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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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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Napoleon Didn’t Have Internet

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Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman whose influence over European and global affairs made him one of history’s most notorious and controversial leaders. His political and cultural legacy is still relevant almost 200 years after his death. And he accomplished all this without access to the internet. If he had used social media we would all be speaking French today!

I was born in a time when there weren’t any mobile phones, nor internet, nor personal computers. But, in my early twenties, almost everyone I knew had a mobile phone, and most people had computers at home. The internet revolution was about to start and change our lives forever.

In spite of all these technological advances and the influence that they had on our culture and in our lives, none of them changed the way we see life as social media did. And when mobile phones became smarter, we had in our hands the power to communicate without limits, to learn anything we wanted to and to conquer the world.

Social media brought people together and in today’s society time and distance are no longer barriers. You can connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere, which makes it the perfect tool for bringing the world together. But, somehow, it has also evolved into a parallel universe, some sort of upside-down, where your best friends are people that you have never seen in person and your real-life friends are not relevant if they are not online; a world where brands measure the success of their political statements in sales and not in how they are making this a better world.

Lately, I’m getting a bit overwhelmed by social media. Everyone else seems to be doing better, having more fun or being more successful altogether. Of course, I know that it’s all fake, but it doesn’t help with the self-imposed challenges that sometimes make their way into our minds and numb our efforts to move forward. "My work is not good enough", "What if nobody likes what I do?", "What if they say no?"... all irrational fears but all fed by how perfect everyone else’s lives or careers seem to be.

Social media is anything but ‘social’ these days. It is very alienating and it has taken control of both our personal and work lives to the point where we now do things just because they would look good online. Napoleon would have thrived in this environment. In spite of allegedly having so many complexes and of being looked down on by his peers, he got to be one of the most influential persons in history. Imagine how much more he could have accomplished if only he had had Instagram?

Or, would it have been his doom? Perhaps all his self-doubts would have been magnified by seeing online everything that he was not. We will never know. What I would like to find out is what would happen if we take all the power that we have in our hands these days and use it to do some good instead of just to pretend that we are cool. I bet not even Napoleon would be able to defeat us.

Photo credit: your typical restaurant bathroom selfie.

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I Have Always Trusted Strangers

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I have always trusted strangers. My mom used to say that, when I was little, if anyone offered me their arms I would go with them. No hesitation. Pure innocent trust in humanity. Nowadays, as an adult, not a lot has changed. I always engage with other people with an open heart and a disposition to have a meaningful exchange, no matter how mundane the encounter is. You can call me naive, and sometimes I would deserve it, specially when someone has tried to take advantage of me. But I never let one bad experience with anyone affect my relationship with someone else.

I know a lot of people who have a completely different approach. When they meet others, they need to feel that the other is worthy of their trust. So, they start from zero and build their trust from scratch. But to me, that is the wrong way of looking at human interactions, because you start with a rejection instead of with an open mind. I feel like you are missing out on the possibility of fully experiencing the time that you spend with others.

It is very rare to find people who think like me these days. We live in such a constant state of paranoia that we don't trust anyone anymore. It's understandable, but it's sad. We are loosing our connection with other human beings. Everyone else is a potential enemy instead of a potential friend.

I’d rather be called naive than to live in a world where you can’t trust anyone anymore.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Is There Such Thing As A Sustainable Photographer?

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When the use of digital photography became widely spread, many praised this new form of taking photos as environmentally friendly. At last, gone were the days when the planet was harmed by the film photo processing chemicals, they said. The truth is that digital photography is not as clean as we might think, and I am willing to say that sometimes it's even worse. With all the talk in recent years on sustainability in the fashion industry, I asked myself the question: could there be such a thing as a sustainable fashion photographer?

Last week, I wrote about assessing the environmental impact of our businesses and putting in place best practices to reduce the amount of waste that we generate. Today, after assessing my own practice, I have come up with ways in which my photography business can be more sustainable.

The aim is not to be 100% eco-friendly, because that concept might not even exist at all. Our own existence has a direct impact on the environment, and practices considered good for the planet, like recycling, have impacts of their own. The aim is to reduce our impact as much as we can. And, as photographers, there is so much that we can do to reduce our waste, not only in our practices, but in our personal lives as well.

