Early Morning Community at the Music Concourse

I took my second ever photography class recently. Once again, the focus was on story. Dorothy Kimmel of the Richmond District branch of the San Francisco Public Library organized this wonderful workshop, which was led by photojournalist Frederic Larsen. The idea was simple: Get people from the neighborhood to document the stories of the neighborhood through photography.

I chose to photograph the community that comes together in the wee hours of the morning at the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park. The idea started last year, when I did a six-week stint at Koi Fitness’s bootcamp. The trainers and participants were wonderful, and I discovered that they were just some of many who gathered at that same spot every morning at sunrise.

Not being an early morning person myself, I was curious about who these people were and what drew them to that place. I also realized how beautiful the park is in at dawn and how wonderfully meditative it feels. My goal was to capture the mood and the stories through pictures.

You can view the complete set above or on Flickr, and you can watch me below presenting my work at a reception for the project last night.

I shot this over the course of two weeks. It was a tremendous learning experience. Briefly:

  • Telling stories is different from taking snapshots. It takes work and commitment to get the shots you want. More importantly, it takes time to gain the trust of your subjects and access into their lives. I was frustrated and intimidated by this in the early stages of shooting, but over time, I saw what a difference it made to simply show up every day.
  • There’s this crazy idea that storytellers are supposed to be passive, neutral observers. There’s no such thing. How you integrate into the story has a huge impact on your ability to tell it. As I got to know people, I gained their trust, and I was able to take more intimate, interesting pictures.
  • I was self-conscious about taking pictures of strangers without their permission. What I discovered was that many people invited me into their lives because of my camera (along with showing up every day). It gave me access that I would not have been able to get otherwise.
  • Taking the actual shot is actually one of the least important parts of being a good photographer. I’ve already mentioned one — gaining access. The other is curation. The best photographers take bad shots; they’re just disciplined enough not to show them.
  • Curation isn’t just about highlighting your best looking shots. It’s about picking the best shots that tell your story. Pruning my set was hard enough, but eliminating shots I loved visually but did nothing for the story was painful. And, it made for a stronger story in the end.

I feel like I’m just beginning with this story, and I hope to continue shooting, but here it is for now. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to do this work and to get feedback and guidance from Fred, Dorothy, Natalie Shrik (who filmed an awesome three-minute documentary of the project), and all of my fellow workshop participants. Thanks especially to those folks who let me photograph them, especially the wonderful folks at Koi Fitness.

As always, I love feedback! Let me know what you liked and didn’t like, and why. Please be honest; I have thick skin!

Hate Has No Place in San Francisco

My face has been up on a San Francisco billboard on 10th and Howard for the past week. I knew the billboard was up, but I didn’t have a chance to see it until today, and I didn’t tell anyone that my face was on it. I wasn’t being modest, I was just busy, and I didn’t think to tell anyone about it.

Frankly, I didn’t really think that anyone would discover it on their own. Sure, a billboard is huge, and it got good placement, but I personally tune out billboards, and my picture was just one of many.

So I was delighted and amused when I started getting texts and emails from friends and colleagues this past week confirming that it was indeed me on that billboard. In theory, I should have expected this to happen, but the reality is that I’m so immersed in my own little, mostly digital world, it’s easy for me to forget the immense power and reach of good ol’ fashioned analog media.

Which brings me to the real story — the story of the billboard itself and the tool, called Louder, that enabled the billboard to happen.

A few months ago, my friend, Christie George, posted on Facebook about an anti-Muslim smear campaign where a certain individual with lots of money and very little sense was purchasing hateful ads on San Francisco city buses. Christie and her friends were organizing a counter campaign to purchase a prominent billboard stating, “Hate has no place in our city.”

The proposition was simple. If enough people gave a little bit of money, we could fight fire with fire by amplifying a message that truly represented the people of San Francisco. As a clever bonus, the billboard would include pictures of the donors. Almost 100 people donated, resulting in a successful campaign and the billboard that is up today.

This notion of crowdfunding advertising is brilliant, and it is made possible by a tool appropriately called Louder. Founded by Colin Mutchler and Christie, Louder is a community organizer’s dream tool, because it enables movements to level the media playing field. Just as Kickstarter is enabling anyone to invest in projects they care about, Louder enables anyone to amplify messages they care about. This goes well beyond Facebook likes or online petitions, resulting in broader reach and greater impact.

I am proud to have been a minor contributor to such a worthwhile campaign. I especially loved getting to experience this innovative way to make a difference.

Changemakers, Want to Learn With Me?

I’ve learned an incredible amount over the past decade helping changemakers work more collaboratively and skillfully. (If you don’t know me or are not a regular reader of this blog, you can read up on my background.)

It was a fulfilling, but difficult path, and I’d love to find ways to make it easier and safer for others who are similarly motivated and with similar values. This was a big motivation for founding Groupaya, and I loved every chance I had to do it.

Even though I’ve left, I’m still fortunate to have great people requesting my help. I say no to most requests, but if the project is small or informal enough, I’ll occasionally say yes. I’ve been using these projects as opportunities to give associates real-life opportunities to practice, with me at their side giving guidance along the way.

