We have found our way into a closed world and mistaken it for the infinite universe. We do not know our place, and we do not know our peril. – Tom Cheetham

I’m going to ask for a bit more of your attention than usual. This is a little long, but I can’t say what I have to say in fewer words. Believe me when I tell you that I wrestled long and hard about whether I should share this with you at all. But in the end, honesty and transparency is the only way I know how to live, so here it is. And there’s absolutely a photography lesson here, so please stick with me.

I’ve talked a lot about Imagination and how it provides all the inspiration you need for your photography. I am inspired by the writings of Henry Corbin, James Hillman, and Carl Jung on the subject of the Imaginal. The Imaginal is responsible for whatever success I’ve had, not only in my art, but in my life as well. When I struggle with something, it’s usually because I’ve veered from my purpose and lost sight of the fact that the trajectory of my life has been set for me by larger forces, as you’ll see.

The Rock

The last couple of months have been an exciting time for me. I’ve been fortunate in seeing fruit from some things that I have labored over for many years. Many of you have been a part of that, for which I am incredibly grateful. Those successes have raised a whole new set of questions in my mind which must be answered honestly if I want to continue on the path that’s right for me. It’s like a rock has been dropped directly in front of me. I try to live my life consciously and presently, and my artistic and philosophical nature causes me to poke and prod and question everything. And so merely going around the rock is not an option. The rock is there for a reason, right? So, I must dig and turn the rock over to see what’s underneath; I must get to the root of it. The first question is this: “What’s the next big thing I want to do to keep my momentum going?”  My art and my teaching have gotten your attention. Now what? And there is pressure to answer this question as quickly as possible. There are rules for running an internet business, and I’m very, very lucky to have a coach who knows them well. I would be a fool to ignore them. One of them is to provide content to you every week. I struggle with that for reasons I’ll explain as we go, but the rules are very clear. And yet, the question remains, and I’m paralyzed until I answer it. Complicating things even further is the fact that I refuse to put out content that I feel you can find elsewhere.  You are here to become a better artist and I want to be a part of that journey with you.

I’ve tried ignoring the question and just getting back to work. And guess what happens? A  litany of obstacles appear out of nowhere. Everything goes wrong. My frustration level rises and my powers of concentration diminish, which is the acid capper that no real work gets done. After banging my head against the wall enough times, it finally occurred to me that the problem was me, not everything else. The universe has lined up against me until I deal with this issue and answer these questions. Only then will I be allowed to move forward.

My Dilemma

My experience has been that at every major crossroad in life lies at least one question like this. We ignore them at our peril.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that these major questions are actually satellite questions surrounded by other, smaller satellite questions that contain the keys to answering the huge question, which has yet to reveal itself. These satellite questions are not so easy to answer. However, they are obvious and most of us have been confronted with them at one time or another. Here are a few of them:

“What do I want my business to look like?”

“How much time will it require?”

“How can I put that into a plan that works?”

There are more, but I think you get the idea. They’re exciting questions and the possibilities they raise are even more exciting. Maybe “seductive” is a better word. But here’s the thing. If I’m living my life as a material human being, then these are merely questions of strategy. The problem is that I stopped living like that a long time ago. Instead, I chose to live in a “soul state” that requires deep self-examination and takes into account the state of my soul, my spirit, and my place in the world. In that context, those questions become something entirely different because the answers I give must satisfy much deeper criteria. And so, the root under the rock finally emerges. What’s in question is my very identity. Once again, I must ask myself, “Who am I and why am I here?” I know the answers, but we’ll get to that.

Presence, Contemplation, Revealed Essence

For me, photography is an exercise of the soul. A technically accurate capture of the thing in front of my lens is never enough. I need to dance along the edge of what philosophers, metaphysicists, and theologians call the “mundus imaginalis”. It is this that I refer to when I speak of “Imagination”. The mundus imaginalis is the boundary between the world of our senses (what we can see, touch, smell, etc.) and the world of abstraction where myth, metaphor, and analogy exist. Mystery and certainty live side by side there. Boundaries are crossed and symmetries are broken there. The doors to meaning open there because possibilities are infinite there. It is there where meaning is born. We all reach into it each time we try to learn something new or broaden our understanding. It’s where we make abstract and intellectual connections that make sense out of the chaos we call “life”.

