The Quest For The Post-Human

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Everywhere we look around us, Artificial Intelligence is taking over our workplaces, our streets and even our living spaces. Siri controls our phones, Alexa is in charge of our homes and robots are conquering our kitchens. AI is even being taught how to write poetry! We seem to be wanting to create an artificial new version of ourselves, one that corrects all the flaws and limitations that are inherently human. But, a future when the robots take over the world is still far from becoming a reality.

AI programs and devices are still tools to support humans in performing activities that go beyond human capabilities. Machines can perform extraordinary tasks but, when it comes to analysing the results of these activities or making critical decisions, humans still have to step in. In reality, the computer intelligence that powers AI is still, nowadays, more human than it might seem. AI software is created, managed and supported by humans. It takes 10000 people to make Amazon’s Alexa work.

Humans v2.0, post-humans or however you want to call them, will be a species beyond our wildest expectations, capable of doing things that we can’t even dream of today. And, in this quest to create a better version of us humans, we have already produced human-machine hybrids, a breed unable to live their lives separate from their smartphones. But, in spite of the fact that his technology has turned us into some sort of superhumans, we are still pretty much Humans v1.0.

Over the weekend, during a conversation about AI replacing humans, one of the arguments that a I heard was that in order for machines to replace us they must have something that, at the moment, only humans possess: our self-awareness. According to Ai Weiwei, what gives the concept of humanity a special meaning is our self-awareness and the actions that we take to uphold human dignity.

Therefore, in order to create a better version of a human, this new post-human species must not only be able to exceed the limitations that our brains and bodies have, but it must also be able to solve the issues that make us so inefficient as a collective, like our lack of empathy for our own people (70 million refugees roam the planet at the moment of writing this post) or how careless we are with the ecosystem that keeps us alive, for instance.

However, no matter how far a future when the machines take over is, I for one am not looking forward to the day when the post-humans arrive. I am not against technological advances, and I appreciate everything that we have accomplished as a species. But, I like humans. We are beautiful organic machines capable of loving and creating so much beauty that I think that we deserve a chance even if our imperfections make us do the most horrible of things. We don’t need a post-human at the moment, we just need to fix the human that we already have.

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A World That Others Can't See... with Chloe Rosser

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Our role as photographers is to capture a world that others can't see, and in this process we leave a little bit of us in every photo that we take. In a way, every single one of our photographs is also a portrait of ourselves.

In this series, A World That Others Can't See, I ask fellow photographers to talk about an image from their portfolios in order to discover the stories behind their work and to learn about the person behind the lens.

For the third post of the series, Chloe Rosser talks about her image 'Function 5, 4'. Chloe is a photographic artist based in London represented by L A Noble Gallery who has just released her new book Form & Function, available at Stay Free Publishing.

Chloe says: "This image is from my Form & Function series. In this work I hide all the identifying features of the figures - the heads, hair and hands. When seeing a body like this, you can't make the usual assumptions or judgements about a person that you normally would. Instead, you're able to focus on the details of the structure of the figure.

'Function 5, 4' © Chloe Rosser

'Function 5, 4' © Chloe Rosser

For these works, I try to use natural light whenever I can. I was usually shooting in people's homes, which means utilising window light as much as possible. This image doesn't get shown very much when the project is featured or exhibited, but it's actually one of my favourites. That's because of the quality of the light and how it falls beautifully over their shoulders, spines and muscles. They look so statuesque to me.

The other aspect I love about this image is the angle at which one of the figure's leg rests. It looks so strange, almost amputated. It rests there heavily and relaxed, but in a position which looks so awkward. Almost painful, but so calm.

The sole of that figure's foot is dirty from the floor. I see that as a little pop of humanity. We're looking at this pile of body parts, but right there is evidence of the human act of walking. For the same reason, I leave all the marks on the floors and walls - because it's proof the space is lived in.

I shot this image on a Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105 mm lens using natural light. The image is featured in my new book, Form & Function"

Thank you so much, Chloe, for sharing with me such beautiful image from your breathtaking work! You can see more of Chloe's amazing work on www.chloerosser.co.uk.


If you haven't read the previous posts of this series, you can check the whole series here. I hope you liked this new post and stay tuned for a different photographer each month!

Photo credit: portrait of Chloe Rosser © 2019 JC Candanedo

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A World Without Social Media Likes

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Picture for a second a world without social media likes and follower counts. Would you still use social media? I think very few people would. What made the social media phenomenon so successful had less to do with the social part of it and more to do with the need that we have to be liked and accepted. Is a utopian world without likes and follower counts on social media possible? Some think it is.

Platforms like Facebook or Instagram play with our self-esteem and hook us by making us think that the more likes or people following us that we have, the better we are. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, women’s magazines have been doing it for ages making women feel bad about themselves and their bodies to hook them into buying the products from their advertisers.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently told an audience that the "follower count" on the social platforms is meaningless and that, back in the day, when they were still developing the tool, they were not really thinking about it as an important feature. Little did they know that it would become the most important feature for users, advertisers and anyone profiting from social media in general. These days, however, Twitter is considering discontinuing the “likes” feature.

How would a post-likes, post-follower-count world look like? Would social media platforms be relevant anymore? Maybe this would be the biggest digital revolution since social media itself. People sharing ideas and having meaningful connections without the popularity contest that these platforms have turned into. A real social platform.

