What can we learn from the arts?
I started my first business at sixteen. I had a photo studio at the back of my parents shop that they inherited from my grandfather. I would Sellotape pictures of the kind of photography I wanted to emulate to the walls. Many of the images I loved to put up were from UK Advertising campaigns and magazines.
My Grandfather Paddy Lavin was a true entrepreneur, a shopkeeper, gardener, fisherman. He did watch repairs, and mended shoes and before anyone dreamed of hyper-personalised marketing campaigns, he could
anticipate his customer’s needs. After school I moved over to London where I got valuable experience with some of the very studios that created the images on my wall. Since then, I have had my own studios in London and Dublin, and I still love what I do. Working with photography showed me how the camera could transform anything through the use of clever techniques like framing, lighting and art direction.
Later, working with creatives in advertising agencies, PR companies and design I found that creatives think differently to the accountant or the engineer. Some people can take things apart to see how they work; a creative takes random elements and makes something more of them. It’s the same for a fashion designer or a theatre director, a potter or a film editor. Today I shoot photos and videos for major campaigns and rebranding projects and I love working with small businesses and startups.
Photography is now as part of our everyday experience as reading.
Creatives don’t wait for inspiration to happen, they make it happen and crucially they act on their ideas, that’s what commercial arts is about – getting practical results for our clients.
The most important lesson I learned is the power of transformation and this has helped me in other parts of my life: seeing my students transform their work and themselves, in my work and in my sports coaching, even in my personal and family life.
These days everyone can take a great photograph, but I have to make great photographs all the time.
Creativity is having a vision and being open to change, and if you’re going to change something why not do it in the most creative way? I believe we can all be creative, and we know there is evidence that doing something creative has a lot of benefits from mindfulness even in relation to dementia.
I often work with colleges and schools. I talk about my career journey and about finding one’s vision and why living your vision is fundamental, something that you never hear in school or college. Vision , what does it even mean ? Vision as concept is ambiguous, something used by opticians and mystics . However, it’s difficult to find your purpose without some reflection . Your vision should be motivational, so it has to be both inspiring, real and emotional. However our shared vision usually includes a need for beauty, joy and laughter in our lives and making art or enjoying the arts is one way to do this.
Personal transformation is not only something for creatives or students but we all have a vision, that’s mostly deep within. Some people never tap into their vision and that’s too bad, because one day you may realise you have spent your life doing something other than what you always dreamed of doing. Living through your vision is good for your happiness, as you’re not just reacting to events or the circumstances of your Life but to something bigger, almost spiritual. After all, we all have some unique purpose, what ancient teachings call dharma, the way or one’s duty or essential nature or true Purpose.
My vision now includes helping other people understand their true Purpose with workshops, mentoring and some teaching. My vision also includes the quality of photography that I want to pursue . I like to keep things interesting by challenging myself to do something new each year. Lately I have been studying unusual colour combinations for my food and product photography, to tell a new story, to challenge myself to do things differently. Doing this keeps things fresh for me. It’s my way of innovating within my craft. I study aesthetic colour palettes from paintings, movies and nature. That’s what is inspiring me lately.
The arts are fundamentally about getting comfortable with creativity and being open to change. When you find the best way of doing something you have to be brave enough to do something different with the next project. There is a saying in editing film which says you must “kill your babies” which means you have to be prepared to let go of even your best stuff, even whole scenes of your film. I always try to do something different for each client so that they have a different look to their photography than their competitors. In this way, I have no formulaic way of working and, everyone benefits.
Everything can be Art
That Tik Tok you created is art!
That presentation you are creating can be art!
That picture you took on holiday can be art!
That innovative product on Dragons Den is art!
That creative idea you had is art!
That diary you’re writing is art!
Recently I was working with a fabulous Chocolatier called Erik Van der Veken at Arcane Chocolates, Erik’s work is art. The arts are about transformation and making something new. Everything can be Art! It’s about your intention. Helping people see things afresh is an art, as is offering support to people to be more courageous in living their vision, and giving people the freedom to be themselves. That’s what I do best. Living a creative life will bring you more perspective, more flexibility and more happiness. Creativity is our natural state.
Mike O’Toole Photography and Video
Winner Communications Arts Photography Award of Excellence 2021