In one week, it will be one year since we finished packing our bags, squeezed Brando in the back seat and pulled out of Cochrane with our red-and-white Trillium trailer in tow. We were heading off on our Creative Sabbatical, venturing forth into unknown territory with a goal of evaluating our business, our lifestyle and our roles as creatives on this wobbly globe called Earth. So, a look back at our year wherein we try and tackle the big question that many of you might be wondering: But Did They Learn Anything?
Artists in Residence
For the first half of the year, we were stationed out of Aurum Lodge, an eco-lodge in the Canadian Rockies. We have partnered with and supported Aurum Lodge and its owners and proprietors, Alan and Madeleine Ernst, for years. We believe it is important to have hospitality-based businesses in the national and federal parks that emphasize low-impact enjoyment of nature, and this eco-lodge certainly conveys that message. We rounded out over ten years of tours and workshops at Aurum with a full slate of private mentorship and workshops last fall, meeting many keen photographers eager to refine their ability to make images from the world around them. Despite a tough summer of hot, dry, smoke-filled weather, our time spent in this natural region was, as ever, magical. The Kootenay Plains will always have a special place in both our hearts.
Brando Goes to His Happy Hunting Grounds
As many of you who follow oopoomoo adventures know, our beloved companion, film star and chowhound Brando passed away last August at Aurum Lodge. Many people ask us if we are planning on getting a new dog, but we feel that there is not room yet in our hearts for a new friend. Brando was not replaceable. Maybe in the future a furry friend will pick us, but for right now, we think about him often. He must have touched the hearts of others, especially in the instructional videos he starred in on our YouTube channel, because when we played the Lens Choice video during this past April’s Toronto photo workshop, Brando received a spontaneous round of applause at the end of it. He was a special dude. Read our tribute here (with Darwin’s original music – but turn up your speakers because the recording is low volume) for lessons in how to be your own dog.
Penguins and Polar Landings
Next up – the bottom of the Earth! We traveled to Antarctica on a photo symposium expedition and visited the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and spent a brief time on Antarctica. One of the perks of being photography instructors is that sometimes you get to travel to exciting destinations to teach others photography – something we wouldn’t be able to afford ourselves. The south pole does everything large – instead of a handful of penguins, let’s have thousands! Grass grows on South Georgia in giant clumps creating weird mazes that are hard to navigate. On the continent itself, craggy mountains crowd a skimpy, fur seal-coated beach making landings a challenge. Building-sized icebergs sail serenely past. Antarctica is an incredibly fragile place, protected for most of human history by its inaccessibility. That has now changed, and the region now features on many photographers’ bucket lists. Here on oopoomoo, we strive to teach ethical photography. So please, if you find yourself somewhere beautiful, either Antarctica or a small urban park, join us and set the level of care high for our vulnerable and shrinking natural areas.
Adventures in House Sitting
The final leg of our journey has found us house sitting in various homes across Alberta. A sort of ‘try it on for size’, our house sitting has allowed us to discover new communities and ponder the question of what makes a great community, and how do you build one? We did learn a couple of valuable lessons, including ‘more’ is not better, and always turn off the power when testing a shock collar (newsletter subscribers will know what we’re talking about here). During this time, we also embarked across Canada teaching multiple workshops to eager learners in, among other places, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. The support and positive feedback from participants from these events had been almost overwhelming and definitely very gratifying! We are happy that so many of believe in yourself and your creativity.
Some of you have noticed that we don’t have any workshops lined up for the fall or winter. Or spring, for that matter. Some of you have made requests for special workshops which we have turned down. This is very strange behaviour for a photo education-based business like oopoomoo. The truth is, our Creative Sabbatical was an incredible success in so many ways. We made new friends. We ended toxic relationships. We refined our business focus and our priorities. We inspired photographers to be true to their own creative vision. We sold a slate of highly successful workshops and increased our eBook sales. We traveled Canada from British Columbia to Quebec and to the bottom of the world. In short, business is booming.
