we engage in thinking about love from a long-term perspective. This is in contrast to the local processing that we do when our minds focus on short-term sexual desire. The hypothesis is that a long-term passion/perspective produces a more sustained, creative outlook, whereas a short-term, more “casual-sex” perspective produces a more analytical, less creative approach.

A couple of paragraphs into the article, I pictured an analogy to different perspectives towards business that I often witness. One is the short-term focus on getting the next project/client that (hopefully) will pay the over-due bills sitting on the desk.  It is analogous to the “one-night stand” approach to relationships that may bring an immediate relief to the need to pay one’s bills but seldom leads to long-term satisfaction with the body of work that’s being created.

The other perspective, of course, is a longer-term relationship with one’s creative vision motivated by a passion to see that vision realized. That work is hard, but we make it even more difficult when we attempt to go it alone. I’ve come to believe that building a relationship, even with our own vision, requires a commitment to building relationships with other people. Finding other creative collaborators to work with allows one to focus on the big-picture, long-term view of a project without getting bogged down in the details that can rob one’s vital, creative energy. Plus it allows for other perspectives and objectivity in the work we’re doing.

Visit Paula Lerner's Multimedia Site

Visit Paula Lerner's Multimedia Site

Paula made a comment during her talk indicating that her business model had transformed from one of shooting many assignments for myriad clients to a model of fewer clients wanting a deeper, more intimate body of work to use to tell their story. That change is allowing for a richer, more rewarding relationship with her clients and her vision.

As I meet with business people in dozens of different fields, it’s readily apparent to me whether they are taking a long-term approach to their business and relationships or a short-term, “I need this deal now!” view. As desperate as these economic times seem to be, I believe it’s the global, big-picture view that will produce a greater contentment and a better body of work to offer our clients.

What’s your take on this?


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Altered Image for Microsoft?

September 23, 2009

Because I monitor a number of blogs that are directed towards the communications industry in general and photographers in particular, I see a fair number of posts and articles discussing mistakes and PR blow-ups over the use or mis-use of photographs. Many of them seem to occur through the use of royalty-free or other cheaply sourced stock photos. Often, it seems, that in the interest of trying to do too much with too little, the ultimate cost for a company is much higher than if they simply hired original photography which fit their needs exclusively.

Obviously, I have a self-serving interest in getting hired for assignments, but I earn a good portion of my living from stock images, too. My primary desire is to work with my clients to find a solution that fits their need for the best value that they can get. That is the foundation of a lasting relationship in my book.

Altered photo in Microsoft ad

Altered photo in Microsoft ad

In this ad, Microsoft used a poorly altered head-swap for racial considerations, an Apple computer on the table and a cord to the monitor in the foreground was left unplugged. So, what were the savings versus the costs for Microsoft?

Just food for thought…


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On (un)finished friendships…

September 14, 2009

As I listened to a number of 9/11 remembrances of loved ones lost, it caused me to think about the number of people we’ve lost in our lives that don’t get a special date to remember them by.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of friends who moved away or in some other manner changed the proximity or nature of the contact we had both shared and seemed to value. In each case, what I still miss about them is not so much the relationship as it was, but the potential it had for growth.

I had a call from one of my old buddies last week who’d stumbled upon my website awhile back and happened to be shooting an assignment nearby. Nearly thirty years ago, we were still in our formative years in this business and would get together for hours on end to discuss our industry, philosophy, the nature of human relationships, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and any other topic that bubbled to the surface. What I relished was the heady debate that is only possible in an environment of trust. We were soul mates in the realm of ideas. Our discussions fueled my creative juices. No area seemed off-limits for our questioning. Or so I thought.

My buddy and his girlfriend had been discussing marriage and he appeared to be having second thoughts about the lifetime commitment to this person. He asked me point blank what I thought. I told him. Point blank.

Although I liked her personally, I said they had very different personalities on many different levels and appeared to me to value very different lifestyles. Different personalities can stimulate a marriage. Opposing values can tear the fabric of the relationship.  In what I thought was a brilliant decision, he proceeded to share my observations with her, allowing that they were my thoughts, not his. Not only was I scratched as a wedding guest, she forbade him from having a friendship or speaking with me again. Although I apologized and tried to repeatedly reach out, he wouldn’t speak to me again for years. The loss was a blow to my gut.

I’ve come to view the value of relationships similar to compounding interest on a principle investment. The secret is in regular deposits made over a long time with very few withdrawals. Neither your money nor your relationships are just sitting stagnant. Small deposits and compounding interest in both areas will make one richer. Although investments don’t require on-going deposits to make them grow, relationships do. No interest accumulates on a friendship that is ignored.

As I said earlier, what I miss most about friendships lost is the potential each one had for richness. Because we live in a transitory culture, most of my friendships withered because of career moves that took friends out of the area. Another major shift I couldn’t foresee came when we bought our farm and moved out of an urban center. I’ve learned that proximity does make a huge difference. It was no longer easy or convenient for friends to drop by for a spontaneous visit. It’s been difficult to see the investment we made into so many lives become so challenging to maintain. The relationships we have been able to continue are like gold to us. It requires more effort than ever, but we cherish and protect them.

How ’bout you? Do you find that in the age of so much ability to be “friends” on so many social platforms that real connections and friendships are more difficult than they’ve ever been?

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As a photographer builds a house…

September 9, 2009
Nailing in boards before roofing tin goes down.

Nailing in boards on a shed before roofing tin goes down.

Before I started this blog I told myself, “Self, once you start this you’ve got to stick with it and post at least once a week.” Having read from a number of sources – and having seen in my own blog reading experience – the greatest misstep that most bloggers make is infrequent posting. I was determined not to suffer that same fate. And yet I have.

May God have mercy on a blogger who restarts his efforts with the best of intentions.

For the past several months, I have allowed my focus to be centered on one thing, to the exclusion of nearly everything else in my life – the repair and remodeling of our home.

When we bought our house ten years ago, we knew it would need a lot of work. Built in the 1930s, it had been neglected for the most part for 15+ years before we acquired it. The couple we purchased it from owned it for two years with a plan to turn their lives from urban-dwellers to the “Green Acres” (farm livin’ is the life for me…) idyll. They had started with the tearing out stage of the work but had done very little rebuilding. Although an enormous (for this house) heating/AC unit had been installed, there was no running water to the house and, much to our chagrin, no working septic system.

But after an initial push to get the house habitable, we let the rest of the work go. Our reasoning was that we could tackle the other projects in more bite-sized chunks that would not overwhelm us. We invested a considerable amount of time for the first couple of years on construction of outbuildings and other infrastructure needed to bring the place back to a working farm. We had our own vision of “Green Acres” to live out. With all the resources we were pouring out, little of it was directed at our living space.

I restarted the remodeling efforts this past winter with the reasoning that I could do it in half or one day projects around other on-going commitments. Whooo-boy was I delusional! Trying to do the work alone while attempting to make all of my scheduled meetings and events, make some advances on the social media fronts, produce new photographs for my website and other marketing efforts, and even maintain a modicum of contact with friends and family quickly devolved into nothing being done well, if at all.

I decided to hire some additional help to make the process go faster but realized that anyone who could be relied on needed consistent work to keep them available. So, I made the decision that for the short term – a month or so – I would drop everything except for the projects at hand. If I was ever going to get them done, I just needed to “git ‘er done!” But as one project opened up another, several weeks became several months.

Although I’m quite familiar with the “But first…” principle, nothing I’ve experienced reveals it like a home repair project. The principle is simply, “I want to get this done, but first, I need to do this and this and this.”

Just one area where “But first” raised it’s head was in the decision to paint the outside of the house. The process led us through scraping/sanding the clapboard siding, replacing  much of the siding from years of neglect, replacing the sills on several windows, adding soffits and fascia boards to cover exposed rafters, repairing the foundation, replacing the front door and several other “But first” tangents.

I know we are not done yet. The work of home ownership involves a lot of home-“moaning” about the next set of projects to be tackled. In addition to the house projects, I’ve also revisited several of the out-building and fencing jobs that continue to need attention. But we are at a point where, I believe, projects can be bitten off and completed in smaller chunks.

I may still be delusional.

However, if there is one thing that I can point to as being particularly redeeming about the past several months – in addition to having a more ordered place to live and work – is that physical labor provides me ample time to think. About work in general. About my work and why I choose to do it. About relationships in business and personal arenas and how they overlap.

There is a saying that states “As a carpenter builds a house, the house builds the carpenter.”  I believe that the processes of construction, farming, gardening, cooking, etc. have analogies for our daily lives. Over the next few months I hope to continue to share some of my thoughts on how this remodeling period is shaping my work and relationships.

As I’ve written in the ‘About’ section, the posts from here forward will involve more personal insights and observations. As always, I’d appreciate having your comments. I’d love for this to be a conversation.

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Significant Opportunity

May 18, 2009

Do you think you’re powerless to make a significant change?

I encourage you to find a friend, your spouse, a parent, or someone else who’s significant in your life. Take their hand. Look them in the eye.

Tell them that you love them. Tell them some way that they have had an impact on your life or made a difference in how you think about matters. Let them know their care for you is important and that you care for them.

Don’t think that’s significant? Think about what it would mean for someone to do it for you.

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