To start my environmental-impact self-assessment, I asked myself: what is my business? I take photos. What are the tools of my trade? A digital camera and a computer. What is the impact that my equipment has on the planet? Contrary to what one might think, digital photography is not a low environmental-impact medium. All the technology that we use on a daily basis has an enormous impact on the environment:

  • Electronic waste: our photography businesses run on electronics. All this equipment has a very limited lifespan. Even if we tried to really get our money's worth, we would still have to replace our cameras, computers and phones every 5 years because they become obsolete (read about how manufacturers stimulate consumption by using planned obsolescence). In contrast, my 35mm film camera is from 1981 and I still use it regularly and for commercial purposes. None of my digital cameras will ever last that long and still be worth using.
  • Packaging: every time we buy new equipment, it comes protected by layers of packaging, most of it non-biodegradable and some of it, albeit recyclable, will end up in a landfill as we are unable to recycle all the waste that we produce.
  • Batteries: our cameras, computers, lights, phones, tablets and wireless equipment in general use batteries. Nowadays, most of these batteries have a lifespan of 3 years and need to be properly disposed of.
  • Data Storage: with digital photography we don't use film-processing chemicals anymore. Instead, we rely on a gigantic network of electronic devices to store our photos and documents. What we call the cloud (or internet in general) is a massive amount of data centres scattered across the planet that process and house everything that we do in the digital world. These data centres use an unbelievable amount of resources. They use electricity and fuel for generators, they need batteries for uninterruptible power supply, their equipment generates a lot of heat so cooling mechanisms need to be put in place (water, air conditioning, coolant), and they are in constant need of expansion so a lot of land is required.

These were just a few of the things that I could think of in which the core of my business has a direct negative impact on the planet. The reasonable thing to ask next was, what can I do as a photographer, and a business-owner in general, if I want to run an environmentally friendly business?

  • Buy from suppliers and manufacturers that are environmentally conscious, those which use less packaging material, and those which have strict environmental policies in place.
  • Turn off electrical equipment when not in use.
  • Use rechargeable batteries.
  • When buying new equipment, buy products that will last longer and that will not force me to replace them too often.
  • If I need to change my equipment, try to repurpose the old equipment by using it as a backup, by selling it on the second-hand market or by finding ways to reuse their individual parts or as a whole.

The concept of 100% green photography might be an oxymoron. To be a 100% eco-friendly I would not only have to stop taking photos, I would have to stop living completely. But, by putting some of the aforementioned practices in place and by trying to reduce my waste and to reuse as much as possible, I can make sure that my business is more environmentally friendly.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Are You Running A Sustainable Business?

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A few weeks ago, while planning the catering for a shoot that I was producing, I decided to go with a vegan catering because one of the crew members was vegan. On the day of the shoot, when all the food arrived it came protected in layers after layers of plastic packaging. What is the point in going vegan for environmental reasons, if you will then generate so much plastic waste that it defeats your purpose? What you do with your hands, you destroy with your feet, my nan used to say.

The majority of people would argue that all that plastic waste is recyclable, so we would still be on the right track to saving the planet. But, the reality is that not only not all of our rubbish is recyclable nor reusable and will probably end up in a landfill, but from the part of that rubbish that is recyclable less than 45% will be recycled or reused in the end. What's worse, the amount of waste generated by households that can actually harm the environment is very small in comparison to the waste that industries generate. So, even if we recycle all the waste that consumers produce we still wouldn't be saving the planet. According to official figures in the UK, 15% of the waste generated comes from households, while 70% comes from commercial, industrial, construction, demolition and excavation activities.

Recycling is not the solution that we were promised, it's just a small part of it. It's easy to make consumers feel guilty about all the waste that we are generating and have us obediently separate all of our rubbish at home. This way, governments feel like they have done their part on the matter and consumers are happy because we are left feeling like we are doing something good for the planet. Meanwhile, producers keep on packaging their products in plastic because it's cheap and it's all about margins and profit, and the rubbish that is not recycled nor reused keeps piling up in a landfill in a town near you or it gets sent to other countries. Well, that is up until not so long ago, because we are using such bad quality materials in our production chains that developing countries don't want our rubbish anymore.

