Time of Indifference

Posted on Mar 28, 2011 in Ideas and Opinions, journalism, Media, Photography | 13 Comments

My world - as Id like to have it...

It’s been like three weeks since I last wrote a blog entry. In my book, that is a long time. I try normally write once a week – at least – if for nothing else but  then to respect my small – highly disturbed  –  readership… both of them… ;-)

But: I was just tired after one month abroad covering skiing. I still am, very much so. But no complaints. I get to choose what I do for living. That is a privilege which comes with a price tag.

I also took a small holiday. Six days of skiing with the family.  Well deserved, I think. My three-year-old was on downhill skies for the first time and my six-year-old daughter was doing “off-piste”  i.e. skiing on the paths in the forest. Me? I was just enjoying it tremendously…  simply just very happy that I was able to share it with them.

But this post is not about me, really. And it is not about my client(s), either.  It’s about the general culture in our field – or the lack of it, more precisely. Lack of manners, for starters. Not seeing what drives one to push harder…

And this is an attempt to clear my own thoughts – thus, it is very personal.  In addition, this is a tribute – or a public “thank you” – to some friends, most importantly Tomas, JP and Hopper who lately have made me think a lot. By their commentary, links, sharing their view of the world  in general. Much appreciated.

The “Yeah… okay” Syndrome

Some of you might have read the discussion I had with JP at the end of my previous post. IMHO, one of the best written discussions I have ever had with anyone – if not the best. Urge you to read it – I know, it’s heavy, but still.

JP introduced me the concept of “Yeah…okay…” . Or should I say: he gave a name to a phenomenon I was very familiar with – way too familiar. Again, I refer you back to that conversation.

Three weeks since I came back home from Oslo. No comment, no feedback, no simple “thank you”, no nothing…  a total silence.

“Well, in Finland if nobody says anything, that means you have done an ok job…” I am often told. Maybe I live in a wrong country, but sorry: that is total bullshit. How about some common courtesy?

I teach my kids to say “Thank You” and “Sorry” and “Here you are” etc. – but the culture I spend 12-16 hours daily working  plays with totally different rules. “Yeah…okay…”  -rules. And that pisses me off. Like totally pisses me off.

Time of indifference. That is the title of the famous Alberto Moravia novel. That’s also the prevailing attitude in our field –  maybe the whole of our society?

Problem: it does not inspire great work. It celebrates mediocrity. At times when our industry really could use something else.

Henry David Thoreau said once:

“The masses of men lead a life of quiet desperation”.

In our country, I wonder why?

Great Work

See, I have a problem. Sure, it is totally a personal problem:  I don’t want to do “ok” job… No, I want to do GREAT work! Seriously, that’s what I want to do – whether I succeed or not  is another matter… ;-)

But I hate “OK” work – I don’t want to do “OK” work. I don’t want to work my butt off to be “OK”.

Why do I want to do GREAT work? Because: it is the force which pushes me forward – pushes us forward. “Us” here being: we as individuals,  professionals, organizations, the whole industry we call media, etc.

I aspire to do GREAT work – and to be acknowledged for it. If I do “OK” work – nobody really gives a shit. And frankly: why should they?

“OK” sucks.

Nobody Really Cares about “OK”

So: nobody really cares about “ok” work. Now, mark my words – or read my lips:

“Nobody” here is not your clients or colleagues. In this context “nobody “refers  to  readers or viewers – your audience.

Readers, who make a decision today whether or not they buy/subscribe to your product tomorrow.

That decision is based on the work you present them today. Huge difference whether it is “ok” or “GREAT”.

Thus: whether you have a job or not in the future – i.e. does your media exist in the years to come – depends on the  distinction between “OK” and “GREAT”.

So, you understand my fury on this: I don’t want to do “ok”.  I want to do “great”.

Indifference vs. Hate

My friend Tomas Whitehouse wrote an absolutely beautiful piece couple of weeks ago in his own site, called “The  line between giving a **** …and not”. One which I have read several times. I’m sure he doesn’t mind me quoting him here.

Had he not used that title, I might have done it. It says it all. He talks about hate – I talk about indifference. Actually when I think about it: it is the two faces of the same coin.

He is one of those people who really inspire you – who really pushes you forward. Great photographer, kind, helpful… a totally cool guy whose support you can always trust, a great friend to work with. A wizard of Adobe Lightroom – always happy and willing to share his expertise.

