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Monday, 20 March 2023


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I'm also so much just a process person. I'm grateful for my teaching gig because semester classes just end, student projects that I advise just end (and I'm not the one carrying them to term), and I'm forced twice-/thrice-weekly to meet a deadline when I lecture. I just have to present the stuff on those days and so their content gets fixed, set in time, delivered. And yet I am constantly reworking my course materials, even ones I have taught for 20+ years. Thank god, in my mind, for a second chance to do it all again. I rework some to a fault sometimes, tossing out the baby and keeping the bath water, just to discover why the baby should have been held close instead. I enjoy the process of creating these materials very much, have several different texts in-progress, but never teach the same way twice out of those texts to complete them. Instead I return to them later and immediately imagine a different tack.

I wanted to bring up a different axis: perhaps call it "singular vs. plural." In my work I've unravelled and followed a bunch of disparate threads of research, carrying forward my understanding of each. I get bored, unsure, or stuck in a rut with one, and so I move to another. When I return back to the one, it's with a fresh perspective, and I take it further again. I could imagine a "plural project" person wraps something up so that they can move on to another. And a "singular project" person wraps something up so that then can advance to the next phase or stage of the same pursuit.

I could see this being a major axis to differentiate kinds of writers and kinds of photographers.

[That's a great comment! Very helpful. thanks. --Mike]

I wonder if you realize that your week-long process of public self-examination has become a (...wait for it...) project?

Further, and pursuant to that thought, I wonder if you understand that processes are often composed of projects.

FWIW, my observation during careers in three disparate fields is that there's no such distinction as you suppose. "Process" people are unmanaged, or unmanageable, "project" people. Yes, admittedly, over the years I had to fire people who just couldn't reliably deliver projects. They weren't stupid or lazy. Most were simply incapable of maintaining their focus or of knowing when to ask for help. But I would not characterize them as some type of "process" people.

When you are doing a project, especially when it is a big one, with many people involved, you need a clear process. A set of rules and dates that everyone commits to. The process is about how to manage your project. The project is the complete set of things that have to be done.

All well and good, but in the end you’re dealt with the final result.

This reminds me of a client who once asked an advise about a design by one of our competitors. So I asked him where went wrong. That was exactly the problem, the process was clear, the project was realized within time and budget but the result was creatively mediocre.

The best attitude is not to be process driven, nor to be project driven but to be result driven.

Back in the days when I was doing multi-image/multi-screen audio-visual productions, we had a saying: "No project is ever completed. It's only abandoned when time and money run out."

So many threads flying around . . .

I think labels, while they may make one feel better, better understood by self and others, can also become limitations. "Oh well, I'm an Rxxx, not an Sxxx, so I can't do that."

Or was that just an excuse?

How about "Sometimes I'm a process person, other times a project person. I like the way process me led me somewhere project me never would have, and then project me finished it up.* Then again, I remember when the Project just wasn't coming together. Stepping back, engaging with process me, found the snag, got me back on track.

That way, the definitions help me understand my own internal assets, how they may be complementary, how I may choose which to engage, as needed.

In a 30 year career in a major company, I must have completed thousands of projects, mostly on time. \;~)>

OK, a run of 10, 10+ hour days to make numbers crucial to a major LBO was someone else's project. OTOH, the projects most important to my overall career, and, not incidentally, most personally rewarding, came out of the dreamer, process me, and it's endless wandering through possibilities. false starts, detours, blind alleys, etc.

We people are complex continua, not all one thing, and not at all another.

* This is literal. All the best work I've done as photographer and writer, started as curiousity and process to explore it.

And another thing . . .

Cherry picking from the wealth of material in the last few days:

- How come no digital printing is as good as (some photo paper)?

- Mike: yeah, why's that?

- Mike confesses to taking a mess of in process, unfinished work to John Szarkowski.

- Mike post links to his Flickr gallery.

= Ctein seems to be generally acknowledged as one of the great printers of our era. He dismantled his darkroom when he couldn't get as good results with wet work as inkjet. I have one of his 16x20 monochrome prints right here. I can't imagine how it could be made better. I've seen a lot of his work in person. I don't always like the subject as much as he does, but the prints are da bomb.

= When I visit Mike's photos on Flickr, I wonder why they are almost all so flat, lifeless.

Most recent two:

(Click on images to see it big.)

With those shadows, were the signs really so gray?

Sun After Rain, Keuka Lake, New York

(Click on images to see it big.)

I'm no Zone system maven, but I can see immediately that there is no true black and that tonal detail in middle and upper range are compressed.