Could this even be possible? How would you feel if you weren’t able to tell if anyone watched or liked your posts or stories? How would the so-called influencers make a living? Maybe it would be a more democratic and less noisy social media environment, where the algorithms of these platforms wouldn’t be able to favour the posts of those users with more likes and followers, or where the motivation to write a post would be to share knowledge rather than to clickbait people for traffic and conversion.

Maybe I’m just being too naive and someone would find a way to keep on profiting from our vanity and egos. Whoever figures it out and finds a way to monetize it will be ahead of the game. Is anyone up for the challenge?

Photo credit: photo by Ruby Rose.

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What Is Wrong With Being Human?

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The other day, I was having a conversation with some people in the industry about computer-generated models and the brands that have started to promote them (Fenty and Balmain). They argued that this is just a trend and that it won’t necessarily mean that CGI models will replace human models in the future, as some people fear. But, nonetheless, as a consumer, I feel like it’s a bit insulting. In times when we are trying to make the industry more diverse and inclusive, we don’t need brands to make us feel that humans are not perfect enough for their advertisement campaigns.

After that conversation, however, I spent the rest of the day thinking about our perception of what is real and our relationship with everything that is fake around us. We spend our days interacting in social media and, to be honest, nothing that we see in social media is real. The curated version of ourselves that everyone sees is not really us. There is more to being us than what we let others see.

Photographer Rankin performed an experiment with 14 teenagers where he took their portrait and handed them the image to edit and filter until they felt that it was ‘social media ready’. Participants mimicked their idols, making their eyes bigger, their nose smaller and their skin brighter, and all for social media likes.

This week, during a client photoshoot, I spent the whole day posting videos and photos on my social media showing the beautiful work that we were creating. For everyone out there, that is my life. That is who I am. Yet, I only spend around 10% of my time taking photos. I never show in my social media when I am doing admin work, or when I am retouching, or when I am doing my taxes.

Nobody saw me when I woke up on the day of that shoot with sleep in my eyes and rushing to use the toilet, or when I came back from the shoot and crashed on the couch completely knackered. Those moments in my life are also a part of who I am, and probably a more human version of me than what others see, but not a very promotion-worthy one. For, in the end, that is all we do in social media, promoting a curated version of ourselves.

Those in-between moments are what makes us humans, what makes us real. And there is nothing wrong with being human, there is nothing to be ashamed of. But our industry is based on selling a fantasy, an unattainable life that presumably everyone aspires to and is tricked into thinking that by buying from a certain brand we get closer to it. The problem is that the level of perfection of a CGI model is unreachable and it would hook us into searching for that dreamed life forever. The dream of every advertising agent might be the doom of our self-image and our mental health.

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Emma Steventon.

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Creative Pioneers at The Trampery

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According to a report from the Creative Industries Federation, the creative industries are the fastest growing part of the UK economy. These creative businesses share many of the challenges that are faced by the wider business community, but these challenges are particularly felt by those in the creative industries due to factors such as the high volume of self-employed workers and the micro size of creative enterprises. Creative enterprises tend to be unaware of the finance and business support available for them because many times those offering finance and support either lack in their understanding of the way the creative industries work, or can’t tailor their product or service to the specific needs of creatives. Enter Creative Pioneers, a programme run by The Trampery to support early-stage, emerging creative businesses and startups.

Photo by Cris @ The Trampery

Photo by Cris @ The Trampery

Through Creative Pioneers, The Trampery addresses the rising cost of workspace in London by offering selected participants free desk-space and membership to The Trampery Republic in East London for six months, including access to a curated programme of member events offering both business and wellbeing support. Successful participants are asked to contribute to the culture of growing supportive and creative environments, and the community at The Trampery Republic, by hosting at least one event or equivalent skill shares throughout their tenure.

I am happy to announce that, starting January 2019 and for the following six months, I will be part of the Creative Pioneers programme and will be working from The Trampery Republic.

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Who Stole Pink From Men?

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When I read the news that the new Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights of Brazil, Damares Alves, said that a new era begins where boys will wear blue and girls will wear pink, I thought to myself: is this still a thing? I was under the impression that we had moved past this whole ‘blue for boys / pink for girls’ thing a few decades ago, but oh! was I wrong! Just a quick browse at the major retailers online shows that the majority of them still support the idea that colours have a gender. In times when the fight for a fairer and more equal society should be on every brand’s agenda, why does it seem like so many fashion brands still haven’t gotten the memo?

Last year, I wrote about our loyalty to brands that don’t deserve it. So, for this post, I decided to start my research by going to the kids section of the online stores of the brands that I spoke about in that previous post: Nike and Adidas. I was shocked to see that these brands are still designing clothes for kids predominantly using pink and pastel colours for girls and more neutral and bold colours for boys. And it doesn’t end there, other brands like H&M, Zara, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and even the very progressive Desigual perpetuate these colour roles as well. From all the websites that I visited, the only one that had a more neutral gender store was Hollister, to my surprise.