The truth is, the Creative Sabbatical was a success in all ways but two: it wasn’t creative for us, which means it wasn’t a sabbatical. We worked our cans off. We aren’t complaining! But in twelve months, we delivered over 18 events – a record, even for us. We moved house and office 9 times with one more to go. There was no time for us to pursue our own creative projects and once again another year passed in which we did not do what so many of you do which is invest in your own creative development. So the truth is, we are easing up on the oopoomoo workshop gas pedal and pressing down on the oopoomoo creative publisher pedal. We hope to publish some more of our own photography projects – maybe some new eBooks! – and to continue a dialogue with all of you about what makes your creative life fulfilled. The discussion is hopping on the oopoomoo facebook group where we’d be happy for you to join in, and of course we will continue to publish thoughtful and (hopefully) artful work here on oopoomoo central.
So onwards and upwards to all good things oopoomoo!
Many of us only do photography when we have something to take pictures of: a birthday party, a vacation, an iconic destination, a portrait, an owl in a tree etc. We take pictures of things… we rarely make images of our ‘feelings about things’.
Our feelings are always trying to emerge in our photography but are often suppressed by our obsession over gear, concerns about technique, and worries about what others will think of our photos. Our egos often get in the way of expressive image making. And so the results of our photography are impersonal, predictable and clichéd. After a while we are not even sure why we take photos and we become bored with our work.
To remedy the boredom and get back in touch with why we take photos, Samantha and I recommend doing a personal photography project. It’s best if the project is something simple and achievable. Don’t try some grand epic project or you’re bound to fail – start small and make it fun. And give yourself a deadline and an outcome: when will you finish and how are you going to collate or present your work?
For example, my personal photo project for the next six months will be a weekly photo walk. Once a week, starting with the week of January 12, I will pick up my camera and head out on a two to three hour walk and make images of things I find interesting. I might walk in my neighborhood, meander in a city park or stroll in nature.
Why a walk?
I chose a weekly photo walk for three reasons. First, walking is environmentally friendly. I just walk from wherever I am. No driving involved! Second, walking is healthy for body and spirit. Third, walking slows you down giving you time to look around and see; I’ll get to know an area much more intimately which is important because for the next six months Samantha and I will be house and pet sitting in different locations in Alberta. What better way to learn about a new place than by walking in it? After each walk I’ll write a short journal entry about the experience and process any images I made.
What is the outcome?
Once a month I’ll share a story or two of my walking journeys here on the blog. The final result of the weekly walks will be a hand-made, hand-bound journal of my photos and writings that will be completed by July 30.
What’s in it for you?
So… we encourage you to come up with a project that excites your creative spirit. If you like the idea of the weekly photo walk, then feel free to lace up your boots and join me on the journey. Glad to have you along!
If you have a different project in mind then we encourage you to share your idea and your deadline for the output (e.g. a book, print show, eBook, or online gallery). Feel free to post your project idea and photo results from your project, or the weekly walk, at any time over on our oopoomoo Facebook group. There you’ll get encouragement and advice from fellow oopoomians. If you’re not on Facebook feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about your project or just share images from your weekly walk. Samantha and I will select some of your project ideas or weekly walk results to highlight here on the oopoomoo blog, with your permission of course. As well, we may give out a prize or two just to keep things interesting, hint, hint 😉
Good luck with all your projects. We are excited to see what you come up with!
Summer is flying by! In Alberta, there’s already a nip in the air — autumn is basically here! The brisk winds and unsettled skies always seem to indicate that change is in the air…and for us here at oopoomoo, we’ve decided to continue with the spirit of exploration that we’ve created by beginning our creative sabbatical. In 2015, we plan to pursue some exciting opportunities to learn and grow and continue our quest for ‘the good life’.
This means we will be taking a hiatus from the whirlwind of workshops we’ve been organizing or involved in over the last few years in order to continue with the spirit of our creative sabbatical. We will share our adventures from time to time with you on our blog, but for those of you who have always wanted to come on an oopoomoo photo workshop, now is your last chance for a little while! Outside of photography events organized with Camera Clubs, we will not be running our usual slate of oopoomoo workshops in 2015.
While there is still plenty of opportunities to get involved this fall, space is limited! Click on a link below to learn more and for info on how to register:
Workshops out of Aurum Lodge in the Canadian Rockies
Glory of Autumn, Sept. 23-28 – This popular workshop was sold out, but one opening has just come up due to a cancellation! We explore the grand vistas as well as the secret nooks of this stunning region during a season when nature dons her most beautiful colours. One spot left.