I urge you to read it – I just so totally hear him and his frustration. To him it’s dealing with hate – hate from people he  has simply been trying to help.

To me, it’s exactly the same feeling – but instead of hate I try to deal with the indifference of people I try to make shine to my best ability.

Let me just quote the beginning of this brilliant essay to give you an idea:

I am aware of and have confidence with my own ability = I have a huge ego.

I write a blog therefore I am a narcissist.

I enjoy using current technology = I’m elitist and simultaneously this signifies that I am unaware of my own birth?

No matter what we do, seems there can be a whole lot of hate waiting for us.

For the record:

I am fully aware that I am merely a fleck of froth, carried by wave after wave in the vast ocean of the art and history of photography.

I will leave no more a historical mark than any other fellow human being I stand beside.

I acknowledge and appreciate that there are hundreds of thousands of capable, inspiring, influential individuals and no matter what we all do, inevitably everything one day, will all be forgotten.

Do I care?…

Yes I do thanks but I can’t take you folk that have to passionately hate something seriously, you’re a distraction from enjoying my job and ultimately life.

I take pride in what I do, I love what I do. I care about the presentation, the content and the resulting impact…”

Please read the whole essay – worth every word. I wish I could write that fluently. He is not only a great photographer, but master of words as well.

As is JP I mentioned earlier. He really hit a nerve with couple of his comments in the “Oslo” post. A humble “thank you “for doing that. Great points, good conversation.

And as JP points out, it is very symptomatic that in this conversation, there were very little of other voices… Yes, the indifference manifested in yet another form.

And finally, talking of masters of words and photography: I have to mention Hopper Stone and his constant feed on FB on useful links which really make you think. Occasional comments on the blog. Much appreciated, dude.

Hopper is in the process of doing very interesting form of storytelling –  called Snapshots and War Stories – (click link and then click Photos) – in FB.  Absolutely worth seeing and reading.

********

Tomas finishes his piece by putting his fingers into his ears and going: “La, la, la, la, la…”

With indifference – different from the hate he discusses – you really cannot do that.

So I am thinking, what is the option?

I guess the opposite of indifference is e.g. giving credit where credit is due and saying “Thank You” when you feel it’s deserved and well earned. To act oneself the way I am trying to teach my children to do. So that’s what I will do…

And – I just did that.

13 Comments

  1. Hopper Stone
    March 28, 2011

    Thanks for the kind words.
    Re: The manners issue, It’s not just Finland, it’s everywhere. When I lived in Mexico City for Black Star and had to ship my unprocessed film, the rule of thumb was that if the phone didn’t ring within 24 hours, then I did a good job. If the phone rang, there was a problem. Same thing here in LA. No kudos…only criticism.
    I’d like to look at it this way: We work in a highly competitive field. There are a lot of people who want our job, and , frankly, a lot of people who can do our job. We are the fortunate ones whom our clients hire. I would like to assume that it’s because our work stands out a bit. Yes, sometimes it’s because we are the ones who are available after having gone down the list…but we’re still on the list, right?
    So the assumption is that you are always going to do great work…otherwise they would stop calling you. Right?
    At least, that’s what I tell myself…because I have to tell myself something because nobody every gives us any damned feedback!

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      March 28, 2011

      Hi Peter –

      (I noticed the link did not work, it’s corrected now).

      Yup, I know. As I said, I am basically trying to clear my own thoughts… no, not ranting, although it sounds like it… but really trying to make sense of everything, in my own head. Maybe show to people around me – people I care about – some of the reasons why I go totally nuts sometime… :-)
      Particular thanks to you btw for the link to NYT columnist Bob Herbert and his story “Losing Our Way” ( http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/opinion/26herbert.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212 ) – that was a great story. See, I live here in the North Pole and tend to miss lots of the stuff which might be interesting and useful, informative… Yes, I skim thru NYT, WP and IHT daily – as well as keep an eye on BBC and CNN – but I also keep an watchful eye on your FB (among some others) as you tend to find some very interesting and insightful reading quite often.
      And yes, I remember you getting a phone call from New York office once and your instant reaction was hyperventilating… as that typically meant you’d messed up something…

      Let’s keep in touch and nice to know you keep an eye on my whereabouts.

      k

      Reply
    • Juhapekka Tukiainen
      March 28, 2011

      I join Hopper in thanks for kind words, Kari – and then I go off again on my peculiar tangents : )

      Your grim take on the human condition has two meanings for me. Partly, like for Hopper, it is infuriatingly true and in your face and taking over the world. Yet, partly, it starts to feel kind of passé…

      For some odd reason I feel that the standard human buttheadedness that you describe is getting old. Out of fashion. Like tight jeans.

