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2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers

2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers


    2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

    C.J. Chilvers is a photographer on a mission… A mission to awaken those who are more focused on equipment than images. A desire to get those who obscure their shots with filters to get back to basics. A drive to stop us from taking yet another “me too” image that can be found on a thousand different dime-store postcards. C.J. Chilvers is a man who wants us to rediscover the role of our own creativity in the art of photography.

    I was fortunate enough to discover C.J.’s and his amazing (and free) “A Lesser Photographer” manifesto through Patrick Rhone’s patron’s newsletter. Not only was I enamored by his approach to his work, but I realized how true it was for my own casual photography. Like many geek fathers, the birth of my first daughter was the ideal crap rationalization to get the obligatory DSLR (that I barely understand how to use) and a few lenses (because one couldn’t possibly be enough). It chronicled the big moments of her first years, but all of our favorite pictures happened at random times and were often taken with a camera phone. Now with our second child as the DSLR sits on the shelf collecting dust and the iPhone becomes the go-to tool for capturing life’s moments.

    It doesn’t matter if you are an amateur, a professional or even just a casual photographer, C.J.’s minimalist philosophy can help any amongst us understand just how little equipment is needed in order to unlock our creativity. And as you’ll see in the interview, that philosophy of less extends far beyond the photographic and into his approach for both writing and task management. Without any further ado, here’s a snapshot of how C.J. Chilvers approaches his craft:

    Creativity

    Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

    Sort of – I fancied myself a scientist.

    When I was little, I asked for microscopes and telescopes for Christmas instead of toys. My parents were smart enough to give me toys instead.

    I was into quantum physics when I was a teen. My friends were smart enough to start a metal band with me.

    My degree is in biology. That’s about the time I became smart enough to realize I’m a really just a writer.

    A newspaper columnist once told me, when I was 12, that I was a talented writer and it pushed me to learn everything I could about writing. I got kicked off the high school newspaper for writing something “controversial” about Slash. That issue sold out. I found the combination of writing chops and the natural controversy of my inner voice were a winning combo.

    Photography came later, but it’s all just a part of the greater skill of storytelling.

    What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?

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    I used to write paper books. In 1994, I put up my first site and it’s gradually taken over everything I’ve published. I recently had a flirtation with paper books again, but gave it up when I decided it was more important to be read by more people than paid a pittance by a few for the privilege of flipping pages. I’m completely over the book scene and I’ve ripped the elbow patches off my blazers. I’d rather make a difference.

    If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?

    I suppose my books would be the best things to point to (and we’ll pretend they’re collectively one thing). There’s been about 7, but here’s the ones that are I’m actively updating right now:

    The Van Halen Encyclopedia was an ode to my favorite guitar player. It took two years of research to complete the first edition in 1998 and at least another year for the follow-up edition. It’s now a website, with an iPhone app in the works.

    My most recent book is tiny by comparison, but packs a punch: A Lesser Photographer. It’s the result of two years of blogging on minimalist photography.

    Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative enough to unlock their inner artist?

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    Yes, move to Williamsburg, grow dreadlocks and spend your days searching for the perfect artisan tool to create whatever art you’ve been told is anti-establishment these days.

    It’s not hard to act like an artist, just be a nonconformist… in exactly the same way as everyone else.

    Anyone can be creative if they can figure out how to fight their brain’s need to avoid the pain of creation. If you’re not feeling that pain, you’re not pushing yourself enough.

    Productivity

    Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

    I write for the intranet of a hyper-mega-global company of 400,000 employees for 8 hours a day, then I write for fun for as long as possible after.

    I have an impossible number of ideas and projects to put out there in the world, but we’re expecting our first baby in about a month and that’ll mean most of those projects will be abandoned or given away – rightly so.

    How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

    I’ve given myself permission not to try to make money or be productive online. The less productive I become, the less I find needs doing.

    What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

    I work on a variety of platforms, quarantined from each other because of the confidential nature of my work, so I can’t count on any tools. Even paper.

    I tend to attack the workload itself as suspicious. I edit and edit until the workload doesn’t need any special tools or elaborate systems to manage.

    The greatest artists and craftsmen in history never needed tags or contexts or 50,000 foot views to create. I think we all take our jobs too seriously. A true master craftsman may rely on tools and techniques, but I would bet they have nothing to do with a productivity system.

    What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

    Ask why. Then, keep asking why until you realize: a.) you probably don’t need to be more productive or b.) there are some things so important, their importance alone will drive you to do what’s necessary. Don’t worry about it too much, though. Productivity often just gets you going faster in the wrong direction. We could all do with a bit less productivity in our work and a bit more attention to the people in our lives.

    More by this author

    2×4: An Interview with David Sparks 2×4: An Interview with Myke Hurley 2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers 2X4 Interviews 2×4: An Interview With Gabe Weatherhead 2×4: An Interview With Brett Kelly

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    Last Updated on January 2, 2020

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Over time, we all gather a set of constricting habits around us—ones that trap us in a zone of supposed comfort, well below what our potential would allow us to attain. Pretty soon, such habits slip below the level of our consciousness, but they still determine what we think that we can and cannot do—and what we cannot even bring ourselves to try. As long as you let these habits rule you, you’ll be stuck in a rut.

