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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

    Trending in Lifehack

    1 5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life 2 Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Conquer It Step-By-Step) 3 10 Simple Strategies to Make Your Life Better Starting Today 4 The Power of Tapping into Your Hidden Creativity 5 Why Your Perception Is Your Reality

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    Last Updated on July 23, 2019

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

    Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

    How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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    • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
    • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
    • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
    • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
    • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
    • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

    When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

    1. Realize You’re Not Alone

    Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

    2. Find What Inspires You

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    Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

    On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

    3. Give Yourself a Break

    When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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    Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

    4. Shake up Your Routines

    Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

    Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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    When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

    5. Start with a Small Step

    Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

    Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

    More to Help You Stay Motivated

    Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

    Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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