      Yes, it is still taking over the world, but so is Windows 7, yet nobody really believes in it any more. The force is with OS X.

      I am not saying that times are a’changing right now, but I just smell something in the air. And although that something doesn’t actually exist, yet, it still is the place where I already spend most of my time and my energy.

      To put it other way – when I get a yeah-okay today, well, I do get a bit depressed and angry, but not that much anymore. Most of the time I just give a big fat yeah-okay back and move on.

      So you are asking where I am going, but I don’t have a very good answer at the moment. Here are couple of TED-samples that don’t really describe the place, but they have some of the vibe I try to reach.

      First is the already microclassic speech by Elizabeth Gilbert. She talks about an old-and-new metaphor for creativity:

      http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

      Another one is a recent speech by David Brooks of New York Times:

      http://www.ted.com/talks/david_brooks_the_social_animal.html

      I don’t know if I agree with either one, but they share something that might be important. Both of them try to look past the butthead-view of humanity. They give me strength to walk away from the buttheads of my life.

      And to my almost-actual point: New York Times. It is my favorite media in the world, but in a couple of weeks the company has made three big mistakes. First and second, they yeah-okayed two of their most important writers, Frank Rich and Bob Herbert, who are both leaving the paper. NYT should have done EVERYTHING to keep them. The third mistake is not that today they are putting up a paywall, but that they have priced it wrong, in a buttheaded manner.

      So my actual point (finally): David Brooks is talking about it, Frank Rich and Bob Herbert are doing it. Brooks talks about a new kind of humanism, Rich and Herbert are walking away from the old kind.

      IMHO we should be doing the same. Instead of getting angry and hurting ourselves doing it, we should walk away – literally, when possible and figuratively, when necessary. The buttheads are multiplying, but they are not winning.

      We should be walking towards something new, even if we still don’t really know what it is.

      Reply
      • kkuukka
        April 1, 2011

        JP –

        I watched both TEDs – and I think I see what you are saying BTW, funny coincidence that you should mention Bob Herbert when I was just saying to Peter that his final piece for NYT was one of the best, clearsighted pieces or views of modern day US I’ve ever seen.

        I just take your actual point – literally. I will do just that – actually, I’ve already started the journey. I will not waste my time with the buttheads – as you so lovingly call them – but will go towards something else. What it is – as you describe, it is more like a place, state of mind – I don’t know yet. I know something about it already – also in practical tearms… but I should not discuss it yet. More like a direction. Resolution of some kind.
        No, I’m not getting back to neuroscience nor linguistics… I still think as I’ve quoted Chase Jarvis several times saying: “This is the most interesting time ever in the history of the world to be a photographer” – I just have to start living that. Not wasting my energy with the buttheads who cling to the old… Quoting Tomas from the post below:

        “…there will always be the folk at the bottom of the ocean concluding that the term ‘unsinkable’ was indeed – a crock of shit.”

        Would fulfill Einsteins definition of insanity to remain on board of that Titanic without constructing a personal lifeboat.

        Anyway, allow me to be this brief this time. Just the let you know I really appreciate your input into this.

        K

        ps. just came to think about something, don’t really know if it’s related or not, but will burb it out anyway… in ref. to our discussion about t-shirt guys… I’m not sure if you watched Steve Jobs giving his keynote on iPad2? The usual blah, blah, blah…. but, towards the end, when he is talking about Technology meeting Liberal arts… Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of bodylanguage says that he was really trying to be honest there, to make a point come thru. About the need of the T-shirt guys.

        Reply
  2. Tomas
    March 28, 2011

    Cheers mate. I am humbled to return to those whom I have received help and wisdom but also taken influence and inspiration so many times before.

    BTW I: Let’s make a deal that this summer, we go get those beers/wines that we’ve left behind last year?

