Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Simple Change of Mind

Detroit Airport, 2003

I used to be one of those people who looked upon business travel as a necessary evil. It took up a lot of time. Fellow travelers could be annoying. Delays got on my nerves.

In late 1984 I had a chance to study with Dr. Edward de Bono, the “Six Thinking Hats” guy who first became famous for popularizing the idea of “lateral thinking.” One of de Bono’s precepts is that the way to fix a pesky problem is to “surround it with a bigger solution,” to change the paradigm.

de Bono liked to tell the story of how under Peter Ueberroth’s leadership the City of Los Angeles actually made a profit hosting the 1984 Summer Olympics. Up to then, the working assumption for any Olympic host city was that losing lots of money was a given. Ueberroth challenged that assumption. He asked, “Why can’t we make money on this?” and went on to create an Olympics for Los Angeles that did just that.

I didn’t have a summer Olympics to run. For me, the mind-over-matter realization was that business travel didn’t have to be an ordeal. Instead of looking upon travel as something to be endured or upset by, I decided to mine it for material.

House Phone, 2008

Some people make up for the frustrations of air travel by treating themselves to trashy magazines, Cinnabons and 10-minute back massages. I started with a camera. If I had time between flights, I didn’t plop down in a seat near my gate with a book. I walked around and looked for pictures to take. The picture above, for example, was taken in the underground passageway at the Detroit airport, a regular haunt of mine in those days.

The more I got into it, the more I started looking upon airport delays as opportunities to explore. A lot of my “traveling life” pictures are about the banality of air travel. But the fun of looking for photo opportunities is anything but banal (even in US Airways’ hellish Terminal F in Philadelphia).

Hurry Up and Wait, 2006

More recently, I’ve started writing down things I hear people say in airports. Some of these find their way into the “Overheard” columns in this blog. Others I stick aside in the hope that I might have some use for them later on.

The places I go are still usually more interesting than the airports I go through to get to them. But by making the conscious decision that the travel part of the trip doesn’t have to be an ordeal, not matter how arduous or frustrating it might be, I turned a negative into a positive and became a lot easier person to be around in the process.

You could apply this to any number of things. Because I’m convinced that photographic subjects are always at hand if we just work hard enough to recognize them, you might take some task that you really don’t like and turn it into a photo opportunity. Speaking as someone who’s found beauty in the soapsuds in the kitchen sink, I can tell you this is easier than it sounds. Heck, my friend Chuck Rose once made a twenty-minute documentary video about replacing an old toilet. It was riveting viewing. (Or at least that’s what we let Chuck think.)

Waiting on a Snowy Morning, 2008


  1. It IS very true that it's all about attitude. In fact, most of life is, I suppose! I love these travel shots of yours. I love the notion of beauty in the soapsuds.

  2. Get daily suggestions and guides for making THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS per day FROM HOME totally FREE.