When you are making a photograph in which you are trying to convey an idea, you have to shoot and process in a way that supports what you’re trying to do. Maybe you want to make a photo of Grand Canyon that reflects your experience of it. Then you must find a way to communicate your sense of awe and scale and you have to do it on a two-dimensional piece of paper. How do you do that? First, by becoming completely present when you’re getting ready to shoot. Second, by contemplating the scene in front of you. Let it wash over you, Feel it’s presence. It is alive, after all. What do you feel, see, smell, hear? What do you sense? Grandeur? Ominousness? Glory? And third, you let the canyon reveal itself to you. You let it speak to you. Three steps: Presence, Contemplation, Revealed Essence. Then you carry that through the entire process of making the photograph. That’s how you do it.

Tom Cheetham writes that this awareness “demands an attention and a sensibility for subtleties that we have largely lost. It demands a sense for qualitative spaces, not quantitative; for presences, not motions; for forms, not explanations.” That means that we need to pay attention to not just presences, but harmonies and qualities as well. These are things we cannot see. Therefore many photographers find this difficult. Depth, mystery, and moving out of the realm of the human: these things force us to retreat, to be humble, to experience awe. And these are the things that make great art what it is. We’ve all found ourselves in this place at some time in our lives. The trick is to go there at will, in a conscious way. One of the greatest dangers of the modern mind is that it looks at the present moment as a temporary thing. It’s only that if we let it be that. But it can reveal things to us that are timeless, if we allow it.

Figuring Things Out

I’ve found that the Imaginal is a useful way to look at my life. So back to my big question: “Who am I and why am I here?”

Step one: Presence. I must put myself in that same mythic space and see things from a greater height, with more perspective. I must step beyond reason and into a larger world. And I must listen.

Step two: Contemplation. If I just “go with the flow” and allow the present moment to pass me by then I make a huge mistake. So, I play out my dilemma. Do I let business drive my teaching? Or do I let my teaching drive business? What do each of those scenarios look like five or ten years down the road? What kind of compromises will I have to make? What kind of a person do I become? What forces have worked together in the past to bring me to this moment? What forces are forcing me to stop here and face this problem? What is most important? What is my core principle?

Step three: Revealed Essence. Let the solution reveal itself and then listen to my gut! (it always does, and we rarely do) By the way, it’s an anatomical fact that the gut is where the human nervous system begins developing first, and so is the heart of that system. That should tell you something about the importance of “gut feeling”. And so, I begin to see it. At my core, I’m not a businessman. What I am is an artist and a teacher. For the present moment, I’m an artist and teacher who happens to have a business. But which side makes the rules about how I move forward in my life? Is it the teaching or the business? Maybe some people can give both equal weight. I can’t. The way for me to answer that is to answer the second half of my big question: “why am I here?”

The Root

Without going into all the details (you can read about some of that here), I’ll just say that I’ve been through some things in my life that no reasonable human being would wish on his worst enemy. If fairness was the ruling principle of the universe, I’d have been gone a long time ago because of some of the downright stupid choices I’ve made. But in some strange way and for some unknown reason, all those things have come together in a way that puts me in this moment, in these circumstances. And I’m merely expected to teach others what I’ve learned. That’s it. That’s why I’m here. Looking at it that way, it becomes evident that the teaching must do the steering. I’ll do the best I can with the rest, but my students will always come first. That means I’ll probably break some rules about how an internet business is supposed to be run. It also means I’ll make some mistakes. But I can live with that if I know that, as far as the big picture goes, I’m doing the right thing.

Once I worked this out, something fascinating happened. I immediately felt like I needed to go into my office and do some work. And guess what? Most of the computer gremlins and other distractions that had been plaguing my every move were nowhere to be found. I made the photograph you see here in one sitting. I’ll make a workflow video for you, so you can see how I got there.