Specialists in waste management talk about the four R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover. Any waste that is not subject to these 4 principles ends up in landfills or incinerated without energy recovery. Recycling comes in third place of these principles because we don't have the capacity to recycle all the waste that we produce, and the multi-million pound recycling industry itself has an impact of its own (the economic impact, the pollution that comes from collection, transportation and operation of recycling equipment, and the production of greenhouse gases, to name a few). Priority is given to Reducing our waste and trying to Reuse as much as possible.

What can we do if we want to run an environmentally friendly business? Just last week, I spoke about this matter with fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock, who has written extensively about sustainability in the fashion industry. We both agreed that we can't possibly do everything that there is to be done to be 100% sustainable because the nature of our businesses will eventually have an impact on the environment. Instead, what we can do is assess our personal and professional environmental impact and make changes in the areas where we feel that we can contribute to generating less waste.

To reduce the amount of waste that we produce, we should start by paying attention to how much and how often we buy and whom we buy from, and source suppliers that are environmentally conscious. Suppliers that are actually doing something to reduce their environmental footprint and not just trying to comply with the minimum guidelines required by our governments. Suppliers that use biodegradable packaging instead of all that plastic. Suppliers that make products that can be reused or repurposed, in line with the Circular Economy principles.

Also, we should Reuse as much as possible, and give a second life to what we don't use anymore by repurposing it, selling it on the second-hand market or passing it on to those who might have a use for it. And, above all, we must use the power of voting to elect politicians that are more strict with the sectors that are the biggest producers of waste. Stop punishing consumers for something that we haven't done wrong and forget the notion that Recycling is the answer to our waste problem. This is a problem that has to be tackled at the source.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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What if I live to be 100?

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A few days ago, I was chatting with a very young person, literally half my age, and they were telling me how they were jaded of London because they had done it all, they had seen it all, and they knew everything that there was to know about the city. Not with these exact same words, but you get the point. While I was trying really hard to hide a patronizing gaze, Samuel Johnson's words "tired of London, tired of life" came to my mind. This was the type of person that he must have been referring to.

At almost 45 years of age, I don't feel, not even remotely, that I have done everything, or that I have learned everything, or that I have even met everyone there is to meet in London. There are so many things to do or to learn or people to meet in this city that it can get really overwhelming at times. I have been living here for close to 5 years and I sometimes feel like I have just arrived.

Forget about London for a second, and just think about life in general. How can anyone possibly think, at any age, that they know or have done everything? No matter how old you are, 20 or a 100, there is always something new discovered or invented in the world every day. It is impossible to keep up! To feel so jaded about life or a city like London must be really sad.

I for one am really happy that I still know nothing and that there is so much to learn. It is such a beautiful experience when you are able to discover something new. In fact, I believe that being surprised and amused by something in a world where a lot of people think that they have seen it all is a real privilege.

That conversation reminded me of an ad that I saw in a magazine which read "What if I live to 100?" and it made me reflect on the path in front of me. If I ever feel so jaded about life as this 20-year-old is, I definitely don't want to live that long.

Our concern shouldn't be whether we live to 100 or not, but whether we live a life that is worth living. At my age, I just started my second career after 20 years in another industry and there is so much to learn and experience that I don't think that these coming 55 years will be enough.

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A Case Of Divided Loyalties

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Last week, while I was shopping for new trainers,  I started thinking about some brands that do not have our best interests at heart. From Adidas standing by Kanye West's comments on slavery to Nike's (and so many other companies') misogyny culture, we keep supporting brands with ethics that go against everything that we stand for. I then realized that, in my closet, I have 6 pairs of Adidas trainers and 7 pairs of Nike trainers, which made me wonder: why am I still giving my hard-earned money to brands that do not represent me and what I believe in? So, instead of shopping those brands, I consciously supported a lesser known one.

It is true that causing controversy has helped the careers of so many people throughout history. It seems to be PR 101. Kanye does it, Trump does it, Lady Gaga did it, Madonna did it, Dali did it, Marilyn Monroe did it, and the more you go back, the more you realize that it has always been part of the celebrity toolkit. Mae West once wrote: "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right." But, one thing is causing controversy and another completely different thing is attacking a particular group.

