visual culture and digital photographySocial Media has set the stage for images to become the way we communicate. According to the IACP Center For Social Media 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook which equates to 4,000 photos per second, Flickr users upload 3.5 million photos to the site and more than 45 million pictures are uploaded to Instagram every day. We can not deny that people are posting images every second and that it sets the idea that everyone can become a photographer if there is an access to a mobile phone with a camera. But then comes the question: is having a camera affecting the quality of photography and if there’s a difference between professional and amateur photographer?

Since the early stages of the digitalization of photography, purists were concerned that it would bring a catastrophic revolution that would end with this visual art. Nevertheless time has proved as Gunthert (2014) stated in his article From the Fluid Image to Connected Photography, that this first stage of digital transition had important consequences in the industry of images: the disappearance of laboratories, simplification of procedures, multiplication of numerical databases, and rise of prices. However, in spite of a considerable technological jump, we have been able to observe a remarkable continuity in the forms and uses.” Following his ideas, I believe the art of photography has not been destroyed; on the contrary it has renewed its uses and is becoming the language we use to express how we are feeling, what we are doing, what is important to us and how we want to be remembered.

Some people would say that the Internet and social media has become the place to find photography trash, but I would agree with Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer when he says in an article Hoy todos somos fotógrafos, pero con una cultura visual escasa: Pedro Meyer, that is not necessarily trash because it matter to someone, even the kitten or the dog photo. “Today they are all photographers, all generations, millions of people who share pictures and news with a small core of people, all self-referential, selfies, your children, pets, food, travel … but all that interests your published circle of friends and relatives.” According to Meyer, we are all photographers but we lack of a visual culture and there is a need educate people on how to read images, just like in the early stages of print: there were very few people able to read them, but over time a natural dynamic you created.

Based on this idea there is a difference between amateurs and professional photographers because is not just about managing the equipment (cellphone or professional camera) but having a visual culture and the purpose behind the photography. On the other hand the filters, the crop tools, the high-resolution properties on a camera could enhance the quality of the images, but it is all based on the ability to read and create good images. Our capacity to improve our visual culture will depend on the circles we are part of, the people we follow and the things/moments we share on social media. In this sense the level of quality will depend on the more of 4,000 photos per second we are exposed to everyday.

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If you search for the definition of autism you can find that it “is a developmental disorder- typically diagnosed around age three years- that affects the brain functions, specifically those areas that control social behaviors and communications skills. The term autism is frequently used in the literature to describe all of the disorders on the ASD spectrum” (Scott, 2006). When I read those words, I was trying to find information that could help me connect with my six years old cousin Edgar.

The medical definition was enlightening, but it couldn’t give me a lot of information about how I could communicate with him. Edgar was born in 2007 in the United States, and at age 20 months he was diagnosed with autism. He is the only child of Mexican parents, and he doesn’t speak. Mimics and noises are his ways of communicating. His current environment is a mix of English at school and Spanish at home, covered with tons of love from his parents, therapists, teachers, and relatives. When I met Edgar, I have just moved to Seattle and started going to his therapies so I could become a familiar entity for him.

As part of one of the core courses of the Communication Leadership Program at the University of Washington: “Leadership Through Story and Communities,” I had to create and art statement and product. This assignment presented me the opportunity to create a piece that could help me connect with my cousin. I wanted to learn how he perceives things, the way he communicates, and the way he’s learning to communicate with the rest of the world (us). The aim of this piece was to inspire and promote the understanding of this condition and to be marvelous for little things.

The process of creating this piece included researching literature related to the matter. Knowledge about autism has consistently changed from being a psychiatric disorder to a genius status, passing by the concept of a mixed bag and uneven abilities. Leo Kanner, a physician at John’s Hopkins University and pioneer in child psychiatry, proposed the term “Autism” in a paper for the first time in 1943. Kanner considered autism a psychiatric syndrome and individuals with this condition were institutionalized (Grandin, T. & Panek, R., 2013). Donna Williams an autism consultant (2014), reflects on the history of autism and the conception of it during the 90’s: “The only reason we developed pride specifically in being autistic since the mid-1990s is that it became associated with genius. In reality, though people with autism do have a range of abilities and talents, the ‘genius’ thing applies to around 1-10% of folks diagnosed on the spectrum. The rest are a mixed bag and uneven abilities are usually the norm and part of the diagnosis.”

On the other hand, the insights of a thirteen-years-old autistic boy, present an in-depth roadmap about it. He says, “People with autism must survive in an outside world, where special needs is playground slang for retarded, where meltdowns and panic attacks are viewed as tantrums, where disabilities allowance claimants are assumed by many be welfare scroungers” (Higashida, N., 2013). From this point of view, Autism becomes then not a disability but a variation of human perspective and interaction: “I think that people with autism are born outside the regime of civilization. Autism has somehow arisen out of this. Although people with autism look like other people physically, we are in fact very different in many ways. We are more like travelers from the distant past. And if by our being here, we could help the people of the world to remember what truly matters for the Earth, that would give us quite a pleasure” (Higashida, N., 2013).