The Point Of It All

So, here’s the point of all this. You’ll probably hear from me two or, at most, three times a month. The things I have to share with you will dictate that pace. And I have some really cool things to share with you! These things will take time because they all build on one another. That’s because what I’m teaching is art-making, and not tool-using. My mind just doesn’t generate the kind of ideas I’m working with at the speed of some of other truly great internet educators. When you see an email from me, it means I have something to say to you, something valuable to share with you, and not because I’m trying to fill an email schedule. If that sounds good to you, then stick around because I’m going to help you take your work to places you never imagined.

The last thing is that making great work requires more than time, effort, and technical mastery. It needs a sensibility tuned to that other place; the Imaginal place where mystery, metaphor, and analogy live. Train yourself to go there. Stop being the photographer who grabs the obvious shot and is satisfied with that. Remember these three steps: Presence, Contemplation, Revealed Essence. Take time to go through the process and watch your work show the effort.



35 Responses

  1. Well…..whew! For a minute there I thought you were laying down a gauntlet! I recently purchased your B&W video course and it worked so well for me. The pace and quiet enthusiasm of your teaching (sharing) style doesn’t intimidate! I often watch other educators on YouTube and I feel “left in the dust!” It’s very tricky to present material that engages the majority of your intended audience- this you do well. I’m personally looking forward to your future, well spaced, articles and educational videos

  2. Hi Jim,
    I only joined your tribe a few months ago but greatly encouraged by your thought processes and enjoyed the results i am now getting from your B/W artistry course.
    I wish i could attend some of your course but living in the UK it’s cost prohibitive. That is why the style and depth of your internet communication is important to me.
    The value you give me is to think much deeper into what i want to achieve and then finding the technical apects of how to get there.
    Keep up the good work and will look forward to your further communications.
    Kind Regards
    Derek Bourne

  3. Thanks Jim for your open words.
    I think the same way.
    Beeing able to make a technical correct Image, but struggle some times to finish it to a great picture.
    At the moment I am trying to put some painting into my photos to express myself.
    All the best for 2018!

  4. What a phenomenal read. I feel you here. I have been in this business for nearly 7 years and to this day I continue to struggle with my place, who I am in the space, and what I should be doing. Yeah, I may look like I have it all together, but it is still a rat race for me.

    Heck you know that though, we chat all the time like high school girls late at night who talk about Photoshop instead of boys, lol

    You are an inspiration my friend, and I can’t wait to see your journey unfold. It is incredible to see.

  5. More of the same please Jim.
    You have transformed my b&w work and I have suddenly found that I am a bit artistic after all, with layers, masks, curves and levels.
    It’s all great fun and with you and Blake Rudis, we have 2 of the best educators around. Awesome stuff.
    Profuse thanks to you both.

  6. Jim:
    With some rare exceptions, I think the internet business advice that calls for at least weekly posts are wrong. I am an OCD photography enthusiast who over-subscribes to online photography content, and most is duplicative, gear-focused, and forgettable. I do not know if your strategy is correct, but I suspect that you are pointed in the right direction…

    1. I think Mike is right. I’ve bought entire Photoshop tuition courses I’ve never watched simply because I don’t have the time. There’s one guy who spams me with emails everyday! They now go in my Junk folder.

      Yours is the one tuition course I’ve watched end-to-end Jim. What’s different is that it’s not hundreds of hours of content but that it’s methodical and clear. It hammers Home the point until I get it.

      If I get emails from you every day I won’t read them. If I get two or three a month I will, knowing that they contain really valuable guidance. Less is more.

  7. Jim, I like where you are going with this. You are providing incite into not only how you think, but also concepts and ideas that will help us think. Please continue, I’ll follow along.

  8. Jim …

    I will agree with your business coach that putting something out on a “regular” basis is needed in the internet business – but it has to be something meaningful and relevant … not something that goes out simply to meet a daily/weekly schedule. And it can be sporadic – as long as it is there.

    I usually subscribe to someone because I stumble across them and feel they have something relevant to say to me. But few of them can keep up the pace if they are focused on meeting a schedule, and i usually end up dumping them.

