Photography as a way to get well


Stormy Leigh at The Domes with Arizona Photo Events

Done with imagination and energy photography is therapeutic on both sides of the camera. It reveals, and it heals.

My Facebook newsfeed is packed with statements of anxiety, worry, fear, and lack of hope. The patients are not well, and you might think therapy would be welcomed in whatever form it takes. In my experience relatively few people submit to the therapeutic effects of photography. Maybe they are too busy. Maybe they don’t have confidence in it. I am on a crusade to change that.

What are the effects? And how are they achieved?

I often feel that people come to me to be photographed as they would go to a doctor or a fortune teller – to find out how they are. – Richard Avedon

Being photographed is an exercise in imagination. What do you imagine is true about yourself? What do you imagine is not true about yourself? The camera will serve as a kind of witness to confirm or not, your acts of imagination. Maybe the “bad” things are not all that bad. Maybe the “good” things are better than you expect. Let photographs inform you.

Eric and Bobby

Eric and Bobby with Arizona Photo Events at Agua Caliente park

The point is to relax into the work of noticing the degree of alignment between your self-image and what is really taking place in your world. Costumes, sets, unusual poses, inventive juxtapositions are devices that enable us to imagine ourselves in a different context, something that we don’t normally allow ourselves to consider. That’s healing.

I have done a fair amount of photographic work with people who have considerable physical handicaps, including a bride at her wedding. The experiences have been remarkable.

The next time you see a photograph that makes you pause, think about why. And then think about photographs of yourself and how you respond to them. It might lead you to something remarkable. It might help you express how you are.

I notice that when I am shooting my only concerns are about how to get the shot. All my usual concerns recede to a place outside my awareness. It is a wonderful experience, and it reminds me that it is possible to achieve such a state.

And their hearts grew hard

Robert Reich posted this to Facebook this morning:

Job satisfaction is at a record low, and not just because pay is still in the pits. A new survey by Accenture shows 31% of employees don’t like their boss and 43% say they get no recognition for their work. Considering that we spend more of our waking hours on the job than anywhere else, this is sobering.

What’s the reason? Despite all the blather about treating employees well, the fact is employers still face a weak labor market and many don’t feel the need to treat employees as anything other than costs — and don’t seem to mind if they leave. That same Accenture study shows that almost a third of all employees are actively looking for a different job.

Maysa and Dan

Maysa and Dan

I like his use of the word blather. One definition is to talk long-windedly without making very much sense. What makes blathering seem like a good idea to so many people? What makes indifference to your own employees seem like a good idea?

The mechanics and the logic of how this works was explained to us in 1964 by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in their book The Managerial Grid. We don’t need to wonder at the “why” part of this. The authors even explain childhood experiences that shape adult behavior in the work place. It is not an easy read, but it does serve to eliminate any excuses about not knowing why people do what they do at work.

The managerial grid places people in a matrix based on their concern for people and their concern for production. In both cases the maximum score is nine. A 9-9 is the theoretical ideal. An extreme imbalance creates trouble. Consider this summary from Wikipedia:

  • The dictatorial (previously, produce or perish) style (9,1): control and dominate. With a high concern for production, and a low concern for people, managers using this style find employee needs unimportant; they provide their employees with money and expect performance in return. Managers using this style also pressure their employees through rules and punishments to achieve the company goals. This dictatorial style is based on Theory X of Douglas McGregor, and is commonly applied by companies on the edge of real or perceived failure. This style is often used in cases of crisis management.

Dictators are likely to gravitate to people who share their point of view. They groom and promote dictators. I suspect there is a lot of that going on these days.

If your organization needs a refresh, Maysa and I can help.

A mentoring experience



I was asked by Shanna Jenkins, (Shanna rhymes with Anna) who I know from photography outings with Arizona Photo Events, if I would have an interest in mentoring her son. She is a single parent and wants another positive male influence for him. I feel honored, and immediately accepted the invitation.

I have photographed them on two occasions, and apparently that contact time was sufficient for Preston to decide that he trusts me, and that we have a rapport.

Shanna suggested that one of our activities can be teaching him photography. He has an interest in that. Suits me. I know some things about photography. The first thing is to learn to appreciate light. Paying attention to light is a wonderful experience, and the lessons we learn from doing that can be applied in many other ways.

For example, we can develop a deeper appreciation of smiles. Take Shanna’s, for example. One of the main reasons I enjoy photographing people is that the next step after selecting the right light is to concentrate on what makes the person so appealing. What could be more fun?