    BTW II: Your on the money, we simply can’t embellish ourselves with “la la la la” and the fingers in ears thing. Ignorance is most certainly not bliss but for most, it does make a neat little holiday from time to time.

    You can try to warn ’em, present choice etc but there will always be the folk at the bottom of the ocean concluding that the term ‘unsinkable’ was indeed – a crock of shit.

    Keep on rockin’ brother and of course kiitoksia paljon kaveri :)

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      April 1, 2011

      Tomas –

      Princess Sophie. Early summer. Let’s talk about future. We get couple of smart friends along… Good food, some wine, talking, some sailing… Seriously, I’d really like to do that. Let’s see if we manage to cook something up?

      K

      Reply
  3. Juhapekka Tukiainen
    April 1, 2011

    Agree about Jobs. I noticed his thanks, too, when I watched the event.

    For me, this phenomenon is even more clear when you look at the story of Jonathan Ive. Cut to the chase: for three years Ive basically failed at Apple and got totally yeah-okayed.

    Year after year he was made to design pointless components for printers and such. Simultaneously he created wonderful prototypes for new products, but nobody gave a shit about them.

    And then Steve Jobs came back to Apple. He took one look at the non-published, yeah-okayed work of an obscure T-shirt wearing nobody and the rest is industrial history. Read it here:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1367481/Apples-Jonathan-Ive-How-did-British-polytechnic-graduate-design-genius.html

    That’s the way you make things happen. A useful T-shirt-collar and a useful boss just do their thing. The T-shirt-collar creates, the boss lets him create. Okay, in this case the boss is a unique turtleneck-collar guy, but there is really nothing that Jobs does that could not be done in any organization. Jobs just gets it. Others don’t.

    The mission: find a turtleneck. Be useful.

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      April 1, 2011

      JP –
      thanks again for real insightful commentary. I read the article you referred to – very interesting reading indeed. You are right about the mission: gotta find the turtleneck.
      Be useful? To quote Seth: to be remarkable. Will do – or will try at least.

      Why did we never had such great converstations when we were working together…?

      Well, tells maybe something about the culture of that company we were working for… ;-)

      Like (gotta tell this, this was just so bizarre, that 15 years later I still remember it…), such a strange incidence: I was once (confidentially, “as an friendly advise”) advised “not to speak french openly or in the phone” over there in the newsroom, because so many people might find it offending that they did not speak it and I did…

      Talk about a working environment killing creativity or any desire to be “remarkable”…. ;-)

      Before I sign off, before I forget: you are so definitely invited to that sailing trip I was talking with Tomas above…

      Reply
      • Juhapekka Tukiainen
        April 2, 2011

        I remember that incident. You were standing behind me when some French person called you. Actually I tried to eavesdrop your conversation (sorry) and I thought to myself: Damn, I never get a chance to practice my elementary French.

        After you left the office the reality of the situation hit home. Everybody around the desk were overcome by seething rage: Damn, he was speaking French!

        Anyway, I have my own story from that era. I happened to meet the princess of Prussia, who invited me to her castle in Germany. If I wanted to, I could also spend some time with her father.

        I made the mistake of getting excited. I ran to the editor’s office and yelled that I just got an exclusive interview with the would-be emperor of Germany!

        In the office were top three brass of the paper. Between them they spent what seemed like ten minutes explaining to me, how deeply stupid an idea that was. Our readers are not interested in any emperors and princesses (this in the middle of the Diana years), the flight ticket would be ruinously expensive etc., so there is no way that you will go to Germany.

        In other words, they reacted to my excitement with complete lack of self-awareness: here is low status guy trying to push himself up, so let’s push him back down. That is much more important than getting a photo reportage about some imperial folks.

        There is actually a point to the story, other than self-pity. I spent the next decade or so listening how these same bosses complained about the lack of initiative and ideas among the common reporters.

        I say that this was my problem, not theirs. It was my fault that I kept them as my bosses.

        Okay, time for rationalization and self-justification: it was still the bone era, i.e. the time when there was not (or seemed not to be) much room outside of big organizations. “Bone” carrying bosses had the power over T-shirt guys, especially when the T-shirts were weak and troubled youngsters like me.