Beyond the Icon, Oct. 21-26 – Tired of taking the same old shots? Do you struggle to express your own creative ideas or ‘see’ photo opportunities in the field? In this field-intensive workshop, we dig deep, encouraging you to develop your creative vision through the study of one of nature photography’s most challenging styles – intimate landscapes. Four spots left.
Fire and Ice, Nov. 4-9 – Devoted photographers visit the Canadian Rockies in late fall/early winter. They know that they’ll have the quiet roads to themselves yet still experience the charm that this season of flux can bring. From snow squalls to shorts weather, the variability leads to exciting photo opportunities. Oh, and did we mention the fiery light? Six spots left.
Artists in Residence (until Nov. 15) – Can’t make any of these dates? Now is the perfect time to take advantage of our presence at Aurum Lodge as Artists in Residence. Customize your learning! We work with you on your personal learning goals in these value-packed sessions.
Watch for these oopoomoo photography workshops in 2014 and 2015!
Edmonton, September 2014 and May, 2015 – The Creative Landscape Photography course we delivered this past spring at the Burwell School of Photography was a smash hit! Two more dates have been added to this popular workshop and one is just around the corner, starting September 19. Offerings with other Clubs and schools are the best bang for your buck since you can save on accommodation costs when we’re in your neck of the woods – so check ’em out and support local education!
Toronto, April 2015 – More details coming soon!
Winnipeg, May 2015 – More details coming soon!
And to all of you who said you would visit us at Aurum Lodge…come see us already!
We started our Artists in Residence program at Aurum Lodge last week on July 1 (Canada Day). After two weeks of intensive packing and cleaning our house for the renters, we packed up Betty-Tina (our 1976 Trillium travel pod) and planned to be on the road by noon. But our trailer lights did not work and so one of our nice neighbours in Cochrane, an electrician, came over to help us out. A couple of hours later we were ready to go and the last thing we packed from the house were Sam’s home-made rhubarb juice popsicles!
In hindsight, travelling on Canada Day was probably not the best choice especially because we plodded along with our RAV-4 pulling Betty-Tina at 80-90 km per hour. I’m sure we were the cause of a few muffled expletives but we were happy sucking on the popsicles and enjoying the scenery. Canada Day was the start of a crazy hot week here in Alberta with high temperatures and dry conditions after a rainy June. Once at the lodge we settled into our wee cabin in the woods that lodge-owners Alan and Madeleine had pimped out for our arrival. Betty-Tina is parked in the trees ready for us should we need to give up our cabin for guests. It took us two days to unload and get settled. On day 2 we were sitting outside our cabin enjoying coffee and a scone slathered in honey that we’d brought from the Farmer’s Market in Cochrane when a black bear meandered around the corner of the cabin units. This was a big surprise more for us and our dog than the bear which was eventually shooed away by Alan. Alan managed to snap a few photos while we retreated into the safety of the cabin. We now look twice before opening the door with scone in hand.
The great thing about hanging out in a lodge is that you meet awesome people. On day 5 Sam and I had our first private instruction clients, Rob and Michelle Avis. Rob and Michelle booked a full day with us and they were a delight to hang out with (and both were quick studies so the lessons went quickly!) The Avis’ are leading edge permaculture instructors and have been a force in the permaculture movement in Alberta. They offer a two week permaculture design course complete with a certificate at the end. Sam took the course last year and it changed her life. I am taking this two-week course starting in a few days myself and I look forward to being charged about this exciting learning prospect! Personally Sam and I think that permaculture is the biggest bang for the buck if we want to heal the planet. Here at oopoomoo we’ve always looked for ways to minimize our impact on the planet – plus we would love to learn how to grow more of our own food in a challenging climate like Cochrane.
The other thing of note is that on day 3, a wildfire (likely caused by lightening) erupted about 30km west of Aurum Lodge. The billowing, dirty smoke was striking to look at as it rose behind the mountains. We got a few shots of a blood-red sun through curtains of smoke before the ashy air settled through the entire lake valley. It’s a bit challenging to breathe at times until the wind picks up, but with a wildfire there’s a lot to photograph including the golden light reflected through the orangey clouds and the misty look to the forest. The fire is now under control so we’re not threatened at present except for our lungs when the wind changes directions.
Being out here is busy. There’s always lots to do, and we help Alan and Madeleine out from time to time as well (except maybe me who is likely banned from serving after I dropped an entire tray of dishes). Even though we are in a unique situation living in a mountain lodge, we still need to carve out precious creative time. For everyone creative time needs to be scheduled just like anything else. Make it a priority and make sure you get it done first thing everyday!