If you asked the creative directors of any of these brands the reason behind this, they might tell you that the trends for boys this season don’t include pink, or that if they designed clothes for kids switching these gender roles parents wouldn’t buy them because their children wouldn’t want to wear them. But children don’t make these decisions on their own, they have been conditioned by their family, the media or society in general to think like this. I am convinced that if any of our children’s male heroes or male role models wore more pink, we would see a rise in pink coloured clothes sales for that season for boys.

Besides, this idea that pink is feminine and blue is masculine is a very recent invention. Until the arrival of pastel colours, the colour for children of any gender used to be white. According to the Smithsonian Institution, at the beginning of the 20th century, that is less than 100 years ago, colours began to be assigned to genders with pink being promoted as a colour for boys because it was ‘decided and strong’. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century when trends changed and the colours for genders were switched to blue for the boys and pink for the girls. But, as a trend, it faded away until the mid-80’s when it came back thanks to the pregnancy test brands and have since been imprinted in our minds.

As a photographer, I know that the message behind the colours that we use in imagery can be very powerful. But I also know that colours don’t have an innate meaning; humans assign it to them. For instance, in the western world, the colour red can be associated with love, passion and sensuality, but a red flag is a sign of risk and danger. Meanwhile, in countries like China, red means good luck, happiness or success. In some cultures, white symbolizes purity but in other cultures, it is associated with death.

Not a single colour means the same to two different people. What a colour makes someone feel is something unique to the individual. If you need a colour to be able to tell your children apart, then you have a different problem. But a boy won’t feel less masculine if he wears pink unless you make him feel that way. Besides, what does feeling masculine or feminine even mean to a baby? Babies start developing their identities as they grow and if a baby boy identifies as a male they will continue feeling like a male no matter how much pink you put on them.

The fashion industry has a massive impact on our lives, even if one is not conscious about it. We express ourselves through the clothes we wear. They speak about our mood of the day, our cultural backgrounds, our political stances or what we do for a living. Sometimes, they can also be used as tools of oppression.

The message behind the words of Minister Alves is about undoing everything that we have accomplished in terms of gender equality. We mustn’t let that happen, we must fight back. As an industry, we have the most incredible tool at our disposal for the task, one that is so powerful and ubiquitous that it can reach every single person on the planet. Stop forcing pastels onto girls and let’s get more boys to wear pink

Photo credit: me, age 2.

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'Tis The Season Of Returns

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Before becoming a fashion photographer, I worked for a fashion brand for many years and I can tell you, without the shadow of a doubt, that one of the worst nightmares for retailers is the reverse logistics (a.k.a. the returns). The return of an item shopped online unleashes an inverse journey that accounts for a loss of an average of £2.2 billion for businesses, according to figures from early 2018. Will online shops ever be able to reach the point of no return?

The sales process does not end when the product reaches the hands of the consumer, it ends when the consumer is satisfied with what they have bought or have been gifted. For Black Friday last year, I wrote a post where I spoke about how selling more doesn’t equate to making more profit. And this fact is even clearer when you are dealing with returns. It used to be that the average returns rate for offline shops was 8.9%, but in today’s e-commerce environment the rate has gone up to 30%.

Just picture that, 30% of what a brand sells online will be returned to them and, sadly, if a brand wants to stay competitive in today’s market they will probably have to cover all the returns expenses: shipping, quality checking, sorting, re-stocking, re-selling, etc. As unfair as this may sound, offering free returns are a necessary evil. If brands want to stay relevant and possibly sell more they have to accept the fact that returns are part of their cost of doing business.

Minimizing this returns rate is one of the biggest challenges for retailers nowadays. Many have already started investing resources in tackling one of the main reasons for customers returns, which is sizing. You may ask yourself, why is it that in 2019 we still haven’t found a way to have global standard fitting metrics? Well, mainly because there is no such thing as a standard type of body with standard proportions. But, there are many other reasons which include fabric types, pattern designs, etc which affect the way that the clothes fit. Two identical size medium t-shirts with exactly the same measurements but made out of different types of fabric have a different fit.

The whole sizing problem deserves a new blog post on its own (stay tuned). But basically, back in the day, you would go to a brick and mortar shop, you would try on the product and then you would decide whether to buy it or not. These days, most of our shopping is done online and it is common practice to buy several sizes of an item and return the ones that don’t fit. This comes with an immense cost for the retailer.

Sizing is not the only reason for returns, other reasons include defective items, fraud (wear and return) or simply how easy and inexpensive it is to return an item. But, no matter the reason for the return, the whole reverse logistics process comes with big consequences:

  • Cost of reverse logistics: like I mentioned before, returns are really expensive. The item that is returned needs to be shipped back, checked for defects, sent to the warehouse from where it came from (most brands outsource the returns process and the items are shipped to a different warehouse when they are returned) and re-stocked so that it can be available for sale again.

  • Missed season: when dealing with seasonal products, the whole returns process can take too long for the item to be re-sold under the same season. This affects particularly fashion brands that would end up sending the item to outlets or reselling them on the secondary market (TJ-Maxx, or ‘TK-Maxx’ in the UK, specializes in buying this type of stock).

  • Customer loyalty: as I said before, returns are a necessary evil. Not offering a simple and free returns policy may discourage customers from buying from a brand again.

  • The environment: this is a consequence that should concern both the brand and the consumer, because shipping an item twice, back and forth, has double the carbon footprint. Also, some retailers like Amazon don’t provide return labels and the customer has to print them at home or find a place to print them, which has an impact on the environment of its own.