        This answers your question, why we didn’t have good conversations. I didn’t have those with anyone else, either, because I let the power of the bones crush myself. I stayed in my secure job and then in practically secure freelance situation, and mostly kept my thoughts to myself.

        I was free in theory, but not in practice, because I didn’t have the strength to use my freedom.

        Today the power of the bones is going down – and I try to tell myself over and over that, yes, that is actually happening. It is not just a nice I-told-you-so phrase. This means that the freedom I could not use before is now being forced to me, simply because the old world is collapsing. Like it or not, I am going to be more free than ever before.

        It is time to do new things in new ways. Really. Really really.

        Yes, I wrote earlier about finding a turtleneck-collar guy, but I did not mean that this new kind of boss would give me old time security and take away my freedom. You work for a bone-guy, but you work with a turtleneck-guy. Turtlenecks are the ones with business sense and expertise in marketing, T-shirts are the ones who create the products. Chase Jarvis is both and that is the ideal, but Jonathan Ive is not a bad role model, either.

        So big congrats for your new jarvisian/ivean project and big thanks for the invitation. I’ll be there and I’ll feel free to express my thoughts.

        Reply
        • kkuukka
          April 2, 2011

          Good remark on Jarvis being both… never thought of that. Yesterday when I quickly answered you, I thought of writing “Gotta find a turtleneck. Or become one…” But I thought more like you’re either a turtleneck or a t-shirt; that it is either or. But you are right, C.Jarvis is doing both. Never thought of that.

          As to about the incidences we encountered in this paper… Just let’s not go there, makes me depressed… :-)

          Gotta go. Later.

          K

          Reply
  4. Rick Dole
    April 13, 2011

    Kari,
    It is just as bad if not worse in America. Emails, even to good clients, often go unanswered. There is no urgency to respond unless they need something and it is usually at the last minute. This lack of common decency is the norm in my country these days. And it goes far beyond the photo/client relationship. The lack of manners by most airline employees whether in Atlanta or Paris is staggering.
    The best response is, as it has always been: simply treat people the way you wish to be treated. Raise your standards even though many around you are lowering their own.

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      April 15, 2011

      Hi Rick –

      nice to see you here. Yes, you are right about the best response: raising your own standards, treating people the way you wish to be treated. Absolutely right.

      Maybe it’s just me, but it is lately I have just started to notice it so much more. Like I had an incident in the university I am teaching, that students missed a deadline – not just one or two, but over half of my class. Considering, that I am not really paid decently to teach – it is more like an giving back to the younger generation thing – I was genuienly a bit offended by it. By the fact that they sort of took me for granted. (Like teaching them 3-4 hours means 5 hours of driving and working a day of 12 hours total for me…) Time away from the family and “real work” which pays the bills. Teaching is – as I said – sort of giving back and an honor for me, not really a job.

      Then again, I thought, it was not their fault really, they were just behaving the way society around them behaves, has taught them to do. But as a teacher, I think I have a responsibility bring this out. So, next year I will try to make them realize this before the start of the semester. That you should respect people who are trying to help you – work as a team, not just think that teacher or whoever is “paid help” in an egocentric world of me, myself and I.

      This is real strange actually, if one starts think deeper into this: maybe the fact that in the world we live in now so many things have been – what’s the English word for “ulkoistettu”… – been given to outside contractors, “temp agencies” if you like… And that is starting to affect our behavior, without us really not paying attention.

      Huh, interesting thought, I never thought of that before…

      But, I am sure one or two of my students – past or yet to come – might read this, so I hope nobody gets offended, this was meant more like philosophical (self)reflection… Honestly: we had good times and did some good work together, I’m proud of all of it.

      But, come next year, you miss one deadline without prior notice and a good excuse, you are out…. like totally out. It’s not baseball… it’s my class, my rules ;-)

      Good seeing you Rick – are you coming to London 2012?

      k

      Reply
      • Rick Dole
        April 15, 2011

        Kari,

        My wife is an economics professor at a university and faces the same challenges daily that you describe. Students simply not caring enough to the education and wisdom being offered by an older generation. The Buddha said we must seek the middle ground. And we must have compassion for everyone. I believe these thoughts can have a profound impact in every day life. I would add though, that we must keep our expectations in check. And while others may not meet our expectations, we should always strive to set high ones for ourselves and meet them. It is not as difficult as others may think. Strive on.
        R

        Reply

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