So, we’d like you to join us in a creative challenge every month. This month the task is to take your least used lens (or focal length if you only own one zoom lens) and head out four times this month, using just that lens/focal length. Sam’s least used lens is her 60mm macro lens. She always leaves it out of her pack so I told her she needs to go out this month and make some photos with it. My least used landscape lens is my 85mm f1.4 lens. I always use it for portraits but rarely for landscape and so I will be sure to get out at least four times this month doing landscape work with this lens. Share your story of your least used lens and the images you make in July on our oopoomoo Facebook group for feedback or comments!
Samantha started it all off on May 22 when she gave herself until June 30 to tackle her horrendous backlog of unprocessed raw files gathering digital dust on her hard drives. Sam said that whatever was not processed by June 30th would be deleted forever. Wow, harsh eh?
But after thinking about it for some time, it sounded like a good idea… and so with some fits and starts and hesitation, I opted to join Sam on the Ultimate Clear the Clutter Challenge. And even Stephen, our eBook designer and website guru was inspired to join us albeit without the big bad ‘delete’ part of the equation.
And so what’s the progress? Sam started with 89 folders. As of today, she only has 13 folders of images left to do! Two or three more days of concerted effort and Sam will be done – yahoo! For me it’s so great to see Sam’s images come to life. She was ruthless and many images did not make the cut and hit the trash bin but the ones she kept I find really inspiring. Good job Sam!
For me progress has been much slower. I had to deal with my thousands and thousands of slides from the film days first. What to do with those images? How should I store them for our one year creative sabbatical? In the end I have them in a cool dry place all packaged up safely but that took many days. Progress on the digital front is much slower. I started with 199 folders to edit and process and I am still at 149 folders left to date. Yikes! But as I look over my folders I am going to take Sam’s lead and delete ruthlessly keeping only top drawer stuff to process. If I already have stuff that is better, delete it. If the image is just more of the same, delete it. If the image is flawed in any way compositionally, delete it.
And If I do get my images done, then what should be Sam’s punishment for losing the bet? I am open to suggestions ; )
I admit it’s a bit radical.
Many of you are going to say I’ve tripped my shutter, overexposed my hand, am lost in the darkroom of life…but I HAVE to do it.
I’m going to commit to tackling the horrendous backlog of unprocessed raw files gathering digital dust on my computer hard drives. I’m going to work my can off for the next six weeks. And what I can’t get to by June 30, 2014 when we walk out the door to start our Artists in Residence program…well, I’m gonna DELETE those raw images. Permanently. As in forever. That’s right: bye bye baby!
I’m sure some readers are gagging up their breakfast cereal right now at the thought of throwing away their unprocessed files. Sure, it’s crazy. But it’s also going to be freeing. Why? Because I’m one of those control freaks who has to do the dishes sitting on the counter before I dirty a new set making dinner. I have to organize my desk before I can get down to work. And I CAN’T STAND the idea of going out to shoot with hundreds of images just waiting for me back home. Garrgh, the clutter! It drains my energies like a battery forgotten on a cold garage floor. It keeps me from being truly free and creative. So it’s time for a radical amputation.
I know some of you might be thinking, What is her problem? Just cherry pick the faves, and leave the rest for when you have a spare moment! But there is no free hour in the future. Running a photography business means a lot of time thinking not about photography but the business of photography. When I do have a spare moment, you won’t find me anywhere near a computer. For me, it’s killer clutter that keeps me from wanting to head out to make new images (that in turn will just sit on my computer for years. Yech!)
There’s also the little fact that I need my images processed in order to use them in our educational eBooks, talks and workshops…but I digress.
Darwin and I have written a few times on the blog about getting rid of clutter in our lives. With disposable income it can be so easy to collect extra things. We think we need that extra kitchen gadget or motorized toy, but despite retailer promises, our lives are not easier or happier. We just end up with more junk. For me, unprocessed images sitting on my ‘to do’ list for years feels like piles of paper on my desk that I have to get to before I can clock out for the day. Why not just set a firm deadline to achieve a goal and toss the remainders? Why not??