Following the idea of a mixed bag and uneven abilities as the norm and part of the diagnosis, how can I get inside the brain of a kid who is part of this group? My approach consisted in recording Edgar’s daily life to capture the nature of his routines, the relationship with his parents and the role of therapy so I could understand his inner voice. Recording Edgar was a unique experience because when he was aware of the camera he hid from it, but when something else caught his attention you could presence something marvelous.

I’ve been saying for a while that communication is my field because that’s the thing I need to learn the most, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to pursue a master’s degree in this field. With each project of which I am part of, I keep learning new ways of communicating and finding out that (at least for me) it all comes down to something personal. So with this project, I wanted to connect with him, and he taught me so much in the process. The final piece became all the things I want to tell him, and that I hope he will listen to when he learns how to speak.

References:

–       Grandin, T. & Panek, R. (2013). The Meanings of Autism. The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 206

–       Higashida, N. & Mitchell, D., (2013). The reason I jump: The inner voice of a thirteen-year-old boy with autism. New York: Random House, pp. 151.

–       Scott, J. B., (2006). Occupational Therapy’s Role With Autism. AOTA The American Occupational Therapy Association, pp. 2.

–       Williams, D. (2014) The Changing Landscape  of Autism Diagnosis. Donna Williams’ Blog. Available at: http://blog.donnawilliams.net/2014/01/20/the-changing-landscape-of-autism-diagnosis/

I’ve been naming my reflection’s posts in a numerical format depending on the number of session and course in my master’s program, but this is the last one (named liked this). This was the second core class I took as part of the Communication Leadership Program. I have to say this course have made a big impact on me. All the other courses I’ve taken were academically and professionally fructifying, but “COM 536 A: Leadership Through Story and Communities: Creativity and the Digital Age”, has given me personal growth and deep understanding of what it feels to be part of a community. Credits to the responsible of this: our dear Professors Anita Verna Crofts and Sarah Slaid, but I must say that this class wouldn’t be successful without the members of this cohort, every one of them brought a spark to the dynamic, discussions and learning process of the course.

The final session of the class was divided in two parts. The first one consisted on listening this session’s amazing speakers: Josh Henderson a food entrepreneur member of the Huxley Wallace Collective, and Kate Lebo writer and founder of Pie School. Each of the speakers gave freshness to the session with great advice, going from Josh business philosophy “Stay true with who we are, but still playing in the game. It’s like dancing with the devil”, to Kate’s “Don’t get good at the thing you don’t want to do the rest of your life”. Both speaker’s presentations transmitted me that it’s not easy to fulfill your dreams, but it’s possible. It requires a lot of work, a loving and supporting family and to be convince about your beliefs.

The second part of the class was divided in three turns of showcase where all the members of cohort 13 presented pieces of art. It was impossible for me to see all of the marvelous pieces my classmates made, but the energy in the classroom was delightful. Each pieces was very extremely deep, some of them so personal and touching; others so bright and enlightened. From Kathy’s vulnerability art peace, Colette’s collections of poems to Zac’s reflective piece based on augmented reality, I was astonished.  The thing that amazed me the most is the community this course has created between us; the feedback, the support, the sharing, the respect and the empathy.

This class was the perfect image of a growing professional community that is based in respect and human connection, it’s not only about our professional concerns or learning experiences in this matters, it’s also about out personal growth and conquering our fears, it’s about getting out of the comfort zone and believing you can do it. To everyone, thank you for this life changing experience.

The end of this amazing class is nigh. The topic for this session was networks and giving. I was thrilled with all the insights my classmates had about Adam Grant’s book “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success” and the philosophy and work ethic shared by our guests; Steve Butcher and Kirin Bhatti.

There were a lot of ideas about the definition of givers, matchers and takers. I must say that there where two main thoughts that resonated with me. Katya Yefimova gave the first one, when she talked about the differences of defining giving and taking depending on the culture. I must agree that the way we see giving changes depending on the culture. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the day giving with out expecting something in return and with a genuine interest in help others, without forgetting to pursue your own interests, thing just fall in the right place. I think this because, when I look back and think about hard or difficult moments I’ve been through, help comes from where you less expected it, like in a karma sense of way.

The second idea I reflected and agreed on was when Laura Williams Argilla said: “I don’t think that giving, explaining why you are doing it, can never be harmful. Even when you’re not giving you are giving.” The process of giving also includes the moment when you don’t give; the meaning of giving as making an opportunity not doing the job for someone else.

I walked out of this class with two tenets that I would like to follow from now on:

  1. Don’t be afraid to express who you are and to embrace where you come from. To always be thankful. (Kirin Bhatti & Anita Verna Crofts).
  2. Success is not measure on the amount of money you make, but on the number of moments that cultivates from a fulfilling life. It is important to “shine, not burn. And always: treat people with respect, be transparent and do the right thing” (Steve Butcher).