You shouldn't expect women to buy your products when as an organisation you oppress them, the same way that you shouldn't expect women's support when you claim that they should be grabbed by their parts when they don't respond to your advances. Or expect black people to keep endorsing your products when you support slavery deniers, the same way that you shouldn't expect gay people to be religious when every single religion in the planet has discriminated them at some point.

The irony in all this is that there are still women buying Nike products, black people wearing Adidas, women voting for the Trumps in the world and gay people supporting religions. I don't know if it's in our nature or if it's just that we are brainwashed from birth into condoning these practices. But, at some point, the cycle must be broken.

And I'm not writing this post trying to call for a boycott on any brand. Those boycotts don't really help, they just give brands free publicity, even if it's bad publicity (remember Mae West's quote). What I'm saying is that we should be more conscious about who we give our money to. Because money doesn't grow on trees (I know mine doesn't) and something doesn't feel right when we are working our lives away trying to make a respectable living, but then we give that money to companies that are not respectable at all.

Brand loyalty shouldn't just be about the quality of the products we buy or the customer experiences that these brands give us. It should also be about which brands reciprocate and are loyal to us as well. Because, in the end, the most important loyalty is the one that you have to yourself and your principles, and if a brand doesn't align with them it should be their loss, not yours. There are plenty brands out there to choose from, but there is only one You to buy from them.

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I Fell Down And Nobody Helped Me

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Last Saturday I was on a train when a group of kids boarded with bikes which they placed against the opposite doors from which they entered. As the train sped, the bikes wiggled and threatened to fall over. Without giving it a second thought, I jumped from my seat and tried to hold them, but before I could reach them, they stabilized and stayed upright. I was already half standing, so I just tried to go back to my seat but, instead, I fell to the floor on my bum, hitting the edge of the seat with my back and the side panel with my elbow. I had forgotten that I had been sitting on one of those retractable seats.

I stayed on the train floor for probably five seconds which felt like an eternity. I then tried to get up but, because the train was in motion, I struggled to grab one of the poles to lift myself up. After probably 30 seconds of battling to hold the pole firmly, I was able to stand up, dust my jacket and my trousers, and make sure that this time the seat was down before I sat. Meanwhile, the rest of the passengers acted as if nothing had happened. No one came to help me. Not even the kids who owned the bikes. One of them just exclaimed "wow!" and looked away. The whole car remained in silence until the next stop.

As I was trying to make sense of what had happened, I didn't feel any embarrassment nor pain. I was just shocked, upset really, that nobody came to my aid. I could have broken a bone for all they cared and absolutely no one could be bothered to help a fellow human being in distress. When did we become like this? When did we stop caring for the wellbeing of others? Has it always been like this and I just hadn't realized it? Where did it all go wrong?

Photographer Bettina Rheims said during the Festival de Hyères: "If one day we convince one person to open their ideas and minds then we help make the world better." I hope that if at least one person reads this post, I convince them to make an effort to offer a hand when another human being is in need of help. Like Bettina, I believe that we can change the world, one person at a time.

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RIP Stephen Hawking

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Today we have lost one of the brightest minds in modern history and a person whose contribution to humanity is unmeasured. Professor Stephen Hawking passed away this morning at age 76 in his home in Cambridge, leaving behind a legacy which includes his works on black holes and the relationship between Einstein's theory of relativity and the Big Bang. One can only begin to comprehend how much humankind has lost today.

There are many human deaths every day, people constantly die from natural causes, from diseases, in horrible conflicts, accidents or even natural disasters. And it doesn't seem fair to mourn the death of just one person when there would be so many other human beings who deserved to be honoured as well. But the reason why I decided to honour the memory of Professor Hawking is that his life is an example of how one person can battle their own demons and overcome all the obstacles and limitations that have been thrown at them and still live an exemplary life contributing so much to our species.

These should be our heroes. These should be the role models our children look up to. Not one single person who achieves celebrity status these days has done so much for humanity as this man did. And I'm sure that there are so many more exemplary human beings working in the shadows and doing real good who we will probably never hear of in the news or in our social media feeds.

That's why I decided to acknowledge his passing on my blog today. I hope that everytime that I'm faced with a challenge that can potentially set me back, I remember people like him, who in spite of adversity managed to achieve so much. Rest in Peace, Professor Hawking.

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Happy 2018!

