Commune with the experts

Half a step forward in personal development is knowing what you don’t know.

We perhaps have to thank Donald Rumsfeld for summarising a position as having three aspects: we may know what we know, we may also know what we don’t know but there is also stuff we don’t know that we don’t know.  Rumsfeld was speaking as the US Secretary of Defence under Bush 2.  Thanks Don – you just about nailed it – whatever it was.  Perhaps his words were something one might expect of a career politician.  However I think there is something useful here beyond covering every base with camouflage in one sentence. The value comes from accepting that to make progress one needs to find ways to turn unknowing into knowing in ways that supports further transform towards wisdom.

Some of the self-awareness principals distilled into digestible teaching stories retold by Pir Vilyat Inayat Khan and Idries Shah and others includes the prompt to increase skill and subtle command in an area one should ‘commune with the experts’.

I suggest that if the opportunity arises to ‘commune with an expert’ then grab it with both hands.

I attended a workshop arranged through the UK Royal Photographic Society this week.  The workshop focused on how to take photographs of architectural subjects.  The workshop’s presenter, Martine Hamilton Knight is undoubtedly an expert.  Martine’s work had for a long time been plate camera-based.  This is a hugely challenging technology where there is only one opportunity to get the picture right – no post processing.  Imagine the old style camera then you have it – tripod supporting a bellows with a lens at one end and sheet film holder focusing screen at the other, squinted at by the photographer whose head is hidden under their black cloth draped over the camera.  It would have looked very Laurel and Hardy.  However the results were stunningly high resolution images with verticals that were parallel, free from lens distortion often with spectacularly rendered colours – just what the architect ordered.

There are wonderful examples of the genre and of Martine’s work on the UK Royal Institute of British Architect’s (RIBA) web site.

Martine has not stayed still.  She moved into and is now expert in her field with modern digital technology, with stunning results.

Martine’s workshop was focused on helping us, her students albeit for a short time, become more familiar with the subtleties in using 35mm perspective control lenses.  These lenses have the same adjustments as are available to plate camera photographers but in a modern package.  She also introduced us to some of the design elements that make up successful architectural photography.

I made my atrium photograph with a perspective control lens taken inside Nottingham University’s Jubilee Campus Education building.  It has two critical success features missing.  A blue sky (the rain was torrential) and usefully placed people ‘dressing’ the space to illustrate the building’s function.  However, I was pleased that vertical lines were vertical not distorted by the lens’s wide angle.

Communing with the expert within the workshop environment gave me benefits that I believe were not accessible through reading a book or watching a video.  Martine adjusted how she explained subtle points as she went around, ‘speaking to people in accordance with their understanding’.   All this was in the inspiring surroundings at Nottingham University.  My photograph of workshop colleagues working with interiors was taken in the Sir Colin Campbell Building’s reception to the University’s Innovation Park.  This image deliberately distorts lines and converges verticals, which is OK in this context, I think.

Knowing that we don’t know something can only give rise to a path to greater knowledge if we act to broaden what we do know.  Communing with the experts offers opportunities for them to shine lights in our dark corners.  If we are looking we can then come to realise stuff lurks there we hadn’t noticed so we can then deal with it.  I don’t think that communing with experts is either easy or superficial.  Perhaps if the engagement is either of these things then the communing isn’t working.

Can Tweeting a specialist constitute communing with an expert?  I don’t think so but then I haven’t tweeted so perhaps there is stuff here I don’t know that I don’t know.  Thanks Don that moves me forward.

Photographs © Mark Percival (all rights reserved).

The Royal Photographic Society Workshops:

Martine Hamilton Knight –