I use notebooks extensively to write down my thoughts, to think about projects, to sketch, to jot down ideas... and I've always thought this way better than anything digital for the same purpose. There are great singular apps that are really focused on GTD ("getting things done") – and I use them too of course, they're fantastic – but I think writing and sketching in notebooks is simply for a different kind of situation, one that does not need to be solved by "getting things done".
Writing and sketching by hand is more geared towards what I would call GTO, or "getting things out" (of my brain) in the most easy and efficient way. And to me, nothing beats paper and pencil at this.
Of course, there are also many great ways to keep your notebook organised, most notably the all encompassing Bullet Journal and the deceptively simple Dash/Plus System... and I'm sure there must be many more. And of course I've tried these. But again, they're not solving the point described above: they're great for Getting Things Done, but not geared towards Getting Things Out. I think GTD should happen in different moments than GTO, maybe even effectively one leading to the other, as natural extensions of one another.
You shouldn't be bothered with organising in any way while trying to put ideas on paper, while trying to think about a concept, while getting thoughts out of your head. It's already hard enough to get them out of your head (however disorganised they are), you shouldn't be forcing your brain to think along the lines of a system (any system) while the priority is simply to get things out. Organising those thoughts has to be done indeed, but should only come at a later stage.
It would be like photographing and having a perfect contact sheet at the same time... it's kind of impossible... unless you're pure genius of course.
With photography it's exactly the same thing: a story usually gets built later. When you're photographing, you shouldn't be worried about the structure. Letting things flow, and having just the basic plot of the story in your mind is more than enough. Not only will it give you tremendous freedom, it will also allow other angles to pop up because you're open to things happening along the way. I'm speaking of long term projects here, because I keep in mind that if I find something or things go off in a different, maybe better direction, I always have the chance to come back again next time.
On the other hand, if you know you only have one shot, the chance of a lifetime right there and then, then for god's sake, please make sure you get the shot.
And eventually, slowly, you will start connecting dots, building structure. But still, I'd recommend to approach and err on the side of "disorganised writing/shooting and connecting dots later", as opposed to "setting yourself a rigid structure and employing rigid writing/shooting". Obviously both are valid approaches, and some days you'll favour one over the other, but in my case, if I can stand the uncertainty of maybe not delivering, I like the former much more. It's like taking little leaps of faith every time. In a way, being rigid about not being rigid.
Now this brings me to the next problem: How can I organise my thoughts after the fact? Weeks later, I can hardly tear pages from my books and bring elements together. I have kind of a feeling that a notebook should not be (substantially) altered afterwards, in order to respect the spirit and the time it has been written in. But on the other had, I need to be able to revisit my thoughts in a semi-efficient way, so as not that these notebooks become little black holes that suck up my thoughts only never to release them again.
Enter the little round stickers.
Deceptively simple, I just add a little round sticker on a page by something that I need to remember, or need to come back to. more stickers means more important. That's all there is to it. Nothing more, nothings less.
Come to think of it, photographers sometimes used to use these very same stickers to mark the selects on their contact sheets (although the red crayon/marker is probably the superior solution there)
To summarise: always be aware of the difference between getting things done and getting things out. They both are necessary, but warrant a different approach and should be avoided being mixed up. To "get things out", I try to do this:
- create the shortest possible path: avoid everything that stops or hinders the pure flow from your brains to the paper. I barely even use a title or a date, I keep on forgetting
- the shortest possible path means the thing you know best and can do instinctively: writing, sketching, pen or pencil on paper. Everything else is just a collection of micro-interruptions to your thoughts getting out.
- the importance of turning a page, and sharpening a pencil
- make sure your environment is conductive to what you are doing, but remember: it's not always what you think and it changes often: locking yourself away in a cabin in the mountains is not by definition going to make you think better. Thinking is a social, interactive process, and every project, even every mood, can warrant a different physical place. Just be aware of this, it's very subtle.