We live in times when our value as human beings is measured by what we have. Whoever has the most followers, the fastest car, the priciest clothes or the biggest bank account seems to be better than the rest. And even though we all know that it doesn't work that way, there always seems to be a space reserved for those who have more of something than the rest. Isn't it time we changed the "I have, therefore I am" philosophy and make it about having more of what really counts?

Over the last year I have had amazing experiences and met really inspiring people; I have travelled to new places and discovered other cultures and other ways of thinking; I have worked with both old and new clients and have had some pretty interesting gigs; and most of all, I have had deep and meaningful interactions with the people that I have been lucky to cross paths with, be it relatives, friends, peers or acquaintances. Of course, it has not all been fun and games; along the way, I have also lost jobs, clients and even people whom I called friends.

But, in my re-interpretation of the "I have, therefore I am" rule, I can say that I am happy. Because I have more love, more fulfiling experiences and more learning opportunities than I could ever wish for. And for that, I am really grateful.

Before the year ends, look back on 2017 and choose to focus on the things that you have that are meaningful. I wish that, like me, you realize that what you have is more than enough to be happy.

Happy 2018.

Music: http://www.purple-planet.com

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The Value Of Life

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While I was standing at a pedestrian crossing waiting for the light to change, a woman with a baby in arms crossed the street with the pedestrian light still in red. She must be in a real hurry - I thought - to be willing to endanger both her life and the life of her child. Sadly, this was not the first time that I had witnessed something like this. We have all seen those people whose time is so precious that they feel like it is a waste of time waiting a few seconds for the light to turn green. In a world where the rush justifies the danger, what is the real value of a human life?

It’s been almost 20 years since I left Panama. Moving out of my country helped me understand that there was a world out there which was bigger than me. With time, living in different countries opened my horizons and my mind and gave me an appreciation for humanity. Nowadays, ageing has given me a sense of inclusiveness, and the realisation that we are just one species and that we are all equal. The knowledge that in spite of our superficial differences, we all have the same needs and fears and that my life is not worth any more or any less than any other person on the planet has been one of the most important lessons learnt in my life.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the value of a human life. From the complicity on gun violence of gun owners and gun associations; to police brutality in the US, France and Spain; to countries closing their borders on people fleeing from war and death, there is just too little appreciation for human lives these days. If you are regularly on social media like I am, you sometimes feel like the life of a cat or a dog is more precious than the life of another person.

I used to think that only people in power had the capacity to sit down in their offices just caring about their own interests while making decisions that affect millions of lives. But now, I've come to realize that we, the everyday people, do it as well. 

We flick through our social media channels or news outlets judging and deciding the fate of other human beings by ignoring their requests for help; by supporting invasions and wars with other countries; by encouraging our government to close the borders on people fleeing conflicts that our own countries have created; or by cold-heartedly deciding whether someone should be fired, extradited, jailed or killed. 

It is as if those faces that we see on the news or the internet are difficult to relate to because they are from far away. They are on the other side of our devices; they are not like us... But, they are! And sooner or later the ones in their position could be us. History has an unpredictable way of shifting the balance of power and when we least expect it, it could be us running for our lives.

This is the only life that we have. There is no after-life, no reincarnation, no heaven nor hell. This is it. Wouldn't it be better lived if we spent it appreciating a bit more our lives and the lives of others? Wouldn't it be worth it if we just waited a few seconds for the crossing light to turn green?

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Buy A Postcard For A Good Cause

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This month of October, over 1000 photographers are taking part in the Photography On A Postcard fundraiser organised by The Hepatitis C Trust. The fundraiser consists on a lottery that guarantees the ticket-holder a 10x15cms (postcard size) photograph from photographers like Jim Goldberg, Martin Parr, Wolfgang Tillmans, Nina Berman, and Cristina De Middel, or less-familiar talents. All ticket-holders will be winners, with photographs assigned to each ticket at random. Two of my photos from my Brexiters series will take part in the lottery. What are you waiting for to buy your ticket? 

The Hepatitis C Trust is the national UK charity for hepatitis C with offices in London and Falkirk. It has been operating since 2001. It is a patient-led and patient-run organisation: most of their board, staff, and volunteers either have hepatitis C or have had it and have cleared it after treatment. Their over-arching goal is to shut down because they are no longer needed; in other words, because hepatitis C has been eliminated in the UK. Historically, hepatitis C has been neglected, partly because there has been no concerted patient voice and because it is often wrongly stigmatised as a drug user’s disease.