Finding a solution to reduce the number of returns will require involving both brands and consumers. On the one hand, brands need to make greater efforts in providing more accurate ways for consumers to see how a product fits. On the other hand, consumers should be aware of the consequences of returning an item and refrain from practices like the ones mentioned prior (e.g. buying several sizes of the same item and returning the ones that don’t fit).

Reaching the point of no return might take longer than expected, but understanding this reality as brands and as consumers might help make the buying process more successful and hopefully reduce its impact on the planet.

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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New Year News: New Newsletter

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I am aware that the title of this first post of 2019 is like a tongue twister, but I sort of like how you can’t read it more than three times in a row without starting to get it wrong. And now that I’ve got your attention, here are the New Year News: I’ve designed a new newsletter to inform my subscribers about the updates in my blog.

If you are subscribed to my blog updates, you already noticed that the email that I send weekly has been completely redesigned. If you haven’t subscribed yet, what are you waiting for? The new newsletter features a link to the current week’s post, a link to an image that I have taken, a link to an article or post that I have read in the recent past and that I feel is worth sharing, and a link to a post from my blog’s archive. You can check it out here!

For the longest time I wanted to be able to share with my subscribers something more than just an update from my blog, but I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. It wasn’t until I subscribed to Carl Burkitt’s newsletter entitled Carl Tells Tales that I found the inspiration that I needed. If you don’t know Carl, please go check him out and subscribe to his newsletter.

I hope that you are as excited about these changes as I am! Thanks for reading and thank you so much for your continuous support!

Happy 2019!

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Is A Better World Possible?

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Just a few days until the end of the year and I have been reflecting on the state of the world these days. Judging by the news outlets and our social media feeds, the world as we know it is coming to an end. We are doomed. This is the worst time in history to be alive. But, if you think about it carefully, it is impossible for this to be the worst time ever. Just picture our parents and grandparents who lived through two world wars, two post-war depressions, a few civil wars, hundreds of dictatorships and many economic recessions, and still, they managed to raise your parents and raise you so that you could make it to where you are today. Is this really the worst time ever or is it that we have no idea what tough times are really like?

Don’t get me wrong, admittedly there are some really bad things happening in the world today and we must address them and try to fix them. However, before writing this post, I started thinking about how to make this a better world. So, I wrote a list of the things that I thought could be changed in order to achieve that and, when my list got to almost a hundred lines, I learned two lessons:

  1. Most of the things that I consider to be in urgent need of fixing will never compare to having your city taken over by Nazis and your family sent to concentration camps.

  2. If I started filtering people who committed any of the “crimes” in my list out of my life, I’d probably end up alone in the world.

I’m not trying to say that nowadays there are no people going through hell and possibly living the worst situations imaginable, but the majority of us complaining about the state of the world today live very privilege and comfortable lives and don’t really know suffering. Things are not that bad in comparison to where we come from, they just seem worse because of the way the media and our feeds are exposing us to them.

I read somewhere that mayflies only live for a few hours. For them, 3 hours is a lifetime. Our species gets to live to a hundred years these days, that’s 300000 mayflies’ lifetimes. For the last 100 million years, mayflies have only existed to be born, reproduce and die. However, human beings went from living an average of 31 years in 1900 to the life expectancy that we have today. Clearly, we live better lives these days than at any point in history.

We mustn’t stop fighting to right the wrongs in the world today, but we must also count our blessings and acknowledge how far we have come as a species. Let’s condemn the wrongdoings, but let’s also praise the accomplishments that we have achieved. There are good people doing really good things out there, but only the bad ones are getting all the press. Besides, if we want to keep on fighting to make things better, we must at least know that there is the possibility for things to get better. In the words attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Have a wonderful 2019.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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One Singular Sensation

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Yesterday, I watched the movie ‘A Chorus Line’ for the first time and when the cast started singing ‘One Singular Sensation’ I thought to myself that this is the perfect set of words to describe the special feeling of this season. The cold, the decorations, the friends and family gatherings, “these are a few of my favourite things!” However, being so fond of this season made me feel very guilty for a long time because I am a Humanist and, even though I was brought up in an atheist family, I’ve been celebrating these holidays all my life. In our defence, “everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?”

Long before Christianity took over Europe, many cultures had celebrations throughout the year that are now considered as part of the Christian religious calendar. Christians appropriated of most of the Pagan festivities and made them their own, like conveniently making us believe that their prophet was born in late December so that we had to celebrate Christmas instead of the Winter Solstice. So, if I’m not Christian, I shouldn’t feel bad about celebrating this season because these holidays are not even theirs in the first place. They just took over them.

Anyway, if you think about it, Pagan festivities were also religious festivities and, as a Humanist, I am a non-religious person and I shouldn’t even be celebrating those either. What a conundrum! Perhaps the solution that I should come up with for my dilemma is to appropriate myself of the already appropriated festivities and make them my own, taking out the religious connotations and the myths and making this season about being happy for the people in my life and about sharing this happiness and love with others. In the end, that is what being a Humanist is all about.

Happy Holidays 2018 and let Love be stronger than the differences that divide us.

Photo credit: photo by Ivan Weiss.

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Thanks For Stopping By Last Folio Friday!