- to facilitate revisiting thoughts – a crucial phase – use red dots extensively. Also, every time when revisiting, be prepared to move, remove or add red dots as realities might have changed... hence the stickers.
p.s. In regards to GTD, so many people much smarter than me have written about this... I would say: pick and choose your system, change regularly just to flex your brain. In this realm, going digital really shines, and many apps are really amazing..
I've been traveling through Japan's most southern island Kyushu last week. With Jonathan, who lives there and helped me, and his incredible microbus. What a journey it turned out to be. Completely different than Tokyo, but in many ways, actually the same. At first it was like I was seeing a completely opposite, different country, a rural Japan versus the metropolis, but I started to realise a powerful connection that surpasses all this and makes sure that they cannot exist without each other: the people.
I saw old and young. I saw ancient homes long abandoned and new homes being built. I saw young people that left to the cities and their parents that stayed behind. I saw grandparents and grandchildren. I heard stories about generations and how they are connected yet separated, each speaking fondly of the other, longing to be united. I saw entire ghost towns deep in the mountains, alongside young families arriving from the city and new houses being built. I saw dedication and perseverance, hope, loneliness and happiness.
I saw a lot of weight to carry, yet also a surprising lightness surrounding it.
And I saw memories, in a harsh mountainous landscape shaped as if it had physically made space to store them. Memories like old homes, new homes, torn down, built up everywhere. Everything alive, connected by a neural network of roads and power lines running from place to place.
But above all, I saw people that understood. That deeply respect and understand their roots, their relationship to the place they live in, the country and culture they live in, the past and future generations they live with and without, and how this makes them to who they are today.
They profoundly understand the weight they carry, and in a world where it seems like we're all uprooted running around in circles, feeling like we're all alone raising our little families in an – at best – seemingly indifferent world around us, I think this kind of understanding just might be important. Not only for us, but for our grandchildren.
I think I'd like to dig deeper into this one.
A follow up of a post I did four years ago... I'm back in Tokyo again, and I thought it would be fun to share my current bag setup and see how it differs from back then...
Let's see what I've got now:
- an ultra light backpack (Osprey Daylight or optionally the larger Osprey Escapist 18): in general, I've basically switched completely from shoulder bags to backpacks... much more ergonomic. These ones are also water resistant;
- two main cameras (Fujifilm X100T and Fujifilm X-T10): I used to have 1 main camera and a smaller backup one, but over the last year or so, it seems better for me to have two equally capable (slightly smaller) cameras instead. I will always prefer rangefinder type shooting though;
- a 27mm lens (Fujifilm);
- a 24mm pinhole lens: I use this by far most of the time;
- a 35mm 1.4 lens (Leica - I'll never part with this wonderful lens) with a Fuji adapter. Just for this lens I wish I had a full frame sensor again;
- iPhone (not shown here, usually in my pocket): my iPhone has de facto become one of my standard cameras. Yes it's that good;
- my trusty notebook, by far the heaviest individual item in my bag :)
- pens and pencils, and a sharpener;
- audio recorder & little tripod;
- external flash (FujifIlm EF-X20): fits both cameras, even though they both have built-in flashes already, this little baby is extremely capable;
- small zipped bag with cables, medecine (eye drops, paracetamol, band-aid, ear plugs, ... the usual stuff), iphone accessories, and a battery pack;
- tissues (i love them with Aloe Vera);
- passport and credit cards;
- extra memory cards (I've recently switched from 16 to 64GB, but I'm not convinced yet... 64 takes a long time to fill and to copy over, and I think I would feel safer to have 2 x 32GB instead of 1 x 64GB, just for redundancy's sake. But we'll see. I've never ever had a card fail on me in the past (fingers crossed);
- a little pink microfiber "wonder cloth" to clean lenses or other sensitive stuff;
- spare batteries
- battery chargers: these chargers are the only optional thing in the bag: if I'll just be out for the day, I know my 3+2 spare batteries will be able to last;
- my worry dolls;
- (not pictured) a standard Crumpler insert (L size).
There you go.