With Photography On A Postcard, the trust will try to replicate the success of Art On A Postcard, a program which raises money through an annual secret postcard auction and ‘postcard lotteries’ throughout the year. To date Art on a Postcard has raised over £350K for The Hepatitis C Trust.

I am really pleased to have the opportunity to donate my work to such a good cause. Please show your support and buy your ticket on this link.

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The Show Must Go On

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I was recently told that I don't look like a fashion photographer. At first, the statement didn't sit well with me. Were they saying this because I just put on what feels comfortable and not anything "trendy"? Was it because I care and show interest about many topics rather than just talking about designers and catwalks all day? Or was it because of any of the other stereotypes that people from outside the industry have of those who work in fashion? I couldn't tell. But then, after a while, it hit me. This person wasn't trying to insult me. Their words were actually meant as a compliment.

Honestly, I don't blame this person for having that opinion of me. More often than not this industry feels disconnected from reality. If you care just a bit about what is going on in the world you automatically don't fit with the image that the industry has made for itself.

Take for instance the New York Fashion Week. Millions of people were being displaced or left without homes due to the several hurricanes that hit the Caribbean and the south of the United States in early September. At the same time, the industry was prancing the catwalks in New York. If you were reading the news those days, you would see photos of models on runways alongside photos of people fleeing their towns in search of refuge. Very few brands and designers took actions to raise awareness for the victims of the natural phenomena that were causing mayhem a few states down south.

Was this what Jim Carrey was trying to tell us? We will never know. What we know is that the show always goes on. It must go on. This industry employs millions of people around the globe and it contributes immensely to many economies. For that, it deserves credit. But its reach also comes with the responsibility to respect and value their audience and their target. Showing a little sensibility for the issues that matter to the rest of the world won't hurt anyone. In the end, if we want the engagement of our customers, we must show that we care for them too.

In the effort of trying to sell a fairy tale fantasy and an unattainable lifestyle reserved to a very few, the message that we are sending is that we just care about the money and attention of the consumers, not about their well-being. Luckily, this image of superficiality is just a very superficial layer. Below, there are many who work in the industry who don't fit the stereotypes. A lot of them are very active on the issues that affect humanity and the environment.  Not all of them are vocal about it or have the appropriate channels to voice their efforts. But these people exist, they are very real, and in my experience, they outnumber those who contribute to the shallow image of Fashion.

So, if the image of someone who works in this industry is the image of someone who is superficial, I am glad that I don't look like that. Because the last thing that I want is to look like someone how doesn't care about humanity and who feels that they are above the rest of the world.

Photo by Luca Dominique Marchesi.

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Too Many Thoughts Remain Unwritten

Today I was going to write about photography, but the recent events in Charlottesville have prompted me to write about Human Rights instead. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression", but in the case of hate speech, it always feels like this article contradicts the main purpose of this declaration to offer rights "without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." If we are promoting and encouraging equality, why are we protecting discrimination as well?

There has been a historically long debate about whether hate speech should be free speech. And I understand that there will always be parts of society that will have an opinion that is completely opposite to mine. But one thing is raising an opinion, and another thing is inciting violence with what you say. Because words can kill. And words have killed. And no matter how many people try to deny past and present slavery, past and present genocides, past and present horrors against humanity, they have taken place. And if we don't do something about it they will continue taking place.

The solution at this point in history might not lie in prohibiting this sort of speech, as those who take advantage of the vulnerabilities of our human rights declaration would also take advantage of possible hate speech rulings to silence those who think different to them. But there are things that we can do right now to plant the seed of kindness, tolerance and inclusion for the generations to come:

  • Speak out. Use your freedom of opinion and express your thoughts. Condemn hatred, bigotry and discrimination of any kind. Talk to your relatives, to your friends, write about equality on social media and blogs. Even if it feels to your acquaintances that you have an annoying agenda, this is a matter of life and death. This is a time when our words can save lives. I found a very useful guide on how to speak your mind when confronted with hate speech on this link.
  • Elect better representatives. As clichéd as this sounds, we have in our voting hands the power to let our leaders know that we won't condone any form of support for hatred. And because they should work for us, for that is the reason why we elected them, we must demand of them to improve our education systems and invest in programs to promote equality in our schools.
  • Be kind. This might be the most important one. Lead by example, be kind and accepting of others and hold yourself to the highest standards of equality and inclusion. If we try to perform an act of kindness as often as we can we will all be contributing to spreading this message to the world. Every small action counts.