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Thanks to everyone who made it down to The Photographers’ Gallery last Friday for December 2018 Folio Friday! I had a really nice time chatting to so many interesting people who gave me beautiful and constructive feedback about my work. Also, I got to see what fellow photographers and artists are currently working on and learned about the work that the hosts Steve Macleod and Hannah-Katrina Jedrosz do.

Folio Fridays present an opportunity for photographers to present their work to the The Photographers’ Gallery’s audiences. Each photographer gets a table for visitors to sit and view their work.

The resident host for these sessions is photographer and educator Steve Macleod, who is also the Creative Director at Metro Imaging. A guest speaker is also invited for each session. Both Steve and the guest speaker also meet with each photographer as part of the afternoon.

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Hannah-Katrina Jedrosz is a documentary, portraiture and travel photographer who hopes to make photographs that are authentic, observant, and emotionally engaged. She is also the founder of PhotoScratch.

To learn more about Folio Fridays and The Photographers’ Gallery visit thephotographersgallery.org.uk.

Photo credit: photo by Hannah-Katrina Jedrosz.

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Folio Friday At The Photographers' Gallery

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On Friday afternoons, once a month, up to 12 photographers and artists present their work to the public in the Eranda Studio at The Photographers’ Gallery. The programme runs from 2pm to 5pm and it is included with an exhibition day pass for all members of the public. Come and join me this coming Friday, December the 7th, 2018, while I will be presenting the work that I am currently working on.

The Photographers' Gallery was founded in London in 1971 as the first public gallery in the UK dedicated to the medium and remains a leader in the presentation and exploration of photography in all its forms. It has been instrumental in promoting photography’s pivotal and influential role in culture and society and ensuring its position as a significant art form.

Located in the heart of Soho in central London, it is easily accessed by the Tube, National Rail and London Buses:

The Photographers' Gallery

16 – 18 Ramillies Street

London

W1F 7LW

Exhibition Day Pass £5 (£2.50 Concessions)

I hope to see you there!

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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Don't Rush

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The other day, a non-English speaker asked me to explain the word banter to them. I had a really hard time finding a word in Catalan or even in Spanish that could explain the concept. Maybe there is one and I couldn’t come up with it, or maybe there isn’t. The point is that, no matter how long I’ve been speaking my mother tongues for, I definitely don’t know every word there is to know in those languages. How then do I expect to be an expert on anything else that I have just started doing?

I need to cut myself some slack. I can’t possibly become an expert in something that I’ve only been doing for a few years now, or expect to produce the best work of my career when I have probably 30 more years of career ahead of me. Besides, the word expert becomes outdated easily. When you become an expert in something, that something is already obsolete. You have to keep updating yourself which means that you are always learning, you are never 100% expert in anything. And that is totally fine. That means you are growing.

It’s difficult to see your own progress because you are the one living your own life. For you, everything that you are doing feels like a work in progress; for others, you might be producing some really outstanding work. I have to stop and take a breath and try to see myself from other people’s perspectives. The signs are there, I just need to see them: some interesting people are starting to notice my work; my clients keep on wanting to work with me; I get recognized when I go to events in spite of the fact that I’ve only been living in this city for a bit more than 4 years. I must be doing something right.

This is not a competition to become famous and it’s definitely not one to see who makes the most money. This is your life and it’s less like a race and more like a journey. Anything that is worth achieving takes time. You weren’t born as a 45-year-old adult; it took you 45 years to get to where you are.

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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I Wish I Had Known... About Contemporary Poetry!

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This is the sixteenth post in my series of monthly posts where I speak with people in the creative industries and ask them questions about the things that "I Wish I Had Known" when I started out as a creative myself.

Being a big fan of Erin Bolens, you can imagine what an honour it was for me when she agreed to have a chat with me about what it is like being a contemporary poet, about her inspirations and about where in the UK can poetry enthusiasts and fans go to enjoy good poetry:

1. We met in 2017 during your beautiful performance at the Thames Festival's Boat Poets session at the The National Poetry Library and since then you can consider me a huge fan! Why do you think we need poetry?

That's so kind. I think my favourite part of doing this is meeting people along the way, so it's always great to come across those who are curious about poetry.

For me poetry is like a kaleidoscope - it's a small space with such a lot of detail in. Each read of a poem is a bit like shaking the kaleidoscope - you see a different pattern, a different colour and I love that. Poetry is a great shapeshifter and rises to lots of challenges so well. We turn to it both in times of sadness and celebration and I don't think that's ever going to change but I also love it when someone discovers poems that speak to their everyday life.

If it's something you relate to then it's a mirror that makes your perspective feel seen and if it's something you have never thought of then it's like seeing a new view or a door opening on a sight you weren't expecting. I love both.

2. How does one become a poet? Is it something that you study for or is it a talent that you are born with?

I think the habit and love of writing regularly is something some people develop very early on of their own accord and you can definitely create some brilliant poetry that way. You certainly don't have to study poetry in the formal sense to be a poet but listening to and reading a broad range of writing will definitely help to keep you experimenting and will fuel a useful curiosity about how words can be used.

3. What are the career opportunities for poets today?

I think this is a really exciting time for poetry. Perhaps it always feels like that when you are immersed in a particular world, but I do think there is an increasing number of spaces and platforms for readers and writers of poetry which is very exciting.

