Based in Saitama, Japan, David R Munson is a photographer, educator, and essayist.

available for commissions and assignments.

Aiming For Education

Aiming For Education

 A newly planted rice paddy reflecting mountains and sky in Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture.

A newly planted rice paddy reflecting mountains and sky in Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture.

After three and a half years in Japan and a lot of effort to figure out what I'm aiming for in terms of my personal and professional goals in this country, one thing that has emerged as a clear focus is photographic education. In addition to being a photographer and writer, I've been a language teacher for while. It all started when the economy tanked in 2008/2009, and it's been a long, weird journey. I never expected to make a slow tour of East Asia teaching English, but it’s taught me a huge amount and has helped me develop a strong set of teaching skills. These are skills which I have already been using to teach photography with some students at a local level, but I want to do more. I love teaching, and I've been obsessed with photography since age fourteen, so it feels like a natural progression.

What kind of teaching? It will take the form of coaching, critiques/reviews, workshops, and developing resources like books and online courses that will help others make the most of their photographic journey. People often come to me with questions about how to improve, but when I look for certain educational products and services to recommend to them, I find that the resources I want to recommend either aren't as good as they should be, or they simply don't exist. 

There are plenty of resources on the technical side. Even if I find issue with some of them, there’s clearly plenty out there. I don’t like how the creative side of the practice gets addressed, in general. It is frequently presented in a way that puts technical aptitude as somehow at odds with creative acuity. This position is a cop-out at best. Developing one helps the development and application of the other. They are complementary.

Back in high school, I was totally obsessed with the technical side of photography, to the point that I can still recite part numbers from the Sinar catalog twenty years later and still remember development times for films that are no longer made. This fascination led to my having a solid foundation of technical skills that has always served me very well. It wasn’t enough, though. In time, I developed an intense curiosity in the creative process and in the practice of photography as deep and nuanced form of personal expression. I became fascinated by all the things about it that are hard to get at directly. 

Put another way, my focus shifted from hard skills to soft skills. 

Hard skills can be thought of as measurable, discrete, directly teachable skills. They are procedures and technical principles. 

Soft skills, on the other hand, are slippery things that must usually be developed by direct practice. They can't be taught the way that hard skills can, but having a someone to guide you (ie a teacher) can help such skills develop much more quickly effectively than is usually possible on one's own. The big one here is creativity, which is not some magical thing given to a select few at birth, but rather something developed through practice. It’s as much a habit as anything else. 

Then there’s the matter of developing sensitivity to all the visual elements and cues that factor into images, your own and those of other photographers. We cannot improve what we cannot recognize in our images. We cannot learn from what we cannot isolate in the work of others. Developing this awareness is also part of the process necessary for evolving a personal style. Developing a style cannot be forced, but can be guided along. 

There’s more. Consider the development of an effective process cycle. Photography is an iterative process. It must be practiced in a cycle that repeats, and must repeat indefinitely for creative growth and evolution to occur. A well-structured cycle yields a solid framework for growth. Recursive practice is essential, but can be a challenge to establish. How do we choose, finish, and evaluate our work? How do we learn from mistakes? How do we hold onto positive developments? It’s all part of the process. Some people like a very rigid, highly structured process, while others like to keep it loose and only vaguely defined. Either is fine, but the cycle needs to be there.

When I started practicing photography at age fourteen, I mostly learned from books and a handful of the early online photography forums. I was mostly self self taught, with only a couple workshops under my belt by the time I left for Ohio University’s commercial photography program. I enjoyed learning it all on my own and I’m proud of what I was able to do by myself. But you know what? I’d have been better off if I’d had someone to guide me from time to time, to poke or question or push me one way or another when needed.

I’m not aiming to provide intensive training, but rather strategic guidance. I can’t do the work for anyone else, but I can help the work go in the right direction. 

Coaching packages and other products will be launching very soon, including local workshops in Japan. I’m even toying with the idea of a correspondence course, just for fun. Check back soon for details, it will be listed in the Services menu in the main navigation. You can also contact me directly if there’s something in particular you would like. 

Don't go it (entirely) alone

Don't go it (entirely) alone

A New Blog for a New Chapter

A New Blog for a New Chapter

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