I read a quote on Facebook this morning that said something to the effect that love is the result of recognizing truth. Poet Robert Graves was given credit for it. Portrait photography can be devoted to recognizing truth. Not all portrait sessions are devoted to that, but those that are provide a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

I am grateful to Shanna and to Preston for reaching out to me. Shanna and I had our first meeting today, and we sketched out how we are going to approach our work. My wife, Yvette, participated and added a whole lot of insight. I was in the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program for some time, so it is not totally new to me.

The challenges young people face today are intense compared to my Leave It To Beaver experience. I will do my best, and I think everyone else will do the same.

Editor’s note: I published this post earlier today and had a technical problem. I could not see the post myself. That has never happened before on any of my WordPress blogs.

Hey, buddy, can you spare a billion?

Robert Reich posted this on Facebook:

Amazon just announced an increase in its net income of $92 million for the second quarter, causing its stock to jump 19 cents per share. One shareholder who’s particularly pleased is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose personal wealth (much of it in Amazon stock) thereby jumped $7 billion, making him the fifth richest person in the world with a net worth of $50 billion. Bezos has thereby earned in several minutes as much money as 175,000 teachers (each paid an average of $40,000 annually) earn an entire year. Does pay any longer bear relation to what someone is worth?—Robert Reich

What are the implications to human values of sitting on that much money?

I will respond to Mr. Reich’s question. No. Pay is no longer linked to the ability to add value or deliver service. I have a “donate” button on this blog. It is sort of like the tip jar at Starbucks. If you get as much value from my posts (there are more than 500 of them) as you do from a venti decaf you might drop a dollar in the jar once in a while. It has not happened yet.

I posted on Facebook a request for opinions on giving money to people soliciting from median strips. The responses covered a range of opinions. These are two sweet ones.

I don’t give homeless people money, I give them food. In Arizona I can understand the need for water though and like someone else mentioned, they may be leery about taking water for fear of it being drugged. I think it’s awful that places do not let the public use the restrooms, homeless or not. To me that’s saying they’d rather have someone defecate in the back of their building, because that’s what usually happens.—Adela Gubson

I practice compassion. I use my own judgment. I have never had a bad experience though I also can’t say I give a dollar and wait to see what someone chooses to do with it. I give so much of myself and time helping and supporting organizations that I know are making a difference in the lives of our homeless so if I have to pass up a homeless person on the corner I hope at some point in our lives our paths cross again for all the right reason on the way up from the bottom.—Lola Lane

As a society we are not successful at dealing with change. We just let the rich and powerful dictate to us and make any rules they like. In the 1966 movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,  Zero Mostel plays a slave. His response, when whipped by his master, is “Thank you, sir. May I have another?” That’s pretty much the norm these days for most of us.

The end of our collective right to dignity is nigh. Stormy's derriere provides some temporary consolation.

The end of our collective right to dignity is nigh. Stormy’s derrière provides some temporary consolation.


On committing to mediocrity

“I believe,” Peter Senge wrote, “that the prevailing system of management is, at its core, dedicated to mediocrity.”

Dedicated is a strong word.

dedicated |ˈdediˌkātidadjective

(of a person) devoted to a task or purpose; having single-minded loyalty or integrity:a team of dedicated doctors. 

(of a thing) exclusively allocated to or intended for a particular service or purpose: investing in dedicated bike lanes will encourage more bicycle commuters.

In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge (sen-gay) explains that the practices that produce mediocrity in business are taught to people while they are in school. People got good grades and a diploma for mastering the art of mediocrity. They get on the job and continue behavior that is intended to provide safety and security—for them, not for the organization.

The managers who supervise these employees have their hands full trying to solve the problems that surfaced yesterday. They don’t want more trouble from outspoken subordinates with controversial, thought-provoking ideas. Thus mediocrity is perpetuated.

The managers’ behavior holds the arrangement in place, so it is not possible to change how people interact until managers see the merits of change and also look into their own motivations for preserving the status quo.

I interviewed Stormy Leigh for this blog, and here iPhone case caught my attention. She decorated it herself.

I interviewed Stormy Leigh for this blog, and her iPhone case caught my attention. She decorated it herself. Stormy inspires originality and courage.

Senge’s remarkable book, revised for the 2006 reprinting, runs more than 400 pages with the back material. It is a valuable read even for people who are retired because the principles that enhance a work environment also enhance a private life. An example is his use of mental models. He defines them for the reader: “Mental models are deeply engrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.”

Most of the stories in the news are about people acting on a flawed mental model, a model that seems valid to them, and which they have not questioned. People have mental models of what a flag means. They have mental models that assign worth to people, or take it away. Most of the communication about mental models is shouted, often defiantly. Mediocre management tolerates these methods. A more productive path would be to master David Bohm’s principles of dialogue. Dialogue is considered a waste of time by managers who are dedicated to mediocre results.