My goal may not seem so ‘out there’ to minimalists. These are people who strip away all the extras in their lives, freeing themselves from the tyranny of stuff which allows them to focus their energies into more productive channels. I first heard of minimalism through a CBC radio interview with Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus the authors of Minimalism: Living a Meaningful Life. Compared to how they’ve downsized their lives, what I’m planning to do is piddly!
There’s also been a resurgence in the concept of eudaimonia which is the pursuit or experience of self-actualization, excellence or meaning as opposed to what most of us do to be happy which is gleefully seek hedonia (the pursuit or experience of pleasure, comfort and enjoyment). The little bit I’ve heard about these concepts so far, from a nod in the pop psyche book on learning music, Guitar Zero, to the abstract for Veronika Huta’s article on the subject (my definitions are from her summary — have to see if I can get my hand on the book itself) suggest I’m on the right path to put off pleasure-seeking photography right now in favour of a virtuously clean hard drive.
So, I hope I’m up for the ultimate kill the clutter challenge. I have 89+ folders containing hundreds of unprocessed raw files and about six weeks to sort through them all. What I get to by June 30, I keep. What’s left is junked.
What do you think? Care to join me and set your own little ‘kill the clutter’ goal? Why not??
Hey everyone! Darwin and I are really excited to announce that, starting July 1, we are going to be Artists in Residence at Aurum Lodge! This is the same eco-lodge which hosts many of our photography workshops and is located within one of our favourite landscapes on planet Earth...the Canadian Rockies! This Artists in Residence program is part of a larger commitment to creativity for oopoomoo, and we want you to share in the journey – please join us! Read on to learn more about why we’re making this move and how we hope to share our experience with you.
A Passion for Photography
As many of you know, last June Alberta (the province in which we live) was struck by some of the worst flooding in Canadian history. After days of pounding rain, many towns situated near mountain-fed rivers and creeks were inundated by surging, raging waters. The economic heart of the city of Calgary was shocked into abandoned stillness by the frothy anger of a changeling river; it was surreal to watch the incoming footage as a normally placid, rippling blue Bow River turned into an insatiable, banks-crumbling maw in just a few bare hours. Costly clean up is ongoing.
We weren’t directly affected by flooding in our neck of the woods but, for many Albertans, the flood devastation served a visceral reminder of the power of nature and spurred a dialogue about how climate change impacts our communities and our future. It also raised the issue of whether the fast pace of resource extraction pursued by Alberta needed to be re-examined – and interestingly many people we spoke to mentioned an interest in slowing the pace of their own lives and living a more fulfilled, healthy, creative life.
These conversations really resonated with us. We started oopoomoo to encourage photographers to invest in their artistic development within the larger context of a healthy planet and vibrant communities. We’ve frequently written about the need to balance work and life and the importance in investing in your creativity in ways that minimize the impact of the pursuit of photography on the earth’s resources. The flood of 2013 sparked awareness in our community about the hidden costs of our fast-paced, consumptive lifestyle… and reminded us personally that we hadn’t been paying as much attention to our own creative goals as we should.
We decided it was time for that to change. For one year, we would rent our house in Cochrane and would run oopoomoo from our field base at incredible Aurum Lodge, on creative sabbatical as Artists in Residence free to explore our own creative goals but with a keen interest in sharing our journey and, as far as possible, opportunities for artistic growth with oopoomoo fans and readers.
Journey With Us
We appreciate that not everyone can take a year off to pursue their artistic goals. But you can carve out one more hour a week for your own creative development. And you owe it to yourself. Get up an hour early. Skip that hour of TV. Turn your lunch break into an artistic fiesta. It’s really about taking a good, honest look at the priorities in life and latching on to what is important to you. Family, friends…your passions…why should they take a back seat? You’ll always remember those times when you were happy and present. You won’t remember, and won’t be remembered for, those sacrificial extra hours at your job.
We want you to whisper your secret creative dreams in our ear. How are you hoping to achieve them? What can you do right now to take a step toward those dreams?
We’re going to share our journey with you, and we encourage you to pick up your camera and start your own exploration this summer. There’s plenty of ways to be involved, and we’d love to hear from you! Join us in our Creative Assignments Project, and share your inspiring work and photographic inspirations in the oopoomoo community on Facebook. And of course, if you ever find yourself in our neck of the woods consider staying awhile to learn with us in this, one of the most stunning natural places on Earth. We look forward to embarking on this creative journey together!