Looking back at my previous setup, it seems I'm still basically doing the same... just a few things have changed:
The way I carry everything now: in a backpack as opposed to a shoulder bag, mainly for superior ergonomics. Plus I've been able to reduce weight even more still, as the backpack weighs next to nothing.
Also, it seems I am more happy/at ease with two smaller main cameras + an iphone, instead of one large main camera + a small spare camera. However, learning a new camera's ergonomics is a huge deal, as I used to be able to do everything by feel on my Leica. For now, I definitely lose more time with the general "looking at the menu fiddling with controls" type of thing (also because the controls on both cameras differ slightly), but it might just be me that needs to adapt: the cameras are both really extremely well thought out regarding handling and ergonomics... they are super fast, and the raw files are very very good. what more does one want?
Anything I've missed?
Beautiful publication of a selection of images from a work in progress of mine... on memory, remembering, and forgetting.
The Arbeitsdorf concentration camp was located on the premises of the Volkswagen corporation's main factory at Wolfsburg. It was technically an independent camp under the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA), but it never became a fully operational main camp. It always remained semi-dependent on the nearby Neuengamme main camp in Hamburg.
The SS began putting in to action the idea of leasing slave labourers to German industry, to keep control over the concentration camp system. Ferdinand Porsche, the leading personality in the Volkswagen triumvirate, belonged to Hitler's inner circle and was in desperate need of labour for his ever expanding company, and approached Himmler for privileged access to this so called "new pool of manpower" (being the concentration camp inmates). For Himmler it was also a model to test SS cooperation with the German industry.
Volkswagen and the subcontracting companies had a common interest in facilitating the project by providing tolerable living and working conditions for the inmates, while the SS wanted this camp to give private companies a taste of exploiting concentration camp slave labour, so that they would enter into similar arrangements in the future. In this way, Arbeitsdorf can be seen as a "model camp" of sorts.
The leasing of slave labourers allowed economic goals to co-exist with the destructive practices of the concentration camps, and Arbeitsdorf, even if it never arrived at its full operational potential, provided the SS with experience how to deal with slave labor in a modern profit-oriented production process.
Arbeitsdorf is part of a series of journeys that I'm undertaking to photograph the blue skies precisely above the (last known) location of every single one of the 1,075 concentration camps that have ever existed, as part of an photography/book/installation project called The Blue Skies Project. The project has proven quite immense and almost impossible to hold on to single-handedly – with staggering logistics to match – but I'm hanging in there.
Bergen-Belsen was located right next to the largest military training ground of the German Reich in Belsen. Initially it had a very specific function: it was a POW transit camp for only Jewish prisoners, to be held as exchange for German prisoners in the Western countries (they were excluded from deportation to the extermination camps).
For this reason (the hope of freedom through exchange), at first the prisoners were not directly physically maltreated by the SS and lived by different rules (so that no reports of actual maltreatments could be made in the event of an exchange), and there were also little escape attempts. In reality, little actual exchanges were ever made, though, and living circumstances deteriorated very quickly to the same level as other concentration camps. The prisoners were caught between the hope of freedom and ever-worsening living conditions.
When the camp was incorporated into the concentration camp system, this significantly altered things. Different sections of the camp were established, each fulfilling different roles, and they were strictly separated from each other. The largest group of prisoners were in the Sternlager (the original actual 'exchange' Jews forced to wear a Jewish star), but there was, amongst others, also a Frauenlager, a Neutralenlager, a Sonderlager, and an Ungarnlager (in this female camp Anne Frank and her sister Margot died). Three work detachments (sub camps) were established and prisoners were forced to work in the armaments industry: Hambühren, Unterlüss and Bomlitz.
When the Western front started advancing, the concentration camps which were close to the front had to be evacuated. Because of Bergen-Belsen's geographical location, it became one of the most important destinations for these evacuations. This led to a drastic expansion and a catastrophic overcrowding in the camp, turning Bergen-Belsen from a POW exchange camp into a de facto death camp, further worsened as the SS systematically took no serious steps to deal with the hunger and illness. When the camp was liberated, thousands of unburied corpses were found, and typhus, dysentery and tuberculosis raged. Due to those appalling living conditions, about 13,000 people still died after the liberation.
