(Thanks to Ben who suggested, months back, that I write "How to write an album and a book and make short movies, and keep a band going and design synth modules and volunteer at a local community project while having three kids"... I changed the title to something more snappy)
My grandparents, in perfect contrast to my hippie parents, were prim and proper. Their house was always immaculate and their lawn always cut to a precise 1.5 inches, long enough to hide the occasional clump of moss, short enough to look like Wimbledon's Centre Court, and perfect for a game of french cricket with my cousins (which my tiny but sprightly grandmother was surprising good at).
When visiting they had a lot of code language to discuss my parents (sorry, mum, I know you read this blog). My favourite of which, when something had been left and left, and never completed, was "...Always had a square one", meaning that my parents often had good intentions, but never got around to it.
A "round" to it.
Hilarious, I know.
This kind of lead me to see productivity as something to aspire to, and it's certainly true in our society that "hard work" is seen as something worthy. And, sure, there are times when things need to get done.
But rarely is doing more important than being. The weird thing is that the more I concentrate on being the best I can be, the more things I get done.
And that bit of pop-self-help-mindfulness-baloney is the deepest thing I have to say on the subject.
The rest of my advice for people who want to become more productive is much more straightforward, and probably more worthwhile. This is just stuff that works for me, though, so take it with a pinch of salt.
- Drink coffee. Or yerba mate. Or water or whichever natural and relatively healthy stimulant gets you going. Humans started out as hunter-gatherers, and that only takes a few hours of hard work a day. Want to compete in the 21st century? You're going to have to hack your half-arsed body. Caffeine makes me more creative, more positive and is a great hunger-suppressor leading to...
- Don't eat butt-tonnes of carbs. This is a really difficult one for me. I love carbs. Big plate of pasta? Yes, please. Sharing bag of crisps? Get me one just for me. 12-inch Sub? Sign me up. Following every carb-fest I partake in, I feel like I want to take a nap. Carbs kill motivation. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Not so great for the rest of the time. I find that also since I've stopped eating meat, it's harder to avoid the carbs because some of the best vegetarian food is carb-heavy. Every day it's a battle.
- Take your pills. As a society, we're probably over-medicating, but many of us, myself included, often need reminding that if we've got a medical problem that requires treatment, we need to listen to our doctors. I have depression and generalised anxiety disorder, for which I take Sertraline every day, but every now and then I think "Do I need this? Could I do without it? Should I...?" The answer being, for me at least: YES. Yes, if I want to be a productive member of society, if I want to be a good dad and do some good work I need to take my pills. And I see this time and time again. If you're in pain, take some painkillers and get on with being the best version of yourself. Don't let preventable illness stop you from getting shit done.
- Get a sleep routine. I don't sleep much. I joke that sleep is for the weak, but the truth is that everyone needs a different amount. I find, though, that when I have a good routine around sleep, I sleep fewer hours. Weeks when I'm in bed by midnight and get up at 7 every day seem to go smoother than when my sleep is all over the place. In fact fewer hours sleep on a regular routine seems to leave me less tired than when I sleep more! Ever had a lie-in until 10am and then felt dreadful the rest of the day? That's me all over. And don't get me wrong. I love sleep. I always want to sleep. But I need to right amount; not too much, not too little.
- Throw away your television. It's not that TV is bad, it's that TV is bad for productivity. There are some shows I love, Preacher is a current favourite, but man does TV kill my productivity! I still have a TV but I try to limit my consumption to 2 shows a week. Same with video games. I love my gaming, but an hour of Final Fantasy followed by 3 hours of photography seems to work better than vice-versa for me. As for movies, it'd better be good for me to invest 2 hours of my life in watching it!
- Keep lists. I use Trello, which I find useful, but you could equally use a biro and the back of your hand. One area where I find I lose time is the space between tasks. Lists help me move quicker between activity. I especially use lists when working on music when I might listen to a recording and list a dozen things I need to change. I can then change them all and listen again, rather than having a listen between each change.
- Get outside. Especially at midday. My parents used to chuck me out of the house for half an hour every day in the hope this weird, home-schooled kid would make friends. It didn't do that (as a kid. I have friends now. Real ones!), but it did teach me how energising getting out for a short walk or to run an errand can be.
- Exercise when you don't want to exercise. The Oatmeal described this better than I ever could so, here goes: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running
- Self-cannibalise your own art. I get a lot of energy from the first couple of hours of any activity, and the last couple of hours of any activity. The dirge in between, though, nearly kills me. So I start another project. My creative process goes like this: Start new project, get excited, realise it might be hard work... Start another project! Get excited, then do a bit more work on the first project until I've run out of steam and I need to... Start another project! Get excited, work a bit on projects 1 and 2 until it all gets a bit much and I need to... You guessed it. Start another project. Eventually, one of these projects will near completion and that gives me more energy to hopefully finish a few projects. Which is why I released a book and an album and a synth module in close succession. So when people ask me "You're always doing so much! How do you do it all?!" The truth is, I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO LESS! The energy I get from one project feeds another project which feeds another project which...
- Collaborate. We're social beings and productivity takes a mix of co-working to stimulate constructive criticism and creativity, and lone-working to finish things. Don't neglect either area! When you're collaborating, also try not to be a leech, draining others of their ideas without giving back. I work with some amazing creatives, and hopefully they get as much out of the collaborations as I do.
This is one of the first pictures I took on Lomography’s new Diana Instant Square. Swansea Castle, originally built in 1107, curves around the edges of the wide angle shot with the eyesore of the early 70s BT tower standing just behind it, and I stand here, in 2018, taking photos of the seagulls circling the scene.
