10 ideas from the backwards world of photographer Chase Jarvis

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I learned about Chase Jarvis from his book of iPhone photography, “The Best Camera,” but he’s about a lot more than that. He’s a professional photographer, a filmmaker, and a sort of creativity and social media guru. I heard him speak at the PDN PhotoPlus expo and conference at the Javits center in New York.

Here’s my takeaway of the ideas and inspiration from his keynote.

1. “This is the most exciting time in the history of the world to be a photographer.” There are video cameras that shoot stills, still cameras that shoot video, and you can take a photo and send it online in seconds.

2. “There’s something beautiful about backwards.” Meaning, I guess, you don’t need to take the established path. “I was in a band in high school,” he said. “I had no idea how to sing or play an instrument.” He went to college on a soccer scholarship, but now he’s a photographer (“I overcame a stigma as a jock to be an artist”). He quit a Ph.D. program in philosophy art. So: “There are more paths to get to where you want to go.”

3. His inspiration? Rothko, Rauschenberg, Warhol. “They weren’t just doing better art,” he said. “They were reinventing it. That’s what inspired me.”

4. Do something. Create. That’s what Jarvis did. “What I really wanted to do was go make something on my own.”

5. Quitting is OK. Why finish something if it’s not working? “If a book sucks, put it down.”

6. He was vilified for sharing. In Seattle, he started sharing what happened in the photographic process, from the photo shoot to what appeared in print or online. “I was completely vilified,” he said. “I was ostracized by my peers.” He said “the old guard of photography” felt he was taking knowledge and handing it to 18-year-olds with Nikon D40s. He put a video out, and 30,000 people watched it within a week. He was interviewing models, showing the mistakes he made, pointing the camera back at himself. He even did a live photography shoot, and broadcast it, and thousands watched for eight hours.

7. Distribute your content. “Content creators are also distributors,” he said. “We don’t have to ask anyone’s permission.” Before this, you had to get permission to show your work on any sort of scale, like from magazine editors or gallery owners. You needed to get “tapped” by those people. “Those days are over,” he said.

8. A sorta new term: “social art.” This is interactive, participatory, and all about other people participating with you. “The world needs a new culture around creativity,” he said. He puts on these dinners, “Songs for Eating and Drinking,” where he invites musicians and other creative types to have dinner, to take photos, to grab video, to eat great food. Then there’s “The Best Camera,” which isn’t just a book, but also an iPhone app and an online photo sharing website. For his new book, “Seattle 100,” he got creative types in Seattle to participate in the book.

9. Why do this? “It feels good. People want to create.
A more creative world is a better world.” Also: “The right-brained people will drive the bus.” He noted the work of Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, and Daniel Pink, all of whom have written about creativity.

10. “Take more pictures. Be fearless. At the end of the day, what I am talking about is the democratization of creativity. It starts with you.”

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