Give Yourself Permission to Do It Your Way

Master Photographer John Paul Caponigro

© John Paul Caponigro.

Larry Weidel: Today we are speaking with John Paul Caponigro, a holder of many awards, many achievements, and one of the most recognized names in photography worldwide. He produces volumes of art, and he’s really passionate about sharing.  You can’t help but be blown away when you go to his website 

John Paul Caponigro: It’s a sixteen-year project that is three books and counting. I’ve been sharing a lot of information for many years for many people.

It’s been gratifying to contribute to the community and to the growth of many individuals. There’s everything from information on digital printing to developing your voice and telling stories with pictures.

I separated my fine art from the technical work. I needed a clean space to just enjoy the work. So my website just came online last year. It’s a space dedicated to only my art, but I’ve recently started doing virtual gallery talks.

Many times we’ll have a gallery show, and they want me to come for the opening and discuss the work, or they want to have a special event to get to know the artist and hear about making the work.

I’ve done a virtual equivalent that released last month, and there’s many more to come. If you sign up for the newsletter, you will be notified about all the new content.

LW:  This proves that success comes from using your 24-hour-a-day allotment well to accomplish what you want to accomplish.  When it comes time to work, the more organized you are and the more you eliminate clutter, you can make room in your life for new things.  Also, if you create a lot of stuff you want to keep, then you have to catalog it and put it where you, as well as other people, can find it.

This is being organized for success, and it’s a lifelong project. 

I’ve noticed that you get a lot out of quotes, as I do. A lot of people have been dealing with the same things for centuries, and many of them are smart people who are good with words. You don’t necessarily have to come up with your own sayings, but finding these quotes really helps to crystallize thoughts.

LW: When did you get fired up about quotes and passing them on to people?

JC: I think that goes way back. I appreciate a Zen sensibility where things get boiled down into a very distilled form, and it’s memorable, sticky, and actionable.

I encourage other people—people that I mentor and my alumni—to think about their maxims, the words they live by. They don’t necessarily have to be their own, but I find if it’s short and sweet, they can remember it.

They can reclaim it. They can come back and revisit it, and they can think about acting on it.

LW: Do you find yourself referring to and repeating certain quotes decades later after you first learned them?

JC: I think they fall into several categories. I have words that I live by that are always on my mind but that I don’t necessarily share as frequently with other people.

There’s this one quote that I’ve seen attributed to Confucius, the Talmud, and Anaïs Nin: “We see things not as they are. We see things as we are.”

When I say that my work is about the nature of perception, the perception of nature—those two correlate. Those are words that will be with me to my dying days. When I’m teaching, I’ve got a different set of quotes.

I find that photographers, in particular, don’t want to make plans. They realize how changeable the world is, and they have to catch it within 125th of a second, or it’s going to be gone. So it challenges this notion of wanting to plan.

So I go through this little three-quote series, and it helps that we start with Benjamin Franklin because it carries a certain amount of authority. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

JC:  Helmuth von Moltke, the German strategist, said, “No plan survives an encounter with the enemy.” That was Colin Powell’s favorite quote.

I like to follow that with: “You’ve got to write your plans in pencil.” I tell them, “Don’t write them in stone, write them in pencil.” As Paul Allen says, “You’ve got to work your plan.”

Don't write your plans in stone, write them in pencil. Click To Tweet

When you’re talking about German strategists, business moguls, and founding fathers, there’s a certain amount of authority in saying, yes, a plan is a good thing—that cascade of, it’s good to have a vision—but you’ve got to stay flexible and respond to current conditions, and those conditions may also be us as well.

As we change, our plans need to change with us.

© John Paul Caponigro.

LW: I don’t know of a better analogy than getting on the interstate, and you’re headed in one direction and if there’s an accident, you have to find another way to get there. You have to adjust your plan.

And most of the time in life, there’s the complication of a deadline. Usually, we only have so much time to get this particular thing done. That narrows your choices.   

What other kinds of things come up in your workshops when you’re trying to get people to get past the barrier of being afraid to put themselves out there?

JC: I find myself constantly in the strange position of encouraging them to give themselves permission to do it their way.

Give yourself permission to do it your way. Click To Tweet

In so many cases, they’re looking for their authentic voice—their images, their way of seeing—but they don’t know what that is yet.

Trying to discover that doesn’t have to be a random walk. There are many ways of cultivating that, but I think the biggest challenge for many people is this reverence for authority or this playing by the rules.

The challenge is that you’re playing by other people’s rules, other people’s playbook, and this doesn’t necessarily serve you.

Have you thought about your goals, what your photography is or what your game is, and how you might need to approach it differently if you have different goals?

LW: In life, it seems like there’s a breakthrough when people realize, like yourself, they don’t have to be limited by the number of things they pursue. You’ve gone in a lot of different directions and are still evolving as to where you’re putting your energy.

Did you come to a moment when you realized that you didn’t have to pigeonhole yourself? 

JC: I grew up with artistic parents, and my father was the ultimate romantic. My image of my father as a young boy was this gorilla sitting at the grand piano banging out Beethoven—a classic romantic.

He rebels against any kind of authority or restriction. He celebrates freedom, spontaneity, and creativity in a great way.

Having a father that celebrated those things gave me permission to do it my way. We respected and celebrated each others’ creative lives and our different voices.

In fact, as I’m watching my mom work with great painters, photographers, and sculptors designing their books or their exhibitions, and as I’m looking at my dad visiting his colleagues—wonderful photographers—I’m realizing that every single one of those people does it a little bit differently, not only their photography but the way they run their business and the way they integrate that business with their lives.

That will change over time as well. The way my Dad does things now is different than the way that he did them 50 years ago. And the way I’m doing things now is different than 10 years ago because my work is a part of my life.

I do a lot of different things. I do my website, my blog, my workshops, my video training, my fine art, my exhibits, my books—I do all of that. It’s all focused on being visual in nature.

LW: How would you respond to people who ask for a specific directive on what to do to give themselves permission to do things the way they think things should be done? What is the next step?

JC: A journey of a thousand steps is made with the first one. I’m paraphrasing.

Anything is a process, and you’ve got to be as creative with your life, with your business, with your art, with your business of art, as you are with the art you’re making. Get creative. Get really curious.

© John Paul Caponigro.

LW:  Yes, that’s how you become unique. That’s how you establish yourself as somebody that people will want to listen to, buy products from, pay attention to, etc. 

JC: Yes, and stop trying to work so hard at fitting in. You actually want to stand out. You want to be able to fit in just enough so that people can relate to you, and so that you can relate to them and communicate your message.

But honestly, you want to stand out, and you don’t want to just stand out in some posed way because everybody’s going to sniff out the artificiality of that.

You want to be authentic. Find what is unique about you. Find what your passion is. Own it.

You are going to have more fun anyway. Even if that doesn’t work out in business, you’re going to have led a really fantastic life. You’re going to be the person you want to be. Go do that.

Figure it out by taking that first step by doing it. Everything has a process including you.

Click here to listen to the Million Dollar Mastermind Podcast episode 189 with Master Technician Paul Caponigro.

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