There isn't one thing that makes it possible for writing to be my job. I have worked with children since I was a teenager so doing that through poetry was a natural step for me and I really love it but it isn't for everyone. I do a mix of teaching, performing and writing commissions both for individuals, events or companies and organisations.

4. Do you remember a time before writing poetry?

Um not really. However, I don't think I would ever have called it poetry until much later on because for a long time I saw poetry as a very structured, quite old fashioned thing. For me, it was dictated by rules and it took a long time for me to discover how fluid and varied and expansive that label can be. That's not to say those structures can't be exciting but they're definitely not the only definition of poetry.

5. How has poetry changed your life?

Oh massively. It's always sort of been there because I've written for ages but I think discovering the world of performed poetry was pretty life-changing for me. I've always enjoyed stories and talking with other people and this combined the two for me.

I have a background in acting and at that time I found the autonomy of being able to write something true and perform it yourself really liberating. It became my favourite thing to do very quickly.

Aside from it being my work, just writing for myself is something that I get a lot of benefits from. It helps me to clarify my thoughts and feelings and is just a big source of calm and joy for me. Also frustration of course, but it's the positives that are always heavier.

6. Who inspires you?

This is a really tricky one and something I'm always adding to. For me, it's a big old melting pot that includes brilliant people from history to people I've met once at a bus stop who tell me something which changes my way of thinking or encourages me to do something.

I regularly work with The Poetry Takeaway which is a mobile space where Poets chat to people and turn those conversations into poems which are taken away and often treasured for a long time. It's a really beautiful thing and last year I wrote for a brilliant woman called Enid. She is one of the biggest poetry fans I have ever met and since then we have become friends. She has given me such incredibly kind and well thought out encouragement and advice. Recently, she told me not to deny myself any pleasure and not to over analyse poems.

For that and many other reasons, I would say she definitely inspires me.

7. When most people think about poetry, they think of the classics. But, like you, there are many contemporary poets out there that are equally as good as the classics, if not better. Do you have any contemporary poetry heroes or sheroes?

Yeah definitely. So many poets I admire and know are constantly reshaping my understanding of poetry and how it can be used.

  • Hollie McNish is a modern poetry Goddess and played a big part in me not feeling embarrassed to use rhyme if I wanted to.

  • Caleb Femi was the first Young People's Laureate for London and does incredible work with poetry in film.

  • Vanessa Kissule is doing brilliant things as the first City Poet for Bristol.

  • Toby Campion is one of my absolute favourite writers, performers and people and keeps everyone on their toes with how brilliant each new piece of work is.

  • Harry Baker is one of the most joyous poets and people ever. His love of playing around with words is so infectious and is always my go-to cynicism antidote.

8. Prose or verse? Or both?

Oh, both. Everything, all of it. Like with music, I think there are space and time for all ways of making and presenting any form or style of writing. I don't think it is possible for the existence of one to dilute another. You can have favourites of course, and for me, they change all the time, but I don't think anything is ever unworthy just because it doesn't speak to me today.

9. You contribute to shaping the young generation of poets through your workshops and your involvement in programmes like the Boat Poets residency. How can aspiring poets take part in these activities?

Projects like Boat Poets have been such a big part of my writing and life. They provide time, support and connections which expand your opportunities, help your confidence to grow and your work to develop and to be influenced by things other than your immediate thoughts and surroundings.

There are absolutely loads and I'll probably remember the best tomorrow but here are a few that I have taken part in or that I know have been a big part of the journeys of writers I know.

  • The Roundhouse in London. If you are under 26 you can enter their slam (usually takes place in early summer each year), apply for their poetry collective or to be a resident artist.

  • Apples and Snakes - they regularly put on brilliant workshops across and master classes for all ages and levels of experience across the UK. Their project 'The Writing Room' is another excellent collective based writing course.

  • SLAMbassadors - The Poetry Society's national youth poetry slam championships for 13-18-year-olds.

  • UNIslam - annual poetry slam bringing together teams from universities across the UK for a mixture of workshops and performances.

  • Barbican Young Poets - annual poetry course for young writers at the Barbican Centre in London.

10. Where can people find out about your schedule and performances?

I keep up most things on erinbolens.com

Thank you so much, Erin, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you and learning about what being a poet is all about. It is everything that I Wish I Had Known!


If you haven't read the previous posts of this series, you can check the whole series here. I hope you liked this new post and stay tuned for a different creative each month!

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Is Black Friday Still Worth It For Anyone?

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Black Friday 2018 is nearly here and the world is getting ready for the biggest sales day of the year. A day where the big brands will try to sell you almost everything that they have in stock and consumers will buy almost anything, even if it means spending more than they can afford. It is a fierce competition among store owners, but also among bargain hunters. Sadly, it is a competition where the winners are hardly winning, and the losers may lose it all.

I have my doubts on whether Black Friday is really that good for brands and consumers. On the one hand, even if it is true that it is the biggest sales day of the year, anyone who runs a business can tell you that more sales don’t equal more profit. Also, if you have to discount everything to be able to sell something, the discounted price is your new full-price. On top of that, if everyone is waiting for the best deals on Black Friday, who will buy your products at regular prices during the rest of the year? In the end, brands would have to give out their products for free if we continue at this pace (I spoke about this in this post).

