Archive for January, 2011

Kevin Cummins at Leeds Creative Networks

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Best known for his portraits of Joy Division, Kevin Cummins attracted a sell out crowd at Creative Networks – the gravitational pull of a young, dead rock star exerts its influence over vast distances of time.

Mr Cummins explained that he had written his presentation on the train up from London. This produced appreciative laughter from the audience. I steeled myself with apprehension, justifiably so, as he then invited us all to watch television.

He had a 15 minute film about… well, about what he was supposed to be talking about that evening – his life as a photographer and his relationship with Ian Curtis, the suicidal singer from Joy Division. If I had wanted to watch television, I would have stayed at home. Anyway, my main criticism of the film (and rock history in general) is the scant credit given to Martin Hannett for creating the Joy Division sound. He was to Joy Division what Trevor Horn was to Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

After the television show, the audience clapped the… what? the machinery that transmitted the video? I just don’t understand why people clap after seeing a video. OK, in this case, a character from the video was sharing the moment with the audience, but I have seen it done at live video links where it is just a dead screen with coloured shadows flickering across it – weird.

So, the human part of the evening kicked off and we were treated to a knockabout routine from Bridget March, the host for the evening and Mr. Cummins, when, in Mr. Bean fashion, Bridget accidentally revealed all the images Mr. Cummins was going to show us in his presentation whilst he hilariously remonstrated with her about her incompetence. It was a genuinely funny moment.

Eventually the technology was bludgeoned into some kind of mutinous submission with the screen locked into displaying the giant face of the late Tony Wilson, the owner of The Hacienda night-club. Appropriately, he was looking down on the audience with a sardonic smile. Finally, Mr. Cummins was about to begin his presentation, only for him to discover he could not find his reading glasses. More hilarity ensued as a, ‘glasses hunt’ proceeded around the lectern. Eventually, Bridget saved the best punch-line for last when she revealed that she had them in her hand all the time they were looking for them. Tony Wilson beamed with droll mirth.

Suitably bespectacled, he then confessed that he had originally forgotten to include any images in his presentation (this guy is a photographer, remember) but managed to find a cd of some of his images at the last minute, one of which was the image of Tony Wilson who continuing to smirk at us on high as if to let us know that we were about to witness one of the world’s cruellest jokes.

Mr. Cummins duly read from his notes (rather well, as it happened. I suspect they were just a crutch) and described the life of the professional photographer in the music business. It became apparent that he is a canny operator and had the good fortune to start his career when mainstream media still had a stranglehold on distribution. His cleverest piece of work though, was to read up on copyright law whilst still at college and he subsequently had the presence of mind to maintain his copyright on all of his images – something he admitted that was impossible in today’s climate – a move that has kept the royalties pouring into his bank account ever since.

He also described a tense shoot with Javier Bardem where he tried to produce something different in the five minutes he was given to work with the Hollywood actor. His result was a masterpiece and Bardem’s PR company  preferred his shot to the vastly more expensive studio shoot they had paid for with another photographer. I kept thinking, “yes, so where is this freakin’ photo!” but when I looked at the screen, Tony Wilson continued to wink at me as if to say, ‘I told you this was going to be a cruel joke.’

We did eventually see the photo as Mr. Cummins whizzed through his images right at the end of his presentation when their impact was somewhat lost, but he is an affable guy and he had some interesting things to say, “The way to get on with these rock stars is not to try and be their friends but to talk about them all the time.” and included snippets of gossip about certain high profile performers. He also talked frankly about money, copyright and the digital revolution, in which, he is now out of his depth as – like the music industry as a whole is discovering – copyright laws are largely ineffectual. He also complained bitterly that everyone with an iphone now thinks that they’re a photographer… Exactly! Mr Cummins, exactly! For years I’ve been complaining that everyone with a larynx thinks that that qualifies them to be a presenter.

To be on the safe side, and not to invoke the copyright wrath of Mr. Cummins, the waggish picture of Tony Wilson I refer to, can be viewed here;

Pimp my presentation!

Thursday, January 20th, 2011
The fuel of change

The fuel of change

So you’ve been to a Bettakultcha event and been inspired by a presenter who cared passionately about something, and wanted to tell the world about it. And you thought, “I care deeply about, something, and no-one knows much about it, why doesn’t someone tell the world about that?”

Well, this article is for you.

I’ve spoken with a number of people who have been to a Bettakultcha event and they said exactly that to me and when I asked them, “Why don’t you tell the world?” they replied, “I don’t have the confidence to speak in front of a crowd.”

Let me tell you a story…

There’s a reason why a group of, ex-public school millionaires, run this country. It’s largely because of what they learn in those schools. Aside from the socialising and squash, they also learn supreme confidence and towering ambition. This means they can strut into a roomful of people and tell them all what to do, even when they have little, or no idea of what they are talking about. And the weird thing is, that roomful of people will generally do what they are being told to do because the speaker has the authority of confidence and ambition – it’s a self fulfilling prophecy!

Now if you don’t happen to like what they’re telling you, what are you going to do about it – we’re supposed to be living in a democracy remember? Well, if you tell yourself, you know they’re wrong but don’t have the confidence to speak out, then you get the government you deserve and you need to hurry up and follow your orders.

