Photographer Fred Morley staged the famous photo of a milkman walking through the destruction of London after the German blitz during the Second World War.
That’s right – this photo was staged. Morley walked around the rubble of London until he found a group of firefighters trying to put out a fire amidst the fallen buildings, as he wanted that specific scene in the background. Here’s where the story has some variations. Apparently, Morley borrowed a milkman’s outfit and crate of bottles. He then either posed as the milkman or had his assistant pose as the milkman.
While the British government censored images of London’s destruction, it promoted this photo to show the world Britain’s resiliency and a sense of calm.
As writer and photographer Teju Cole once penned: “The facticity of a photograph can conceal the craftiness of its content and selection,” or Bertolt Brecht once wrote in his 1955 book War Primer, “The camera is just as capable of lying as the typewriter.”
World War II was a lesson in propaganda, in Morley’s case spreading awareness through the photographic medium to grab attention.
Marketers can be liars, which in this case proved indispensable to boosting morale and saving lives. Morley’s milkman image worked brilliantly.
There is a photograph coming at you every few seconds, and hype is the lingua franca. It has become hard to stand still, wrapped in the glory of a single image, as the original viewers of old paintings used to do. The flood of images has increased our access to wonders and at the same time lessened our sense of wonder. We live in inescapable surfeit.
The more photos you take, the more words you write, the most shots you take, the more you have to play with. Quantity translates into quality over time, but it takes a lot of trial and error and a lot of time. Seeking reassurance is mostly time wasted.
“The values of my own people are neither ‘white’ nor ‘black,’ they are American. Nor can I see how they could be anything else, since we are people who are involved in the texture of the American experience.”
Writer’s block is a fallacy, according to Seth Godin. You just write bad sentences and bad ideas until you something good to play with. After all, whoever got talker’s block?
Seth’s thoughts on social media are also thought-provoking and to the point. If you listen to his latest interview with Brian Koppelman, you’ll hear Seth say this:
“Social media is based on infinity. If you look at how many Facebook shares you got, if you look at how many Twitter followers you have, you have just enrolled in the wrong dialogue with yourself. I don’t read my Amazon reviews. I don’t look at my Google Analytics. I have no idea whether my subscriber base is going up or down. I don’t know if the the buzz is about something I did on Facebook because none of those things helped me do better work.
Seth Godin was popular as an author before he even started blogging every day. He doesn’t need to gain new fans nor expand his fan base by playing the system and responding to his fans on social networks–you’re either in his tribe or your not. Furthermore, he wouldn’t participate in social media even if he were just getting started today. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram–all that stuff gets in the way of doing what matters which is, first and foremost, the work.
Work requires tremendous focus. Thom Yorke goes off the grid when he records a new album. When some authors write books, they announce their departure from Twitter. Here’s one from author Teju Cole back in 2014. Note: he reemerged on Instagram about a year later.
Social media is hard to ignore. For one, it’s incredibly addicting, like playing the Vegas slot machines. You just want to keep pleasing the crowds which if you’re not careful, will start programming your thinking. You’ll begin to publish things that satisfy an audience rather than yourself.
As Maria Popova mentioned in a Tim Ferriss Podcast when Kurt Vonnegut said “write to please just one person” what he was really saying was to write for yourself. Still, there are tremendous benefits if you use social networks as a tool to connect with like-minded people that you hope one to meet in real life.
As Seth would go on to say in an interview with Tim Ferriss, we work for Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. They make money breaking our individual and collective focus, tying our identity to their velocity. Consequently, we start avoiding the work that’ll outlast all of them.
PS. If you do want to reach out to Seth, he’s good about responding to email. But he still prefers you email Tim Ferriss instead.
The Financial Timestalks with novelist and photographer Teju Cole. I enjoy Cole’s work because he always comes at it from a unique point of view. He does not shy away from expressing himself — his views are blunt and often involved.
Cole also happens to be savvy Instagrammer who’s already posting mesmerizing stuff on Instagram Stories. He used to dabble in Twitter but is now active on Facebook and still scoping out Snapchat.
Below are some of the interesting talking points from the interview:
On being partisan:
“I recognise as a value that journalists always have an angle. It’s just that some people embed theirs and hide it under the name of neutrality, and neutrality is very often the favourite language of power.”
On ‘American exceptionalism’:
“we need to move beyond this ‘greatest country that’s ever existed’ thing. What is that? What is this, the Roman empire?”
On ‘All lives matter’:
“If I say ‘black lives matter’, it means what it means. You don’t go to someone’s funeral and start shouting, ‘I too have experienced loss!’ That shit is obnoxious.”
“I’m not in a constant state of rage — it’s not good for my health. But there’s much that’s enraging and there’s a great deal that’s saddening. I don’t think I would go on record as saying America’s already great.”
On creativity and online expression’:
“Yes. Any tool, as long as it has … robust enough parameters, any tool can be the avenue for really serious creativity. I really believe that.”
In short, Cole is a masterful noticer and storyteller. He makes sense of the world through words and art, often combining both, to illustrate the subtleties and overlooked matters in American and global culture.