Bergen-Belsen is part of a series of journeys that I'm undertaking to photograph the blue skies precisely above the (last known) location of every single one of the 1,075 concentration camps that have ever existed, as part of an photography/book/installation project called The Blue Skies Project. The project has proven quite immense and almost impossible to hold on to single-handedly – with staggering logistics to match – but I'm hanging in there.
Approximately 123,000 women of over 40 nationalities were prisoners at Ravensbrück. Next to the women's section at Auschwitz II - Birkenau, Ravensbrück was the largest women's camp. About 26,000 female prisoners perished there. Over the course of its existence, the camp became a complex of facilities for different kinds of forced labour, a huge transit camp of forced labour detached to many different places and in many different shapes and forms.
In the beginning, Ravensbrück oversaw almost all concentration subcamps with female prisoners in entire Germany, but later this system proved unwieldy and was abandoned in favour of a system based more on location. Many of the original Ravensbrück subcamps were subsequently handed over to main camps that were geographically closer.
In the main camp, conditions systematically worsened due to overcrowding and maltreatment, and the infirmary buildings, instead of helping, became known as "dying zones" where typhus and diphtheria raged. The infirmary also became a center for pseudo-medical experiments from SS physicians.
Read more: Ravensbrück concentration camp
Ravensbrück is part of a series of journeys that I'm undertaking to photograph the blue skies precisely above the (last known) location of every single one of the 1,075 concentration camps that have ever existed, as part of an photography/book/installation project called The Blue Skies Project. The project has proven quite immense and almost impossible to hold on to single-handedly – with staggering logistics to match – but I'm hanging in there.
Neuengamme was established in 1938 as a subcamp of Sachsenhausen. In the spring of 1940, it became an independent concentration camp, the central concentration camp for northwest Germany.
The Neuengamme camp was chosen because of a strong connection to economic interests of the SS, mainly the brickworks for Hamburg. When it became a main concentration camp, the living conditions also dramatically changed, with hunger being the main cause of death amongst the prisoners, death rates sometimes rising to 10% per month.
The economic enterprises attached to the subcamps did not want these sick and weakened prisoners, so they were returned to the main camp to be replaced. At the end, the majority of the Neuengamme prisoners were incapable of working, and were de facto left to themselves in convalescent blocks with reduced rations. It is likely that about 55,000 prisoners held in Neuengamme and its subcamps did not survive.
Neuengamme is part of a series of journeys that I'm undertaking to photograph the blue skies precisely above the (last known) location of every single one of the 1,075 concentration camps that have ever existed, as part of an photography/book/installation project called The Blue Skies Project. The project has proven quite immense and almost impossible to hold on to single-handedly – with staggering logistics to match – but I'm hanging in there.
Some new work. For now, I'll broadly define it as "Summer". More soon.
It started out as testing a new camera, and turned into shooting almost every day now. Slightly unusual for me, but I must confess I like this new approach a lot. And now I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire yet another camera. Who knows where this one will take me :)
Those who know me, know I tend to think things over – or, more accurately, ”overthink" things. Even down to the point that I got stuck making new work at all. For sure this is my Achilles’ Heel. It became so bad that I started trying to control the uncontrollable. I really just needed to relax and let go.
Now, just a few months later, I’m much more in touch with things I should be in touch with… and I must say that it feels refreshing. Much like a necessary step forward. It seems I told myself to – at least temporarily – “worry about all those other things later”.
– insert long happy sigh here –
Knowing that there are in fact many "other things" in a project besides the actual image-making, and that I’m well capable of dealing with “those other things”, has been the deciding factor here.
You can't worry about "the other things" later if you don't know that there actually are other things. Understanding that your project has many facets, and consciously choosing to focus on one of them, is an entirely different thing than setting out to do that one thing as your only goal.
