The ‘Rules’

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Been a while hasn’t it kiddos? I only just realised that I haven’t managed to subject you, dear readers, to a blog this entire calendar year, so find myself here on the last day of the decade cobbling together something worthy of sharing, that I know will get entirely lost in the noise of New Year’s Eve, but means I will have got something out in 2019….just. 

To be totally honest, I’ve not really felt the need to say anything this past 12 months. Photography has played second fiddle to a busy and complicated year of ‘life’. My interminable ramblings were never intended to be yet more sagely lessons in how to do ‘stuff’. This blog was never meant to provide a convenient home, isolated slightly from the carnage of Twitter, to arrogantly land my own photographic opinions and snobbery. Nor even a place where I could vent my spleen, ranting about the latest trivial little thing that happens to have annoyed the precious sensibilities of a.n.other middle aged white male photographer, moving them to frenetic keyboard smashing and gnashing of teeth. *Note…I do admit to having been guilty of ALL of the above on here at some point…sorry!

No….these very occasional musings, for me, should be about sharing things that help me with my own practises, things that anyone who gives these pages a few seconds or minutes of their time may get something from, or indeed may not. All I can do is put paw print to keyboard, knock out some nouns and adjectives in a random way and attempt to hold your gaze for the nanoseconds that nowadays seemingly constitutes ‘being interested in something’.  

So before I entirely lose your focus if I haven’t already, and in the spirit of making this as contemporary and cutting edge as possible I’m taking us straight back to 1968 and the bright lights of California, Los Angeles to be precise, where celebrated artist and educator Sister Corita Kent was teaching at the Immaculate Heart College Art Department and as part of a project for a class she taught in 1967-1968 she drafted ‘Some rules for students and teachers’. This ten-point compendium of advice was adopted as The Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules, lettered by David Mekelburg and latterly popularised by John Cage.

Brief history lesson over, why do I give a monkeys about some fifty year old rules for a college art class? Well they’re actually pretty damned good, and still relevant, and the copies that are pinned to the wall next to my computer both at the work office (that pays the bills) and the home photography office (that ravenously consumes the money the other office pays for…never buy a printer!), are both constant reminders to me to try and follow at least some of them whenever I can, whichever hat I’m wearing, Business Consultant…yaaaaaawn…or Photographer still yaaaaawn.

So while the list itself is pretty self-explanatory, over a short series of blogs I’m going to explain my own interpretation of how I think the rules pertain to me and my practises when I’m wearing my photographer hat, metaphorically speaking of course, there’s not an actual magical photographers hat that imbues powers of composition or biblical weather conditions when you pop it on…is there??

Anyway, I’ll try to pull the 10 rules together into three or so short pieces on here, and for the first of them I’m going to completely ignore the logical sequencing honed delicately by Sister Corita, and instead fly straight in with Rule number 7…

Rules 7, 8 and 1 –  The when I’m stuck ones

This is so true, put the graft in, make the images, even when you really don’t want to and can’t be bothered, in fact, at those times it’s more important than ever. Exercise those fingers, build up the muscle memory, put the long hard yards in when you can’t see the point of doing it anymore, or you think your own work isn’t up to scratch. Forget everything else and just make more work, because it will ultimately lead to something, to renewed energy and enthusiasm, to an unexplored idea, a fresh idea for something, a new technique or style. But just make the work, and worry about all the rest of it later…which brings me nicely onto… 

This…..This is my nemesis, my number one failing, the place I go wrong more than any other, and stupidly until I happened upon this list, in terms of my photography I hadn’t made the mental leap to get here and realise it. Paralysis by analysis. What am I trying to say with this image? Where’s my voice? Do any of my images sit together and tell a story? Are they all just crap? Who cares if I take a photo anyway? Now, when I realise I’m struggling, it’s invariably because of this rule. So when I recognise that frustration or stagnation, I remind myself not to try and do both, and instead refer myself to rule number 7 and just get on with making the work, knowing once I’ve done that, I can then invest the time and energy into consciously analysing it and see what questions it asks or what answers it brings. And if I’m still struggling at that point to make the work I want to make, that brings me on to…

Accept the familiar, embrace the warm comforting blanket of that which you know and love and that isn’t different, stretching or outside your comfort zone. For me that smells entirely of black and white imagery and the coast. The autonomic response I get by standing in the dunes with my camera and making variations of images I’ve made a hundred times before. 

Embrace the automatic process of using your gear however you shoot, accepting that you may not make anything groundbreaking, soul-crushingly beautiful or competition-winningly epic if that’s your goal, but you will make some work, some images, moments no-one has ever captured before, and invariably you will ultimately end up creating something you are intrigued by, that you didn’t see coming. Be that a composition you’ve not seen before amongst the landscape you are all too familiar with, a shaft of light illuminating a familiar tree in a way you’ve not witnessed previously, a juxtaposition of subject matter that had never before occurred to you as being interesting. Automatic repetition allows creativity to flow, it opens up the neural pathways to allow the brain to make brand new connections and ideas….that’s today’s science fact for you…every day’s a school day. 

I promise the next couple will be considerably shorter and with less history, but for now that’s more than enough wittering for one evening…next up, Part 2 – The playing ones…

Finally, for those who have stuck with it this far…firstly, hats off to you, you really must be bored of the TV…secondly, I hope you have all had a photographically successful decade and are looking forward to the roaring twenties ahead of us…photographically at least, and lastly…here’s an image I haven’t shared anywhere before, one of my favourites from this last 12 months in fact, and a bit of an anchor-point for some forthcoming work that will emerge at some point next year…hopefully… 

Take it easy everyone….x


  1. Andrew Atkinson  —  January 1, 2020 at 8:05 am

    Was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t seen any blogs from you for a while. Did t realise it was so long.

    Loving the rules, especially No.8 something I’m guilty of most of the time.

    All the best for 2020 and the decade ahead.

  2. Gary Swann  —  January 1, 2020 at 8:56 am

    Interesting piece Karl. I look forward to the next two… or three, or four? It’s nice to find these quiet little spots away from the noise of social media.

  3. Bob Sanders  —  January 2, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    Thanks for this Karl. It’s just what I needed right now! Best wishes for 2020.


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