On the other hand, one could argue that Black Friday is not that good for the consumer either. The whole shopping experience during that day is awful and it makes you question your faith in humanity. Besides, there are always reports of brands pumping their prices up before Black Friday so that they can offer discounts on the day.

But, for me, the biggest losers during Black Friday are not whom you might think:

  • Small brands: smaller brands that don’t take part on Black Friday or can’t compete with the discounts offered by bigger brands because they have smaller margins and can’t afford to make drastic discounts. You might think “well, it’s the survival of the fittest”, but you must remember that small and medium businesses are the ones that keep the economy alive.

  • The economy: if stores do most of their sales of the year during Black Friday and the rest of the year customers are hardly buying their products, what is the need for brands to keep shops open all year long wasting money on staff, rent, utilities, warehouses, etc? Who is going to hire all that staff or rent all those commercial spaces if brands don’t need them anymore?

  • The environment: Black Friday does not only result in over-spending, but it also brings over-consumption and waste. Consumers not only tend to wait until Cyber Monday to renew their devices, but they also buy some new ones that they didn’t even need just because they were offered at a discounted price, contributing to the electronic waste that is piling up in the landfills all over the planet.

Brands and consumers alike should reassess whether keeping the tradition of Black Friday alive is worth all the hassle. For what is the point of a competition where everyone loses in the end?

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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Doors Open Journeys

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Every time that we open a door, a journey begins. Four years ago, I started writing this blog without ever imagining where this journey would take me. Today, more than 200 posts later, I can say that it has been one of my proudest creations.

Thank you so much for reading it, for supporting me and for coming back every Wednesday to share with me what I learn about my business, about London and about life.

I promise you that I will keep on putting my 100% into it because if I can help or change at least one person’s life with any of my posts all the effort will be completely worth it.

These are the most-read posts of the last 4 years:

Models: Beware Of Fake Model Agencies

Models: Beware Of Fake Model Agencies

I Wish I Had Known… About Fashion Journalism!

I Wish I Had Known… About Fashion Journalism!

What If The Goal Is Becoming You

What If The Goal Is Becoming You

I Fell Down And Nobody Helped Me

I Fell Down And Nobody Helped Me

Take The Blindfold Off

Take The Blindfold Off

A World That Others Can’t See with Ivan Weiss

A World That Others Can’t See with Ivan Weiss

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We Don't See Ourselves As We Are

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The person under the ET costume is me, circa Halloween 1982. I don’t remember much about that day, just that my brother got to be a cool Storm Trooper and I was dressed up as an awkward alien. Growing up, I was never a self-confident self-loving person and for the 30 years following that photo, I would see myself exactly as that alien. Minus the shiny red finger.

When you have a low self-esteem, you don’t see yourself as you are but as how other people see you. During my twenties and almost my whole thirties, that awkward boy lived inside me and controlled the image that I had of myself. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I could only see the alien on the outside and not the beautiful boy inside the costume.

It wasn’t until I was about to become forty when something clicked in my brain and I started to see life differently. I started caring less about what other people thought and what society expected of me. I gained the confidence to quit my job in a different industry to become a creative and I finally felt like myself, the authentic version of me. In the words of Pedro Almodovar’s character Agrado from ‘All About My Mother’: “you are more authentic the more you resemble the image that you have of yourself.

Nowadays, when I look in the mirror, I am in love with what I see. I love the grey hairs, the tiny wrinkles, but most importantly, I love the person that I’ve become. Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve never trusted anyone who says ‘I love you’ and the person doesn’t love herself or himself. How can you? How can you give something you don’t have?” The more I age, the more beautiful I feel and the more I love myself, and it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, the only person that I have to please is myself. And that knowledge makes me happy.

Had I known this when I was younger, I would probably remember the day in the photo better and all the fun that I could-have / must-have had. It was a very cool costume, indeed. I think my grandmother made it. If only I had possessed back then the confidence and self-love to be able to enjoy it and appreciate it…

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How Can Your Business Contribute To A Better World

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We easily forget that the availability of information and technology that we enjoy today is a very recent phenomenon. Up until not so long ago, the information that we received from news outlets or educational sources was thoroughly filtered to meet the needs of those in power. Information is power, and if you want to control the people you must only let them know what you want them to know, or not let them know anything at all for that matter. An uneducated population is an easily controllable group. This has always been the strategy of regimes and religions throughout history.

A few months ago, I read somewhere (I just can’t remember where, excuse the absence of a proper bibliographical reference) that if you took a person who died in the 10th century and woke them up in the 15th century, they probably wouldn't notice much change in their surroundings. But, in comparison, if you took someone who died in the 15th century and woke them up in the 21st century they'd probably think that they woke up in a different planet.

That prompted me to think how far back in recent time could I go for someone who died back then and was woken up today to feel that they didn't recognize the world around them. And it immediately occurred to me that, in recent times, the farthest back that I could go would be just before the mobile and the internet revolution. Someone who died in 1990 and woke up today would feel like they were in a sci-fi movie.