But if you realise that confidence is, in fact, a learned skill and that there are willing people out there who could help you, you could build your confidence up to the point where you felt capable of making your voice heard. This is how democracy is supposed to work, so why isn’t presentation skills taught in ALL schools?

Anyway, before I get too passionate, here’s my message; if you care about the community you live in and you want to make a difference there, or you just want to be able to share your passion with the people at Bettakultcha but lack the confidence, you can get some help and advice from some of the past presenters at Bettakultcha.

At this stage, we’re just getting an idea of numbers, so if you are interested in a confidence building ‘playshop’ (like Bettakultcha, we want it to be fun and informative!) DM me (@ivortymchak) with your name and email address and I will start a mailing list, then together, we can begin generating some real people power.

UPDATE: The Round Foundry in Holbeck, Leeds, have kindly agreed to host the event.

The boiled frog fallacy

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
Frogs just want to make more frogs.

Frogs just want to make more frogs.

A popular story in motivational talks goes something like this; if a frog is put into a pan of boiling water it will leap out of the pan immediately but if the frog is put into a pan of tepid water and the pan is then heated, the frog will stay in the pan until it is boiled to death.

Well, you know me, I question everything, so I thought I would do a little experiment. But rather than harm an innocent frog, I thought I would experiment on myself. So I took a bath, a hot one. Here are my findings.

When you go to sit in the bath, you move from the temperature of the air into the temperature of the water. Your body quickly detects the change and calls various bodily responses into action. If the temperature change is slight, very little stimulus is experienced – the body is more aware of sensation rather than temperature . If it is extreme, an overload of stimulus is experienced and you are forced to take some sort of action – like jumping out of the bath. So the first part of the frog story holds good.

If the temperature change is just within the pain parameters, something interesting happens. A rush of stimuli is experienced which tells the body that a significant change has occurred. This rush can be extremely pleasant as the body makes adjustments for the new temperature. The intense feeling of warmth can last for several seconds and the effects of it, for a few minutes. But after that time, the body has made the necessary adjustments to the new temperature and attempts to accommodate the new temperature as, ‘the norm’. This is done by sweating and sending blood to the extremities. Quickly then, the rush is replaced by a new norm and we are pretty much back to the lack of stimulus we experienced before we stepped into the bath except that we are several degrees hotter. To perpetuate the rush we have to introduce new sensations which make demands on our body to adjust to the changes. We can either add more hot water to the bath, in which case we might cross the threshold to pain and burn ourselves or we can add cold water and experience the cooling adjustment. Or we can simply lay in the bath and do nothing (as per the frog in the story).

My experiment so far, tells me that my particular organism seeks a comfortable existence whilst at the same time, maintaining an element of adventure for such times as changes in the environment demand action.

So lets go back to our motivational speaker. They usually exhort you to make a significant change from your habitual experience of life – climb that mountain, change that thought, go on a diet etc. And yes, should you make the effort, there is an initial rush of adjustment to the change, both physically and mentally. But over time, your body seeks to normalize any changes. So once climbing a particular mountain is achieved (or whatever) you are back to where you started in terms of stimuli (assuming, of course, that the weather remains uneventful on the mountain). In order to experience the rush of adjustment again, you have to climb a different mountain, usually higher or more difficult. Eventually, your hunger for stimuli will be comparable to a drug addiction – greater quantities will be required to produce less satisfactory results. The obvious  corollary of this is that you attempt to achieve a stimulus too great for your organism to bear. In other words, you step into a bath of boiling water and die.

Your body will attempt to make the new change, the new norm, that’s how we adapt as a species. If we take the motivational idea to its absurd conclusion then, the perfect way to live your life, would be to watch paint dry for several hours before playing Russian roulette or maybe have sex continuously with the irregular interruption of a wild beast hunting you or you, it.

Most people don’t live their lives like that, so what else is missing from this story?

Well, in the frog’s case, its main goal is to make more frogs, so it will avoid boiling pans of water because that does not help it in its cause and luckily, it rarely encounters boiling water in the wild. In our case, we want to make more humans too but we have the added complication of ideas and intellect. The motivational speaker appeals to the intellect and sells the idea of ‘positive change’. But not everyone likes climbing mountains, or working harder, etcetera. And here is the key.

The trick is to find what you like doing. You generally like doing something because you have a talent for doing it (but not always). Our prime motivation is still the desire to make more of ourselves. This used to be literally through babies, but today it can be achieved intellectually through fame and reputation. You can make more of yourself through the aggrandizing culture of our society.

Unfortunately, most motivational speeches don’t explain that simply attempting to do something positive is not enough, change for its own sake is nonsensical, you have to like what it is you are attempting to do, you have to like taking hot baths… And certain talents are unrecognized in today’s lop sided society – you might be a genius at not spending money or avoiding hard work.

This story of the frog is, of course, totally misleading and largely apocryphal. Common sense tells you it simply isn’t going to work in reality. It is a symbolic generalization, but do not accept symbolic generalizations, they are fallacious and dangerous. They can make you mistakenly believe that the map is the territory*

And anyway, you are not a cold blooded amphibian, you are a hot human being – demand higher standards, demand better stories, demand relevance.

* Alfred Korzybski