Swansea, my home town, much like the Diana camera, is lost in time. Swansea, like the Diana, resists calls to modernise, instead adopting creatives that don’t quite ﬁt in. Like me. And if you’re reading this article, probably also like you.
And that’s right, you don’t buy a Diana camera, it adopts you.*
The new Diana Instant Square is the latest in a line of recreations of the 1960s plastic camera from Lomography, and there have been many. And you could call me a bit of a Diana fanboy as I’ve shot on MANY of these cameras, from original, slow, 1960s models all the way through to the new 35mm and 110 ﬁlm iterations from Lomography.
In a moment of genius when Lomography re-released the Diana 25 years ago they made a number of lenses for it, and this really enhances the pallet of this camera. Sure, the original 70mm plastic meniscus lens is a classic, but the new lenses expand the horizons, and can be used on the new Instant Square Body. The 38mm Super-Wide is by far my favourite providing some tasty lens distortion to the dreamy, sometimes swirly images. Just as with the original, the smallest apertures on the camera give reasonably sharp images for a plastic lens, but as you widen the aperture to let more light into the camera, the images get softer.
Shooting with this camera was so much fun that by the time The Ofﬁcial Shoot came around, my models turned up and I only had a couple of packs of ﬁlm left. Luckily, I have one of the little adapters that lets you mount the Diana lenses to your DSLR, this let me try out different shots with the lenses before committing them to the instax ﬁlm, and while I much, much prefer working with ﬁlm, this hybrid approach lets me keep work affordable.
Anyhow, the Kickstarter for the Diana Instant Square is now live, and you can pick one up for a discount by backing the project, which is already fully funded, before July 20th.
Things You Should Know Before You Decide If The Diana Instant Square Is For You.
Now these things aren’t good or bad. But you should think about them before you get started.
- This is a manual camera. As someone who usually shoots in manual this is awesome. I decide the parameters used to take the photo! But if you’re hoping to take some fun instant photos with a ﬂash while drunk at parties and gigs, you might want to get an automatic camera like the brilliant Instant Automat Glass (Oh, look! I reviewed it just here!!)
- It uses Instax Square ﬁlm. Instax is a good, modern instant ﬁlm, it’s available widely, and isn’t too expensive. It is currently limited to 800 speed ﬁlm, and given fujiﬁlm have built their camera systems around the 800 speed ﬁlm, I can’t see this changing. It’s slightly smaller than old school Polaroid 600 or SX ﬁlm, but looks great and when properly exposed can be sharp as hell - photos I’ve scanned from Instax Mini retain their great look at 4 times the size.
- Set aside some cash. Sure, you can just buy the base camera, but really you’re buying into a camera system. The Diana + range has a number of lenses and accessories and it could get out of hand pretty quickly! You could ﬁnd yourself buying another lens, then buying a medium format body for the lens you just bought so you can try different ﬁlms, then buying a 35mm back for the body you just bought… all the while also buying ﬁlm for the camera. For my money, the Super-Wide lens is a must, and if you don’t already have a medium format Diana body, you can pick them up pretty cheaply… so maybe factor this into the cost.
I’m positively evangelical about how great these plastic cameras can be, and with this new kickstarter I’m looking forward to welcoming more photographers to the Church of Diana.
*FOR CLARITY, YOU STILL HAVE TO PAY FOR THE FUCKER.
Massive thanks to Lindsey and Dan for modelling for me.
No, unfortunately I haven’t been back to Italy in the past few weeks, but there’s this weird thing with experimenting with plastic film cameras, and that is that sometimes the experiments don’t work and instead of throwing away the images, you shrug, and clip them into a binder with the rest of your negatives, for no reason whatsoever.
And years later come across them and think - I wonder what is actually ON those negatives.
I went to Lake Garda 3 years ago, and took a Holga 120TLR, which I since swapped for a bog standard Holga 120N (If it ain’t broke, don’t add a waist-level viewfinder), and a Lomography La Sardina 35mm point and shoot.
The Holga shots came out beautifully, so beautifully in fact that one of them was selected by my Kickstarter backers to be the print they received with my book “Every Shot Matters”.
The La Sardina photos, though, didn’t really come out at all. I’d found a batch of expired Boots iso400 colour film and thought it’d suit the Sardina really well, but it was crazy sunny and bright every day in Italy, and the Sardina is fixed at f8. So the negatives mostly came out overexposed, and because the film base had darkened so much in the 15-odd years since it had expired, the automatic scanner at Neil’s place didn’t take them. Also, the negatives were scratched to high hell for some reason, maybe old brittle glue around the edges of the old canisters? My home scanner, also couldn’t pick up the images, and holding them up to a light revealed a very sorry sight indeed, so I put the negatives away and forgot about them.
With the Holga shots coming out so very well, I wasn’t in the mood for a salvage job on some shitty negatives.
Fast-forward 3 years.
Today it has been drizzly. I’m home alone with the kids, who haven’t wanted to do anything much apart from watch Youtube and play card games. We tidied the house, we popped out in the drizzle to run a couple of errands.
You know the kind of Saturday.
The perfect Saturday to spend painstakingly masking off each individual frame that you think might work from ruined negatives from a trip you took 3 years ago.
I hope you enjoy the images as much as I’ve enjoyed revisiting Garda.
All photos shot to shitty and very-expired Boots brand colour film on a Lomography La Sardina.
Shot to film on my 1938 Leica IIIa.