In the meantime, I refuse to remain silent about attacks against humanity. And even though the aim of this blog is to talk about business and marketing in the creative industries, every single word written in my posts is a part of who I am and how I think. And I feel that it is my duty to use my words to try to make this world a better place for every person and it is my human right to not let my thoughts remain unwritten.

Portrait by: Wayne Noir.

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Why Do We Take Photos?

Lately I have found myself coaching people on how to improve their photography skills and take better photos. And one of the things that I emphasize the most is that when we take a photo we need to understand what is the subject of our image to be able to convey a message about it. Sometimes the subject is very clear: a person, a building, a landscape, a dish; but other times we create images about experiences, about feelings, about moods, and then it is difficult for the viewer to understand what the photo is about. And even if it is difficult for ourselves to explain what an image that we took is about, there was a reason why we felt the need to capture it. The answer to the question "what is the subject of my image?" lies in the answer to another question: "why am I taking this photo?"

In this day and age when photography has been so democratized, I would say that the majority of people take photos to show others the experiences that they are living or the places where they go, some sort of visual journal of their lives. Other people, on the other hand, take photos in a less self-involved manner and more like witnesses of the world that surrounds them, like "a tourist in other people's realities" (Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977). But there are also people like me, photographers who get hired to take a photo of a person, a product or an idea for commercial purposes. No matter which type of photography you do, there is always a reason why you are taking an image. There is always a subject in mind.

The challenge relies on how to transmit the message to the viewer, how to make them understand what our photo is about. And for me the first step is understanding ourselves what the subject of our photo is. In my experience, this idea that might sound so obvious is not so obvious at all. Today's technology lets us take an infinite amount of photos for a very low cost which means that we end up clicking away every time that we want to capture something. Amateurs and professionals alike, with the "think less, shoot more" strategy we take a massive amount of images in the hope to be able to rescue at least a few good ones. And even if admittedly there are some instances when there is no time to think for too long because time is precious, most of the times stopping for a second to think about why we are taking an image translates into a better photo.

Do you want to improve your photography? Stop what you are doing and look around. Do you see any photos? Are you able to tell what the subject is? Now do this with your own photos. Is the subject as clear as you thought it would be when you took them?

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Waiting For The Bus To Come

Those who know me know that I enjoy cooking. More than enjoy, I would say that it is a hobby of mine. Spending hours in the kitchen taking individual ingredients, transforming them, and creating something that you can share with others is for me one of the biggest pleasures in life. But, apart from being a pleasure, it has also been a school. It has taught me patience and it has given me the ability to blindly wait for long periods of time to be rewarded with the outcome of my efforts. We all desperately need to learn how to cook.

It is funny that what I do for a living and what I like doing in my spare time are both related to the pass of time. Berenice Abbott wrote in her book 'The World of Atget': "(...) the photographer is the contemporary being par excellence; through his eyes the now becomes past." As photographers, we capture present time moments and turn them into memories from the past. But, as someone who enjoys cooking, the pleasure relies in imagining how a dish would taste in the future and then build with present ingredients towards that.

Carmen Herrera said in the documentary on her life: "If you wait for the bus, the bus will come." She had to wait until she was almost a 100 years old to be recognized for her art. But she never stopped painting. Not even when she was told at some point in her life that she would never make it in the art world because she was a woman. Talk about perseverance. Yet nowadays we are not willing to wait for anything in our lives: we buy pre-cooked food instead of cooking it ourselves, instant messaging has replaced almost all of our communications, we want immediate success without doing the effort.

If you have a goal in life you must have the patience and perseverance to attain it, but also the vision to make it sustainable in time. Immediate success often comes with immediate failure. Our business community is so consumed in going from zero to profit in the least amount of time possible that no one seems to be focusing on how to survive after success. In my opinion, it is better to arrive slowly but to have a solid foundation that will keep us going for long.