I’d like to do a lot more of this. I’m curious if there are other changemakers out there in the world (or who at least read my blog) who would be interested in working and learning with me on small-scale (for now), real-life practice opportunities.

Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Living in San Francisco. If you’re not here, I still want to know you, but right now, I want to focus my energy on people who are local.
  • Passion. If you’re in it for consulting leads, go elsewhere. If you’re in it because you’re passionate about changing the world, about activating the potential of groups, both large and small, and about learning, then I want to know you.
  • Beginner’s mind. This is the big one. I want people who are anxious to learn at all costs and who aren’t too high-falutin’ to get their hands dirty. (Literally, in some cases.) Motivation and attitude are far more important than experience. Definitely don’t flash your OD / OB / OL degrees or your facilitation certifications or your daily consulting rate at me. I don’t care, and it will likely bias me against you.

You don’t have to be a consultant, aspiring or practicing. In fact, I’m particularly interested in working with changemakers embedded in organizations.

Interested? Drop me an email (eekim-at-eekim-dot-com) or leave me a comment below. And please share this with others who might be interested!

Sunrise and Sunset

Yesterday morning, I stepped onto my balcony and was treated to this hazy sunrise over the San Francisco skyline.

Hazy Sunrise over San Francisco Skyline

I ended my evening in Doran Park near Bodega Bay watching the sunset:

Sunset over Doran Park

A 2004 study found that 52% of Japanese primary and secondary school students had never seen a sunrise or a sunset. I often think about that disturbing statistic and wonder how that could possibly be.

Yesterday, I realized that it had been weeks since I had seen a sunrise or a sunset, longer since I had seen both in one day.

Maybe improving our lives and our world doesn’t have to be so hard. Maybe we do it by simply pausing our hectic lives and looking outside more often, marveling at this world we live in as the sun rises and sets.

An Ode to Sonic.net’s Customer Service

Several years ago, I was voicing my ongoing frustration with AT&T to my friend, Jason. Jason recommended that I look into Sonic.net. I did some research, and made the switch soon thereafter.

Overall, I’ve been satisfied, although I haven’t been thrilled by the speed or the uptime. Uptime is critical for someone who works from home and hosts a lot of teleconferences. While I haven’t had any major outages (unlike AT&T), I’ve had several intermittent outages, some at inopportune times. I know that some of this is out of Sonic.net’s control, but that doesn’t make me any happier when I lose my Internet access while making a presentation. I’ve also had multiple modems fail, including another one this morning. Recently, I’ve been pondering a switch to cable.

What’s prevented me from making the switch has been Sonic.net’s incredible service. It’s a joy to talk to their customer service people. I always get a human being who isn’t reading from a script, who doesn’t patronize me, who goes out of his or her way to solve my problem, and who is friendly and knowledgable. It reminds me of the good ol’ days fifteen years ago when most ISPs were mom-and-pop shops where everyone knew what they were talking about.

This morning, I woke up to discover that my DSL modem had failed, which was super annoying, considering I was planning on working all weekend. I looked up the customer service number on my phone and saw that the call wait was over 30 minutes. On the one hand, that made me grumpy. On the other hand, it was cool to be able to know the wait time before I even called.

So I called, waited a few minutes, and then was given the option to leave a call-back number. Why doesn’t everyone do this?! I left my number, ate a leisurely breakfast, and relaxed. Someone from Sonic.net called back about 45 minutes later. I explained what had happened, he saw that I still had 15 days left on my warranty, and said he’d send out a new modem right away.

I asked how long it would take, and he said two to three business days. Again, that made me grumpy. It meant that I would not have Internet access until Tuesday at the earliest. I expressed my annoyance and asked if there was anything else he could do. He thought for a second, asked me to hold, then said I could swing by the office in Santa Rosa to pick it up myself.

Santa Rosa is over an hour’s drive from San Francisco. It would not be convenient. But, it was better than not having Internet for five days. Plus, there are many worse things you can do than take the beautiful drive up to Santa Rosa in a sunny Saturday afternoon.

So I drove up and met the guy at the Sonic.net offices. He gave me my new modem and asked whether I was heading straight back. I said that I thought I’d find a coffee shop somewhere and camp out for a while. He suggested I go to Flying Goat Coffee nearby. And so here I am, at Flying Goat Coffee (which was an excellent recommendation), sitting outside enjoying the wonderful weather.

I woke up this morning frustrated about my modem. Replacing it was going to be inconvenient no matter what, but if I was going to be inconvenienced, this was the way to do it. It’s yet another reminder of what a difference great customer service makes.

I love the fact that, even on a weekend, I’m going to get someone good and friendly on the phone who will take care of me. I love the fact that, even when the call queue is long, I won’t have to wait on the line, because there’s a callback service. I love how, when I mention Sonic.net on Twitter, the company’s CEO, Dane Jasper, often responds. I wish I had better uptime and faster speeds, but I’ll take the great customer service any day of the week.