The internet has become the nightmare of those in power who want to be able to control the people as they wish. There is so much information out there that almost no one has an excuse today for not knowing what is going on in the rest of the world. That is why the need to control its access or to produce information chaos is imperative for those who want to remain in power: Kim Jon Un in North Korea, Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia, UKIP with Brexit in the UK, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda or Donald Trump in the United States, to name a few examples.

In this day and age, the most powerful tool that we have is knowledge and our most powerful weapon is our voice. The more we know about our communities, about our heritage, about local and international news, and about our history, the more we can avoid repeating the mistakes that our societies made to help put these people in power. And the more we use our voice, by expressing our opinions, by calling out those who attempt against human rights, or by voting, the more we contribute to make this a better world.

The times we are living require a less passive approach to solving the issues in the world today. Over the last 5 years, I have continuously asked myself how can I contribute to make this a better world? Not only as a person but as a business as well. I strongly believe that it is incoherent to be longing for a better world in our personal lives but then going to work and supporting the opposite of what we believe in. Our businesses, especially for freelancers, are an extension of ourselves and therefore should follow our personal ethos.

That is one of the reasons that my blog is so important for me because apart from sharing everything that I learn in my journey as a creative business owner, I also try to call attention to the issues that matter the most to me. Running a business that doesn’t contribute to making this world better doesn’t make sense anymore. It should be as mandatory as paying taxes.

Photo credits: image by Facundo Bustamante.

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Does Your Mailing List Comply With The Law? - Part III

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This post is part 3 of 3 posts.

In case you have been living under a rock for this past year, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect on May 25, 2018, forcing businesses across the globe to reassess how they process personal data. It has been a very painful and confusing process, especially for freelancers and sole traders. That is why this month, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched a self-assessment checklist that will help freelancers, sole traders and self-employed individuals to assess their compliance with new data protection laws.

This new tool is meant to show freelancers and sole traders how compliant they are by generating a rating based on their responses and provides handy links to relevant ICO guidance and further information. It also includes practical suggestions of how to stay in line with the law.

This self-assessment checklist has been created with small business owners and sole traders in mind. I recommend you take it even if you have already done all your GDPR homework. After all, it is our duty as business owners to keep our compliance with these laws up to date, the same way that we do our taxes every year.

To access the the self assessment checklist go to: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/resources-and-support/data-protection-self-assessment/assessment-for-small-business-owners-and-sole-traders/

If you still haven’t made your business compliant with the GDPR, you can find more information on: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/

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Become The Beauty That You Seek

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Not so long ago, my friend Dean told me this beautiful line from one of Tyler Kent White’s poems: “I promise you if you keep searching for everything beautiful in this world you will eventually become it.” I love it because it reminds me that there is so much beauty in the world that surrounds us, but most of it is only available if we are open to finding it. And, for the not-so-beautiful things in this world, there is always the potential to make them beautiful. We just have to be willing to make the effort.

One thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I am a humanist and a member of Humanists UK. Being a humanist basically means that one’s ethos prioritizes humans’ well-being in all our decision-making processes; that one only accepts things that can be proven by the scientific method and rejects the supernatural (being either atheist or agnostic); and that one believes that this is the only life that we have and therefore we should attempt to give meaning to it by seeking happiness for ourselves and for the rest of humanity.

It is true that you can live a life where you feel related to any of these principles without becoming part of any organisation. But, for the longest time, I felt like I needed to do something else besides just treating others with respect and procuring a better world for me and for those around me. I felt like I wanted to contribute to the world in a more active way. So, after many years looking for an organisation that I could relate to, I learned about the amazing work that Humanists UK do in pro of humanity and I decided to become a member.

Since I joined a few years ago, I have seen Humanists UK work tirelessly on some of the causes that I feel strongly about:

  • With representation in the UN, they call for action on serious international human rights abuses; they draw attention to abortion rights deficits around the world; they promote freedom of expression and the eradication of the often deadly blasphemy laws in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan; and they call for states to end the horrific practice of ‘gay conversion therapy’.

  • Through campaigns in the UK Parliament and in local and regional governments, they campaigned for free abortion services for women in Northern Ireland; they campaigned for many years to ban ‘conversion therapy’ in the UK; and they helped end the government funding for homoeopathy and pseudosciences.

  • They also played important roles in the campaigns for the passing of the 2006 and 2010 Equality Acts, bringing comprehensive equality legislation into English, Welsh, and Scottish law; the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ campaign, which means that every state school in England must now teach evolution; the legalisation of same-sex marriage; and the campaign to abolish the blasphemy law in England and Wales, which succeeded in 2008 through an amendment to a Government Act.

  • They also run groups like Faith to Faithless, a programme that supports people who leave religions and trains the Metropolitan Police in how to identify and support apostates. Apostates face challenges that range from emotional and physical abuse from family members, friends, and peers in their community through to homelessness, shunning, ‘honour-based’ abuse and killings, and systemic failures by statutory organisations to support them.

These are just some examples of the amazing work that this organisation is doing to make this world more fair and inclusive. And I can’t feel anything less than proud to be a member. If you want to learn more about humanism and Humanists UK, go to humanism.org.uk.

And if none of the causes supported by Humanists UK is your cup of tea, there are plenty of organisations out there that need your support. I am sure that you will be able to relate to at least one of them. Support, join or become a volunteer, but do something. This is the time to take action. This is the time to become the beauty that you seek.

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