    There are, however, a few exceptions – people who were relevant to me then, and are still relevant to me now (Rudis, McIntyre, and DuChemin to name a few). Their contact patterns range between regular weekly and totally sporadic; some even disappear for a while then reappear refreshed. Not every one of their emails is totally relevant to me, though I do read them and usually get at least something out of them. But enough of them totally hit my nail on the head to make me look forward to their next email, whenever it occurs.

    And I think that’s the real secret – I feel you have something relevant to say to me; many others may feel the same; and we will judge each of your messages on its own merits. Not every one will be a home run with every follower – but enough of your emails/blogs will probably hit a home with enough of us to make us look forward to your next one – whenever it occurs.

    It comes down to that old saying: You can please all the people some of the time, and you can please some of the people all the time, but you can’t please all the people all the time.

    That’s life, and there is really nothing any of us can do to improve those odds. Except to produce relevant messages for your audience as best you can. Which usually means – be yourself, be genuine, and have something meaningful to say. And that means that you will say it when you feel ready to say it, not because you must meet some regular schedule.

    So … from my point of view, I look forward to your emails – to your how-to’s; to seeing how you view the world and express it in your art. Many of your emails will be totally or partially relevant to me. Others might not be. But I look forward to each one, regardless.

    And as long as I keep looking forward to what you have to say, I will continue to look forward to finding emails from Jim W in my Inbox, regardless of what schedule you choose to send them on. My only ask is that you keep them coming.

    But that’s just my 2 cents.

  9. Teaching art-making is a uniquely difficult undertaking. It is nebulous, it is fuzzy and I am sure it is an endevour that will be easy to give up on! If you try to rush this process to assimilate tool-using teachers on the internet you efforts will be forced and ‘driven by business’. So taking the time for your material to form and mature prior to dissemination is essential. I became aware of Jim Welninski only recently. I suspect many of your current customers similarly got to know about you only recently. If the sale of your B&W Artistry has been successful it is because the content you put out RECENTLY has been unique, valuable and deep. These qualities far outweigh the weekly ‘bleeps’ we see from many online teachers. Many of those bleeps are designed to maintain share-of-mind rather than deliver unique value. If your online teaching is a portion of your income then I encourage you to develop the niche position you began cultivating. This is what we called the ‘farming’ strategy, A deliberate approach to developing unique value to be delivered to a discerning set of customers (that many not be in the tens of thousands) for a longer period. This ‘farming’ strategy in contrast to the ‘harvest and run’ will produce a more durable business than the later. This is coming from someone who spent 40 years in the ‘hi-tech’ sector, at the bleeding edge of microprocessor technology, internet technology, cell technology and more. Farming takes patience and produces durable outcomes. If you can stand it financially then you are on the right path. But don’t expect a ‘quick buck’.

  10. It seems I was bought up in a darkroom – since 1967 I made images to the best of my ability.

    Trying to convey something of interest to the viewers. I was a photojournalist for several years until I went into the world of business and became a corporate CEO – a huge transition I hear you say.

    Then I had an awakening. Stopped selling my soul and went back to my love of image making in 2001.
    Much had changed. Could I catch up to the digital age?. Lots of tutorials etc and now I am trying to keep up. Your B&W course is about achieving what we tried to achieve in the darkroom. Dodge and burn maps. Multi grade contrast paper etc.

    Now I see you using PS etc and life is so much easier and better.

    I merged my image making with my business experience and opened my own studio. Much success, financially and awards.
    But the two don’t really mix. Selling wall portraits and making images that matter are well apart.

    Now I am looking for ways to make images that matter to ME. That say something to others. But now there are billions of images everywhere. Images are a commodity. Everyone who buys a camera is a “photographer”.

    Like Jim I have overloaded myself with online input – looking for the gateway to that edge. To be outstanding, as if I was the only person downloading the tutorial/workshop etc. How stupid.

    What internet training providers have dwelt on is “what they think folks want to learn”. That’s what marketing 101 tells them. Techniques. How to’s. Actions for PS etc.

    Now what I want is some of that, but I also want to hear about insights in the art of interpretation, imagination and contemplation.

    So that’s a long way around to saying I would love to hear from you when you think you have something to pass on to me.

    And I will continue to look for ways to stay on top of the technical aspects.

    Thank you for your grand thoughts and approach.

  11. Jim
    I spent most of my life copying. when I painted I could paint a picture as good as the original; I would have made a great forger!! Now I have taken to photography my instinct was to copy others but since taking your B&W Artistry course I realise there is much more to it. Vision is the key for me and I look forward to seeing more

  12. Jim,
    From the first minutes of seeing your teaching and your work via On1, I was extremely impressed. Black and white photography has been my primary interest in photography since 1966. Until 1973, I had both an SLR and a 4×5 view camera. After watching that first video, I went to your website and joined Altered Space because what I saw, I wanted to learn.
    I’ve studied various approaches to photography for years. I’ve read books, done workshops and done online classes. Let me say this about your series so far. I have never seen anything better. Therefore, I am not concerned how often I receive something new from you. I know what I receive will be thoughtful, well presented and helpful.
    Best regards and Happy New Year,

  13. Nice Job Jim. I’m an old photographer (86 years of age) and abandoned, to a degree, years ago, that illusive quality of imagination, to me that quality that drove my photography, that made what I wanted as a picture, come alive. I have now resumed that quest and look forward to the directions in which it takes me. Hope you share more of your journey.

  14. I appreciate quality over quantity any day. I can tell in your videos when you feel uncomfortable and/or rushed to put out a product. The once a week “rule” is ridiculous. I have seen too many thoughtless “tutorials,” and too many thoughtless comments when certain instructors adhere to what they “think” they should be doing. You are different and your thoughtfulness, expertise, and experience is greatly appreciated. Don’t dilute your work, when you do, you will lose the support you have. Also, keep in mind that the viewer’s time is valuable, and I do not appreciate it when my time is wasted. You are amazing – stay that way!

  15. I so appreciate your transparency as well as your honesty. It just confirms my decision to take your course and to learn as much as I can. Your work is beautiful thank you for sharing and teaching

  16. Beautifully said Jim. Thank you for sharing. I strongly believe you have made the correct business decision.

    Throughout most of my life I also have had a strong desire to follow some type of artistic endeavor. At first, I thought it was studio portrait photography, but it was not. It did not take me long to find that out, lasting only two years. Life took me in other directions, but the little creative nagging in my gut never left. In fact, it got stronger as I got older. One day, after seeing the beautiful paintings of Robert Bateman, I decided I was going to teach myself to paint with acrylics. I looked for instructors, but was disappointed with the quality of instruction from the teachers I met. They also wanted me to learn oil or watercolor painting instead. They were not on my corner. Over a period of a few years, I continued to explore other creative outlets. One day, while I was working on a ceramic piece, someone said to me “oh, you are an artist.” I was surprised. I felt so unqualified and extremely shy about accepting that title. No, I’m just a beginner, but maybe someday I will be, I quickly said. Since then as the years passed, I have thought about becoming an ‘artist’, but how? I’ve been jumping from one art form to another trying to find what it is I should do. And then, one of my nephews made a comment about me. He said, there you are with that camera again. I was surprised because I seldom pull out a camera, but to him, it seemed I never put the camera down. I thought about it for a long time. Is this the tool for my art? Can I make images that go beyond the obvious? Because that’s what I have—the obvious. I do enjoy photographing. I have a strong attraction to black and white photography, landscapes, people, and close-ups. I like to travel and want to be open to the wonders those places will bring.

    After reading your article. I smiled with a satisfying sigh and said, thank you Jim. I am going to give it time, effort, and learn the technical mastery that it requires, but most of all…I do want to experience that Imaginal place I’m being invited to. I know that I will certainly try!

  17. Jim,
    I am sure you have spent most of your photography life chasing those ideas. Your experience is huge and the direction taken seems to be right. I envy your determination and your sense of fight. You want and need to move forward.
    Presence and contemplation are essential, revealed essence is hard to find but worth every effort
    Looking forward to getting those emails…

  18. “I’m an artist and teacher” That said it all Jim. You’ll never make as much money as a businessman but do you really want to sell your soul for thirty silver pieces? I tried and my soul was so grieved it took God to sort the mess out for me.

  19. Jim, thank you for opening yourself up and sharing your thoughts, challenges, and life experiences with us. I’m following you because of the beauty and creativity you are teaching me and not because I’m looking for a weekly missive from you. I get that from others that I follow and I will say I enjoy it. But your artistry stands so strongly on its own that people will follow you because of that. I’m looking forward to what you will share with us in 2018

  20. Jim, when I was first exposed to your teaching though ON 1 I was immediatley impressed with at least a couple of feelings. One of which was the vision you develop when creating art from what many of us would see as rather mundane subjects. You create something many of us don’t visualize – it’s almost something from nothing! What you bring to us is nothing I have seen anywhere else – truly inspirational. After reading about your life story, above all else you appear to be a survivor. Regardless of what you characterize as some poor decision making, you have come out the other end knowing yourself and a direction to follow. I look forward to your teaching challenges that help me push myself well beyond the photographic stars quo!

  21. Jim,

    I truly am grateful for sharing “yourself” with us. Your deep thought and analysis of “self” is inspiring. We all face The Rock, usually several times in our lives. I face The Rock currently as a business person who truly craves the creative self.

    We are followers because you are being true to yourself – an excellent artist and teacher, not because of your business acumen.

    May you have a Blessed New Year.

  22. Jim:

    You are a rare breed, because you are a perfectionist with an imagination!

    Imagination will break rules and make new ones, so keep doing what you are doing. Go with your gut.

    I couldn’t make that photo above without you teaching me that kind of vision. I want your imagination and all that goes with it. I have always been inspired every time I watch one of your videos.

    You said it: you are an artist and a (great) teacher – who doesn’t clog my mailbox because he thinks he should keep to a timetable. Thanks for that.

  23. I’ve always appreciated how much authenticity you bring to teaching photography (and creating art as a human being), both in person and in this course you’ve built.

    I’m much less concerned about getting regularly scheduled content — especially if you have concerns about the quality of the content. The fact that I can trust you to produce good content (whenever it comes) is something that will ensure your emails aren’t left unread.

    Check out a blogpost called “1000 True Fans” http://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/ – I don’t think you’ll have trouble continuing to build your tribe.

    Last, you might dig this podcast episode I recently listened to. Terry Crews apparently is an artist that recently designed a new chair that has never been designed before. He said he didn’t want to create a better chair, so with some creative thought, he came up with something completely new. I don’t think you want to simply create a better only photography course – https://tim.blog/2017/12/20/terry-crews-how-to-have-do-and-be-all-you-want/

    “Shoot with your heart”

  24. This makes me very happy because I know you will only post/share things that matter. We have enough clutter in our lives. Hooray for not adding to it.

  25. The poplar grows fast – quickly and easily are the Internet words for this – and the oak grows slow. Both have their functions and meaning in the garden-Universe, but, as artists, we know that everything takes the time it needs to grow into its fullness.
    I am glad I found you on YouTube, which brought me here. I will re-read your words regularly because of their authenticity, not because of their newness.
    And I’ll purchase your course when this is posted. Because I dislike ‘quickly and easily’ which are the opposite of commitment and quality. And also to help a little with your bodily survival, which is always a bit of a problem for artists who take their inspiration as serious as children at play.

    Take your time.

  26. Thanks, Jim. I have been struggling with finding my inner creative vision with photography and found your words inspiring and a reminder to look deeper within to find answers. I, too, have been a student of Jung’s work and have tried to apply many concepts throughout my life. Perhaps it’s time to revisit those concepts with more vigor so I can move toward accomplishing a vision for learning how to produce more meaningful and worthwhile artistic photographic composites. For it is there that my passion for the photographic image lies.

    1. Mary, your insights and passion inspire me. It seems to me that art is the great expression of our subconscious and that exploring that fertile ground provides the inspiration and direction we seek in our work. I’m so happy to hear that you’ve been reinvigorated in your search.

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