Are we being treated like John Szarkowski, to unfinished work?

Does web presentation not merit being finished? Let's face it, most people will see most photographs on their screens, not as a print. How do I want my work to be seen?

I get the process/project distinction but I'm not really certain whether I'm a process person or a project person. Perhaps that's because, having always worked in office environments, I always thought of my preferences for the type of work I did in terms of goal setting and goal meeting. I'm bad at setting goals, especially goals I have to meet but on the other hand give me a goal and I usually do a good job of meeting it whether that goal involved a project or an ongoing process..

One thing I have learnt, however, is that if there's something I want to get better at and I think of achieving that outcome in terms of either success in reaching the level I want to achieve or failure in terms of not achieving that level, then I usually fail but if I think of achieving that outcome in terms of always striving to do a little bit better than I'm doing, then I often end up achieving what I want to achieve.

I suspect that makes me a process person, I like working on things that are ongoing, but I have been very good at delivering on things that aren't on going, that need to be delivered in a set timeframe and in a set manner when it hasn't been up to me to set the required outcomes. Perhaps the reason I tend to fall down on projects I set myself is not so much that I'm not good at projects but that I fail to set myself the sort of goals I need to set if I am to complete my project.

In other words, I think the project/process distinction is valid and meaningful but I'm not certain that it completely explains why we don't always succeed at what we want to do.

I am afraid I fall into a third category called “I can’t get started”.

I once read a writer saying, there's no place to be a bad writer any more to get it out of your system, and still eat. The theory is that everyone has a million words of bad writing in them, and the sooner you write them out, the sooner you can start earning a real living. Used to be the comics and the pulps and various magazines were enough of a market for lots of writers learning the craft. Now, not so much. There's fewer publications, and the editors, if any, are buried in submissions.

I used to dream of being a writer, thinking I might get up to the mid-list pack. Now? I love writing and editing and noodle away on the multiple novels as an intellectual exercise, but try to sell them? That's too much like work.

As always I'm late to the party but I want to thank JH post for a new way of explaining Da Vinci, arguably the most prestigious and talented process person that ever live.

It also made me look back and don't feel so ashamed for never getting done anything big in all these years.

Listen to this, Mike. Elvis Costello is like you. https://www.pushkin.fm/podcasts/revisionist-history/hallelujah

The distinction between project and process is interesting, but as you showed with your example of the magazine work, many (most?) activities are a little of both.

Write the first edition of the book and then start working on the second edition…. now you have a process.

Not sure which book project has triggered this, but why not match your process to the project. One of the book projects that you have spoken about is regarding your son. I guess a big part of this is that you want him to know about your time together and perhaps have a record of that to share with his own children. Another thing you mentioned in this post was letter writing. Put the two together and write your son a letter each week over the course of a year, 3-4 pages a week over 52 weeks gives you 200 pages - enough to be considered a modest book. The writing doesn’t need to be chronological, perhaps a particular week’s topic could be triggered by an event or anniversary, for example approaching Christmas, you may write about your Christmas’s together.

And don’t be afraid that at the end of the year you decide this is too personal and you want to keep it between you and your son, as I suspect he is intended to be the number one reader of this project.

One last aphorism, this one from graduate school: “There are two kinds of dissertations: dissertations that are perfect, and dissertations that are finished.”

Your ex-girlfriend wanted six children! So you ran for your life...(chuckle)

In practice, that's just a dream, a mindless overestimate and in the end, most times, they seldom materialise.

Well, Michael, you are a process guy, in spades, and you demonstrate that by goi ng on and on. But you're very good at it , you're smart, and you know a lot about photography.

Gotta wonder if , on some level, "process" people suffer from fear of failure. If the project isn't finalized, how can it be deemed a failure?

At the risk of beating this to death we should not look at it just from the point of view of what kind of person you are. The end result matters. E.g., Kirk T. may be project oriented on his pro gigs, but his daily photo walks through Austin strike me more as process, an ongoing process at that. Throughout our lives we wear different hats and have to adapt, regardless of our innate desires.

Our culture rewards project completion because by default we tend to judge things based on how they affect the "bottom line", in the business sense. This thinking tends to pollute non-business areas of our lives. If I join a social club to do something, bird-watching say, I'm going to avoid A type bird watchers whose main driving force is to "win" at bird watching, however you define winning in that context. They can do what they like of course, but nothing obliges me to spend time with them.

Thanks to the very cool Quote Investigator site you can learn that Paul Valéry originated the phrase, “You don’t finish a work of art, you abandon it “


It’s amazing how many people have echoed him.


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