You have to be able to be the director of your own film and the DOP and the producer and the writer (etc etc), and also manage them all – or be able to become each of them at a point, knowing that they are all equally crucial. If it is your film, you cannot choose to "only" be the Director of Photography and hope (or expect) that the entire film will happen somehow – distribution included.
My "worrying later step" – of course – will be actually dealing with “those other things”. For example, by not calling them “those other things” anymore. Then trying to define them and find a balance that makes sense for me in that point in time. And then, ultimately, most probably, accepting that there are too many things in that balance that I cannot control. At all.
But at least I'll end up knowing what the mountain is, right?
Back to work. Talk soon. Have a great summer.
Herzogenbusch (aka "Vught") became known as one of the few main concentration camps outside the Reich territory. It was under direct supervision of the Berlin offices of the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA) and was made up of six independent sections for different kinds of prisoners. It came into being because the SS had concerns about the tempo and effectiveness of the deportation of Jews through Westerbork.
About 30,000 people were imprisoned in Herzogenbusch. About 60% were released, the others were transported to different concentration camps in Germany (mostly Sobibór and Auschwitz).
It was of great political importance for Himmler to make Herzogenbusch a "perfect camp", in order to win over the Dutch, and to set straight the extremely negative record of the already existing Amersfoort extended police camp.
Herzogenbusch is part of a series of journeys that I'm undertaking to photograph the blue skies precisely above the (last known) location of every single one of the 1,075 concentration camps that have ever existed, as part of an photography/book/installation project called The Blue Skies Project. The project has proven quite immense and almost impossible to hold on to single-handedly – with staggering logistics to match – but I'm hanging in there.
I swear I only read the horoscope after the fact, and entirely by accident. And I still don't believe in those kind of things. But the fact happened nonetheless. Due to some freak coincidence of unrelated events, things hit me and I gained some major insights. Not without some agony of course.
These insights now feel good in a weird way that I now know where I stand; and more importantly, because of that, that I also know what lies ahead of me. A mountain to climb. A sea to swim.
Knowing what lies ahead, however huge it is, is comforting. I'd rather know and have to do something hard, than not know and not be able to do anything. Not knowing is frustrating, debilitating, demoralising. Knowing means I can focus, instead of being helpless throwing punches in the dark. Knowing allows me to either succeed, or to fail with only myself to hold accountable. Yes, I know there are always circumstances that arise, and pure luck plays a big role too. But at least I'll be walking in the right direction.
"Knowing" really is half the battle. And I'm in good spirits now, finally knowing where it's at.
Whenever I'm at a seaside, I try to go for a walk. Usually a long one. There aren't that many things that calm my mind and senses down so well as waves crashing on a shore... be it a rocky one or a beach. Pair it with the ever present wind, even rain or cold, being barefoot trousers rolled up walking a long stretch, and having nobody around for miles... it's a perfect recipe for many things.
Over the past year of so, I've had the feeling that these walks had turned from "staring into the distance nice-to-do walks", to "necessary, career-do-or-die thinking walks", and that's not what it should be. The need for thinking things over about my photography somehow crept in there and became way too much... draining my energy, and freezing me over stone cold, not being able to produce new images. To the point that I ended up standing there at the Baltic Sea wondering just what's the use of it all.
And then I stumbled across Ira Glass' fantastic advice (yes... I'm sorry it took me so long to come across this). He hits the mark so perfectly... It's about that gap, knowing that gap is there, seeing where you want to be and seeing where you are and not being content with it, and wanting to take just one huge step to get "there" but not being able to and then wanting to quit.
Listening to this, I know now that I too, fell for it... I wanted desperately to be past "making mistakes" already... and then simply "being able to recognise what is good" and "not being content where I was", kind of fooled me into thinking I could also get where I wanted to be quite easily.
Of course I cannot skip the step of actually having to make a lot of work and making many mistakes along the way. Being able to discern what is good or where you want to be, is fine, but it maketh the artist not.