    Like the tiny, soft bodied creatures that build coral reefs, habits start off small and flexible, and end up by building massive barriers of rock all around your mind. Inside the reefs, the water feels quiet and friendly. Outside, you think it’s going to be rough and stormy. There may be sharks. But if you’re to develop in any direction from where you are today, you must go outside that reef of habits that marks the boundaries of your comfort zone. There’s no other way. There’s even nothing specially wrong with those habits as such. They probably worked for you in the past.

    But now, it’s time to step over them and go into the wider world of your unused potential. Your fears don’t know what’s going to be out there, so they invent monsters and scary beasts to keep you inside.

    Nobody’s born with an instruction manual for life. Despite all the helpful advice from parents, teachers and elders, each of us must make our own way in the world, doing the best we can and quite often getting things wrong.

    Messing up a few times isn’t that big a deal. But if you get scared and try to avoid all mistakes by sticking with just a few “tried and true” behaviors, you’ll miss out on most opportunities as well.

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    Lots of people who suffer from boredom at work are doing it to themselves. They’re bored and frustrated because that’s what their choices have caused them to be. They’re stuck in ruts they’ve dug for themselves while trying to avoid making mistakes and taking risks. People who never make mistakes never make anything else either.

    It’s time to pin down the habits that have become unconscious and are running your life for you, and get rid of them. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Understand the Truth about Your Habits

    They always represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully, tried the same response next time, and found it worked again. That’s how habits grow and why they feel so useful.

    To get away from what’s causing your unhappiness and workplace blues, you must give up on many of your most fondly held (and formerly successful) habits. and try new ways of thinking and acting. There truly isn’t any alternative. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas. No new ideas, no learning. No learning, no access to successful change.

    2. Do Something—Almost Anything—Differently and See What Happens

    Even the most successful habits eventually lose their usefulness as events change the world and fresh responses are called for. Yet we cling on to them long after their benefit has gone.

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    Past strategies are bound to fail sometime. Letting them become automatic habits that take the controls is a sure road to self-inflicted harm.

    3. Take Some Time out and Have a Detailed Look at Yourself—With No Holds Barred

    Discovering your unconscious habits can be tough. For a start, they’re unconscious, right? Then they fight back.

    Ask anyone who has ever given up smoking if habits are tough to break. You’ve got used to them—and they’re at least as addictive as nicotine or crack cocaine.

    4. Be Who You Are

    It’s easy to assume that you always have to fit in to get on in the world; that you must conform to be liked and respected by others or face exclusion. Because most people want to please, they try to become what they believe others expect, even if it means forcing themselves to be the kind of person they aren’t, deep down.

    You need to start by putting yourself first. You’re unique. We’re all unique, so saying this doesn’t suggest that you’re better than others or deserve more than they do.

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    You need to put yourself first because no one else has as much interest in your life as you do; and because if you don’t, no one else will. Putting others second means giving them their due respect, not ignoring them totally.

    Keeping up a self-image can be a burden. Hanging on to an inflated, unrealistic one is a curse. Give yourself a break.

    5. Slow Down and Let Go

    Most of us want to think of ourselves as good, kind, intelligent and caring people. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.

    Reality is complex. We can’t function at all without constant input and support from other people.

    Everything we have, everything we’ve learned, came to us through someone else’s hands. At our best, we pass on this borrowed existence to others, enhanced by our contribution. At our worst, we waste and squander it.

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    So recognize that you’re a rich mixture of thoughts and feelings that come and go, some useful, some not. There’s no need to keep up a façade; no need to pretend; no need to fear of what you know to be true.

    When you face your own truth, you’ll find it’s an enormous relief. If you’re maybe not as wonderful as you’d like to be, you aren’t nearly as bad as you fear either.

    The truth really does set you free; free to work on being better and to forgive yourself for being human; free to express your gratitude to others and recognize what you owe them; free to acknowledge your feelings without letting them dominate your life. Above all, you’ll be free to understand the truth of living: that much of what happens to you is no more than chance. It can’t be avoided and is not your fault. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it.

    Final Thoughts

    What is holding you in situations and actions that no longer work for you often isn’t inertia or procrastination. It’s the power of habitual ways of seeing the world and thinking about events. Until you can let go of those old, worn-out habits, they’ll continue to hold you prisoner.

    To stay in your comfort zone through mere habit, or—worse still—to stay there because of irrational fears of what may lie outside, will condemn you to a life of frustration and regret.

    If you can accept the truth about the world and yourself, change whatever is holding you back, and get on with a fresh view on life, you’ll find that single action lets you open the door of your self-imposed prison and walk free. There’s a marvelous world out there. You’ll see, if you try it!

    More About Stepping Out of Comfort Zone

    Featured photo credit: teigan rodger via unsplash.com

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