This session was amazing from beginning to end. All the topics brought for conversation and the guest speakers started a deep inside dialogue (as always). I would like to star this reflection by thanking the entire cohort and our instructor Anita Verna Croft for all the effort in putting this class together.

It was a bit difficult to write all the ideas that we talked about last class, because it was a constant strike of thoughts and excitement. Nevertheless, I managed to list the next ideas:

  • Building community trough technology. This idea sounds fascinating and a trend. But we must consider the way different generations interact (new communities, younger generations) and the way societies embrace technology. Topic such as trust in online usage, interaction with the different screens, age, commerce and technological barriers must be tropicalized for each culture.
  • The necessity of creating a content strategy and a social media persona for an organization. It’s all about being “human” online, as Seattle Police Department shared with us. Even though we are becoming a more technology dependable society and it seems like we are running away from the traditional face-to-face interaction, it’s rather interesting we eager for “human like” content to be engaged. Could this apply to future generations as well?
  • The Internet provides the possibility of creating your online persona and enhances the speech freedom. The ability to be what ever you want to be, and speak up, “comes with consequences” like our classmate Laura Williams-Argilla said. I believe it is important to keep a congruent image and being coherent in our behavior online, at it is supposed to be in offline interactions. I know this sound like an utopia, but at least is a subject to be thoughtful about when managing a online entity’s image.
  • Seattle Police Department Public Affair staff is mind-blowing and they are rocking it at their job. Having these guys as guests’ speakers for the class gave what I’ve been searching for: social media examples that are working in real life. Even though it is really hard to change the image people have on the SPD, they are trying to connect and they are doing a great job at it. Congratulations in creating a tone and in being innovators in the usage of social media for governmental institutions. My only concern is, what would happen to the image of the SPD if the contract with their current twitter/blog voice, Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, were terminated? I know that as social media mangers it is important to built credibility and a name, but what happens when you are no longer part of the organizations you used to work at? Is it possible to create an identity, a tone, a roadmap of action for an organization to keep the strategy even when you are gone?

Leadership Through Story And Communities is the name of the second core course of the Communication Leadership Program. The topic of this session was about leading through change and to explain it we had Project Feast invited as guest. I must say that I got inspired by its philosophy and by the work this organization is doing.

The three points that resonated with me during this class are:

  1. Technology could be a great tool to create community and to enhance your influence as a leader, but as Veena Prasad executive director of Project Feast said: “you can’t create something online that doesn’t already exist, without doing it first in face to face interaction”. By this I am not saying that deep human interaction can’t be done trough the use of technological devices, but there’s something about face-to-face communication that I don’t believe technology has reached yet.
  2. There are several types of leadership, but all they have one thing in common; you lead by example. Some leaders must not be as charismatic as we would like them to be, but I believe that their leadership could be inspiring if they are working to common goals and are being congruent. Also, as Anita Verna Crofts, instructor of this course, said: “to have influence you do your best work”.
  3. As a leader going through change you have to make the effort to get out of the comfort zone whether the change is coming as an internal or external force. This also means taking into consideration how things would (and have to) work smoothly if your time as a leader ends.

I must say that giving (receiving) feedback to the people you are working with and considering yourself as part of the team, will create a communication channel based on trust providing a collaborative work environment. Leading through change is a challenging task, but mastering leadership and being flexible can achieve it.

In my last quarter’s final essay I talked about my impressions of being part of a talented group of people and the implications of being in the Communication Leadership Program. Working in a room full of leaders is a complicated task, lot of ideas, and multiple people trying to be the one saying the last word, the one holding the helm. It is quite fascinating; you learn a lot.

 My thoughts on John Maeda Redesigning Leadership’s book and the whole context of his presidency at the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) can be summarized in the next four bullet points:

  1. Lead by example and getting things done. “We artist and designers aren’t afraid to get our hands dirty in the process of making works of art, and that same unbridled spirit can feed naturally into the challenges of leadership. A creative leader is someone who leads with dirty hands, much the way an artist’s hands are often literally dirty with paint”. (156-910)
  2. Create a collaborative system. Although Maeda believes that a true leader is a person who can “get people on board with his vision”, is also a person who’s looking for solutions in other people as well.  The ability to listen to others and make them feel part of the project is the glue that will maintain the collaborative spirit alive: “understand the power of collaboration” (Phillips, P. 2012)
  3. As a leader you can’t be a gold coin (loved by everyone), because everyone has his or her own agenda. The important thing to remember is that ego shouldn’t get in the way of creating and completing community goals.
  4. Generating consensus it is part of being a leader only when it comes to making all the parts involved agreeing on following what is the best for the project.
  5. A leader knows that he or she is part of a team. That they have got the skills to lead but that they are learning too.

 To be a leader is no easy task, you will be loved and hated at the same time. I believe, that sometimes leadership is not about your name becoming recognized as a leader. It is about understanding the system you work with. I completely agree with Maeda when he says that: “work is easier when it’s just work, it’s much harder when you actually care”. Caring for the people you work with and creating deep relationships is hard, but it will enhance clear communication channels that will produce effective workflows.

References: