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Business Curiosity Exposure Making Art Making Pictures Marketing Philosophy Richard Kelly Experience

Thinking Ahead

Last week in two separate conversations, I used the words “thinking ahead.” Conceptually we like to think we do this well, but most of us fail even with our best new ideas. Big thinkers take a small concept that exponentially expands. They gather interest, investors, partners, and collaborators to take that small idea to an extravagant completion. I hear from big thinkers almost every day asking me to help them create imagery. Though, some of them wait too long even after their project is already underway or practically completed.  

These conversations with filmmakers, real estate developers, technology entrepreneurs, and other innovative businesses making transformational changes all have stories that I want to help them tell if they had just thought ahead. They want photographs that they can now use to tell the story of their big idea. But there is no way to re-visualize their process measuring what they have accomplished because no photographs were made with that intention—not thinking ahead what images they will need in the end to tell the story. 

While living in New York City in the early ’90s, I thought I might want to make motion pictures. Not knowing that much about filmmaking, I offered to work on small indie films. I was working with many talented individuals. I learned that one of the many required “assets” film festivals ask for are publicity stills to assist in “promoting” the movies. As a photographer, I was a valuable asset on these indie productions and taught myself how to package these with other materials for festivals. One evening at a wrap party, a young filmmaker approached me. He had heard through a colleague that I created festival packets. And he needed some help with his festival proposal. So we went through my mental checklist – script, application, list of cast and crew, synopsis, check, check, and check he said – still photos? (cue the sound of film breaking in a projector). Ahhh! He said someone did make some snapshots with their camera, but no one was responsible for making those still photos. He asked if I could help. I shook my head and said, look, we could recreate a scene or two if you have access to the location and the actors, but it is not the same. 

I was preparing, before the pandemic, to deliver a “lunch and learn” session about documenting your startup story. I planned to say that good visual storytelling is critical to rising above the startup competition. Thinking ahead for visual stories requires commitment, discipline, and money. Yes, money! A business school leader reminded me that seed money is for the core purpose of startup culture. My reply, without planning for storytelling (READ marketing) images, no one will visualize the value you are building. Indeed, I am sure that some early-stage funders will disagree with me and point to examples of startups that prove themselves without marketing imagery. But in a global conversation of visual media, pictures and videos matter. Without visual images, you are only as good as your best textual metaphors with bullet points on a pitch deck. 

Once in a conversation with a client over a project launch. I told the story of being commissioned by a financial institution to create artwork for their new office. Their ask was for images of the city from their skyscraper point of view – not postcard-style photos but images that reflected their unique worldview. He loved this idea, and then I revealed that often the “process photographs” that I make for long-term projects also end up as artwork on the walls of their company Headquarters. These images can rise above the initial purpose and can be aesthetically beautiful as well. We closed the deal on the spot.

Learning about future-forward projects and the people who put these into action is my favorite part of my storytelling. Thinking ahead to craft a visual story for publicity, fundraising, and memorializing history is what I do. 

If your organization has an emerging story to tell and wants my visual point of view, email me at richard@richardkelly.com.

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ASMP Making Art Origin Story Photography

Shoot Your Way Through It.

The Zen and the Art of Making Pictures.

Written initially (although I tweaked it a bit) for the ASMP Strictly Business Blog in December 2015, as I work my way through the global pandemic, I find that this blog post captures some of what I am doing right now, today to work through the stress and turbulence of 2020.

By Richard Kelly December 11, 2015 Strictly Business Blog

I’m a photographer. I “frame” my world. But sometimes I can’t see anything. Sometimes it is something outside my world that blocks my view; most often, it is inside my head. Whatever the cause, the prescription is the same; I have to shoot my way through it.

I credit Chicago photographer Jim Krantz for the phrase that is now my go-to solution. It describes the action I have taken for most of my life when self-doubt, insecurity, low self-confidence, fear, or plain-old “I just don’t know what to do” blues hit me. Whatever the reason – whatever the why – the only way out is to pick up a camera and frame my world.

For some reason, I find self-imposed limitations help. This is mostly true when I am scratching what could be an idea or working my way through a project. I select one lens, one camera – I limit myself to a few choices. By boxing myself in, I give myself boundaries that allow me to feel safe to explore.

Sometimes, I walk with a camera, not always to create a new project but to allow myself the space to think more clearly. The walking and looking, especially in a place I haven’t walked in before, will enable me to see what will connect the dots.

Driving can also help me break through a block. I find that it is best to drive without purpose. Bicycling is good, too. I especially like to bicycle in places where I don’t typically walk or drive my car. 

I remember one bike ride in the outer banks one, particularly bountiful summer. The light was perfect. I was using all of my senses for ideation.

I took a walk in Philadelphia a few years ago, exploring the city with my camera, “following the light” with no particular subject in mind. I took some beautiful pictures. I remember using a Nikon F2A with a 58mm lens; that detail’s not essential, although I remember it. I’d love to show you the photographs – they were spectacular – but I can’t. I somehow forgot to load the film that day. A rare occurrence, but I was so used to shooting with my digital camera that I simply forgot to check the film. It didn’t matter, though. It was that walk and the act of shooting through it that helped me work out the project I was working through in my mind.