By Brad Beckstrom
I’d been working in marketing and advertising for 30 years, but still felt like I’d never really created anything. Sure, I’d produced events, created new products, award-winning campaigns, promotions, even new agencies. These all had something in common, they existed solely to promote products. These creations included logos, brand imagery, engaging copy, but they really belonged to the products they were promoting more than the person or teams who worked on them. It was time for me to step back and start creating again. Creating, like I was back in school, telling stories and taking photos with my first camera. Doing it just for the experience.
Earlier this year, I embarked on a quest. A quest to create something, a body of work. A quest, free of branding, focus group input, monetization strategies, or even logic. I started this quest before I even knew exactly what it was or how it would work. I started in Bangkok, Thailand, walking for miles and taking photos with my son’s camera. As I walked, the anticipation of more kept me moving forward, seeing many things I’d never seen before. My knees and legs ached from all of the walking, but it felt great.
My visit to Thailand was originally planned as a sabbatical. I had a few meetings but not enough to slow me down. Each morning as I set out, more than scenery came into view. I was learning to see again.
It’s the first time I’d really picked up a camera creatively in nearly 30 years.
I had an idea. Would it be possible to master the art of seeing through street photography and urban exploration? What would it take to truly master something? I’d read and written about mastery before. It’s not something to be taken lightly, not really something I can achieve as a hobby or some crash “meta learning” course. It’s a major commitment. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the “10,000 hour rule” in his book Outliers. The journey from apprentice to journeyman to master can take 10,000 hours of work over 7 to 10 years.
So, instead of approaching this as a hobby or a job, I chose to look at it as a quest to mastery. I used the 10,000 hour rule as a guideline and came up with the following numbers.
10,000 photographs published
1000 places explored
10 years in the making
1 amazing journey
These are some big numbers, so I chose to call it my Big Audacious Quest. I like to think of it as a quest, since I’ve chosen to master something. The numbers are there to motivate me and keep me on track. If I break it out by year, that’s 10,000 photographs per year, publishing 1000 of those from at least 10 cities and 100 places. An investment of 1000 hours per year.
My numbers will be off slightly, but after designing a workflow,I’ve found that I’ve been putting about an hour into each final image I publish on 500px. Only about 1 in 10 images gets published and I’ve included reviewing and digitally processing each image prior to publishing. When you add in traveling to take the photos, whether that be on the Metro locally or jumping on a flight to the other side of the world, the hours add up quickly.
Here is where I am after the first 6 months.
Total Photographs 7154
Total Published 636
Places 66 (Includes Neighborhoods, Towns, Major Landmarks)
I live in the Northeast so some of the cities and towns are quick trips, this will get tougher as I visit more places. Take a look at some of my recent street photography here.
The Real Benefit
Since I’ve embarked on this quest, I’ve realized there are many benefits outside mastering a skill. I’ve been walking a lot more. One day in New York, I walked just over 11 miles, tracking my quest on GPS. I’ve been meeting and talking to more people. Some might ask, why are you taking my picture? Others are people I meet talking about this quest. Last week in Portland alone I met 24 people, including photographers, writers, entrepreneurs, students, artists and an adversity researcher preparing for a monastic life.
For me, learning to see is about more than just photography. Learning to see, in the end will be about the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen and adventures I’ll be able to share with family and friends.