Don't rush into things, not even when you feel that everyone else is ahead of you. Everything happens at the right time. You can't have 40 years of experience if you haven't lived for 40 years. The same way that you can't make a delicious homemade meal if you don't spend a few hours in the kitchen.

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Creativity And Ego Don't Mix

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A couple of nights ago I went out for drinks with a group of photographer friends to catch up and to share our projects. At some point in the conversation we started talking about inflated egos and we all agreed that something that we value in other people is humbleness. So why is it then that if so many people appreciate a humble person you find so much arrogance in our industry today?

I went jogging with another friend this morning and out of the blue they told me about how much they like humble people. I thought to myself: "is this a coincidence or is everyone trying to tell me something?". Thankfully, they continued talking and explained an anecdote that prompted that statement. So many people talking about humbleness seems to me like a reaction to the times that we are living. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about people wanting "Truth", and with this series of conversations that I have been having lately I realise that we are all just getting a bit fed-up with all the falseness and the arrogance that surrounds us.

There is a documentaries series that I watch on Netflix called the "Chef's Table", where different chefs from around the world talk about their craft and their path. One of the episodes was on Jeong Kwan, a monk and a cook from South Korea, and during the interview she said: "Creativity and ego cannot go together. If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly." I couldn't agree more. I too believe that people with inflated egos are usually trying to hide something: they either feel insecure about their work or they feel like they don't have a clue about what they are doing or what is expected of them. So they react in this arrogant way to avoid other people from finding out. And the thing with creativity is that when you have your mind full of insecurities about you or your work, full of jealousy for the success of others, or even full of paranoia that everyone else is trying to steal your clients or copy your work, your creativity doesn't have a space to flourish.

Besides, being in constant fear and self-doubt has to be exhausting and no matter how much you try to pretend everyone else around you can tell. Well, almost everyone. There is a part of the population that enjoys a diva. But from these conversations I can see that the majority of people feel rejection towards arrogance and you don't want to be the creative that no one wants to work with. Not your clients, not your peers, not even your own team.

Self-confidence and humbleness for me go together. When you know where you are standing, and what your value is, there is no need to pretend. Everyone around you will see it. And if they don't, maybe it's time to reconsider your target.

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The New Trend Is Truth

Last June, The Global Language Monitor announced that the Top Trending Global English Word for 2017 was 'Truth'. Not 'meme', not 'god', not an animal nor the name of a celebrity, but 'Truth'. People just want the truth. In a world with so much falseness, could it be that being real is all you need to stand out?

Truth. Such a strong word, for words themselves are very powerful; mightier than the sword, has been said. Used with good intentions they can move us, unite us, incite love, support and confidence; used with the wrong intentions, they can manipulate us, lead to hatred, destruction, and war. But, sometimes, we are not aware of the consequences of our words. We throw them unwittingly without stopping for a second to think if they are hurting others, or even ourselves. And nowhere is this more obvious than in social media these days. The internet age has made us feel as if everything was ephemeral, short living. We post something today and a few minutes later is not in our timelines anymore, it is gone, forever. Or so we think. But, it is not. It is just hidden, waiting patiently somewhere in the depths of an internet server to come bite us back. When I was growing up I was always told: "The spoken word can't be taken back." Replace "spoken" with "posted" and it is our reality today.

Therefore, we must be very careful with what we say online, specially in our businesses accounts. Our brands can be easily tainted by the wrong use of words, and the trust from our clients, present or future, might not be that easy to gain back. Before we post anything we must always ask ourselves: Is this true? Do I have proof? Does this represent me or my brand? Does this hurt anyone, including myself? Is this disrespectful to others, even the ones who are not like me? Think about the words that you like being told to you. Think about how it feels when someone tells you that they love you, that they support you, that you mean the world to them. Think about how you like it when people are honest with you, when they tell you the truth. Other people, including your clients, would appreciate that feeling as well.

Use your communication channels (voice, social media, email, online, print) being true to yourself and your branding but with respect, empathy, tolerance and transparency. Your clients, and your peers as well, might have different opinions or backgrounds than yours and just because they do business with you that does not mean that they see life the same way that you do. If you show them respect and truth they will more than likely show you their trust.

All the love or all the hatred in the world can fit in one word. Use words wisely.

Photo credit: Tana Benavides

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