Of course the "information age" isn't helping me either: you see so much wonderful work being put out there, every second, every day. So many fantastic books to read, so many exhibits to look at, so many things to explore... it's almost discouraging. Almost.
I honestly "saw" it. I honestly felt I could immediately just "be" there. I was wrong. And I believed it so much, that I now realise that I turned a blind eye to what I should have been doing.
So. Problem solved. Now I know i must go out and go through a volume of work. However I need to. However long it takes. Work hard. And make mistakes. And grow. And keep going. Do not stop.
If nothing else, just because mistakes are actually cool 😊
I've completed a next journey in my Blue Skies Project... this time I traveled to Sachsenhausen (near Berlin) and its 65 sub camps in north eastern Germany.
The Sachsenhausen main concentration camp, situated just north of the capital Berlin, was established in 1936 and stood at the center of the nazi concentration camp system (as it was situated right next to the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps in Oranienburg). It was considered a "model facility" for the nazis, and was used for propaganda purposes due to its unique triangular layout, and trying to follow the panopticon principle.
The Sachsenhausen main camp had 65 known sub camps attached to it, in a radius of about 150 miles around Berlin in north-eastern Germany (source: Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945 published by Indiana University Press & United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).
Like many camps, Sachsenhausen was initially used primarily for political prisoners before the war, gradually overcrowding and growing into a forced war industry work assignment facility, systematically maltreating and torturing its prisoners, and often killing them.
Many Soviet POWs were killed at Sachsenhausen. The Red Army liberated the camp on April 22, 1945, and subsequently used the same camp to imprison nazi functionaries sentenced by Soviet war tribunals. It became the largest camp in the Soviet occupation zone.
About 40,000-50,000 people are estimated to have died in Sachsenhausen. You can read more here.
Sachsenhausen is the third of a series of journeys that I'm undertaking to photograph the blue skies precisely above the (last known) location of every single one of the 1,075 concentration camps that have ever existed, as part of an photography/book/installation project called The Blue Skies Project. The project has proven quite immense and almost impossible to hold on to single-handedly – with staggering logistics to match – but I'm hanging in there.
Not so long ago in Berlin.
I really, really, really don't know where the series is going yet... but there's something in the images I'd like to explore.
I went to Berlin for two weeks, looking to see if a new story – that was playing in my mind – was actually possible. I worked hard setting up everything right, and friends helped me out for many crucial parts. I played over all possible scenarios in my head countless times.
And of course reality turned out to be something completely different.
We all know this mostly happens, and we all know we must be prepared to adapt at all times. Mind you, I'm not thinking "different" in terms of "better" or "worse". The project just became "different" in se, in every possible way. I eventually ended up asking myself if I should hold on to the story I envisioned, or let the unfolding reality in front of me take me along for the ride? Or could I make both fit together? Were they even that different? A tour de force?
I'm now letting everything sink in at home. I'm empty and full at the same time. I hit rock bottom there doubting myself and my abilities. Yet I met amazing people with beautiful stories that I would sooooo like to visualise in the best way I possibly can. Need to. Their stories. The common ground they represent.
Pretty vague right now, I know, I know... but I'll come up with a title and a good description as soon as I have just a few more images... Slowly and steady, right?
I must say, it feels like I'm on a huge crossroad for this one, constantly being swayed left to right, top to bottom. Love it. Hate it. Continue. Abandon. Move on. Get real. Make better images. But even though all that's happening, I still see something in the imperfect images I already have.
So I kind of have nowhere to hide, right?
All is set.
I just need to make many, many, strong images.
As if that's the easy part.
To go along with the beautiful publication of my new book "Mono No Aware" on burn magazine, I thought it'd be a good time to launch the Mono No Aware limited edition of photo prints (MNAE2014).
As per usual, the prints are available in two sizes (16x24" and 30x45"), the quality is absolutely jaw-dropping (if I may be so bold to say so), and the numbers are very very limited... just 5 per size + 2AP. You can check detailed information on the dedicated page here: www.antonkusters.com/editions.
Have a great weekend...