Maysa Peterson and I offer our professional services to organizations that want to escape the gravitational pull of mediocrity. We have read the books that tell us how to do it. Maysa has three degrees, and I have an MA from Chapman University, a place where I encountered no mediocrity.

Addendum: As a bonus I found today on Forbes online an article about 15 cars to avoid, all from name brand manufacturers. They need Maysa and me, but they have not called. Not yet, anyway. 520-408-7507.

The decline of the workplace

bizcardI know an increasing number of good people who have lost their jobs for no apparent reason. At the same time companies are becoming less tolerant on a systemic level because of the turf battles among executives that bring defensiveness to a fever pitch.

Defensiveness requires what Chris Argyris calls fancy footwork. It is necessary to disguise shabby behavior that is unbecoming of people in high places. The riddle of all this continues to become more mystifying. It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the real from the pretense.

We need to acknowledge and talk about the implications of the petrifying of management methods and attitudes. The cumulative effect of this hardening of attitudes has a profound effect on all of us.

The decline of values in the management community has many deleterious effects. Organizations lose their best people. Those who remain adopt defensive behaviors and emphasize caution over contribution. Mistrust becomes a defining characteristic of life within the organization.

We do not lack knowledge and wisdom about how to create a culture within organizations that promotes productivity, morale, and innovation. It seems to me that the growing dominance of the super rich is causing a shift in values that affects all of us in hurtful ways. This change drives out inspiration in the workplace. The emphasis on survival becomes the driving force in shaping relationships and behavior.

These shifts have significant consequences that are gaining momentum. Krishnamurti told us in his book Facing a World in Crisis, “So to learn there must be enjoyment.” People working hard to survive usually sacrifice enjoyment. Consider the long-term effects of eliminating learning from a work environment. The thought makes me shudder.

In his book Servant Leadership, A Journey Into The Nature Of Legitimate Power And Greatness, Robert Greenleaf titled one of the sections Community—The Lost Knowledge of These Times. I live in a gated neighborhood. It is not a community in any sense of the word. We do not notice the lack of community at work because we have lived this way for so long on the street where we live.

We have resources available to us that did not exist when I entered the workforce many years ago. TED Talks are one of the best. I recommend Simon Sinek and Ken Robinson to start. I suggest you go exploring if you have not used this resource before now.

My view is that we are growing increasingly numb and defensive, especially in our large institutions. This is taking us down a slippery slope. I will close by quoting Mr. Greenleaf. He said that we always have wise advisors available to us.

The variable that marks some periods as barren and some as rich in prophetic vision is in the interest, the level of seeking, the responsiveness of the hearers.

When it gets worse we are making progress

IronJohn (1)I have referred to Robert Bly’s book, Iron John, several times in this blog. Iron John is a character who appears to a young boy as a monster. Iron John symbolizes the boy’s need to face his fears and to become a man. Iron John sleeps in a pond.

I am currently studying Pema Chödrön’s book, The Places That Scare You, A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. When are times not difficult?

Her explanation parallels Bly’s explanation. It gets scary when we venture into the swamp our emotions, self-talk, and misconceptions about ourselves and the world create for us. To put the next quote in context let me say that bodhichitta means something along the lines of open heart, or open mind. I take it to mean seeing our own worth and that of the beings around us.

The irony is that what we most want to avoid in our lives is crucial to awakening bodhichitta. These juicy emotional spots are where a warrior gains wisdom and compassion. Of course, we’ll want to get out of those spots more often than we’ll want to stay.—Pema Chödrön

Juicy emotional spots? We are taught to embrace our fear, and to offer it a cup of tea and a warm seat by the fire. She quotes Patrule Rinpoche, a name new to me. He said:

To make things as easy as possible to understand, we can summarize the four boundless qualities in the single phrase “a kind heart.” Just train yourself to have a kind heart always and in all situations.

Piece of cake, since I’m a warrior.

Just about everything in modern life shouts at us that we are separate, isolated, and living in a threatening environment that could close in on us at any time. The teachers tell us the opposite, that we are connected to all beings. As we inventory the damage done to us by false teachings we encounter our fears, misconceptions, and anxieties in an up-close and personal way.

The pond where Iron John sleeps intimidates us, but until Iron John turns into a handsome prince we have our work cut out for us. Pema tells us not to be hard on ourselves when by all appearances we are losing ground. She said,

Although plenty of meditators consider it, we don’t run screaming out of the room…Never underestimate our inclination to bolt when we hurt.

When I am tempted to scream and run I turn to the wise teachers. It always helps.