This week’s interview is with Mary Gordon, who I first found out about through her blog Creative Voyage. Mary runs courses in Edinburgh based on the hugely popular book The Artist’s Way
(which I will be talking about in more detail on this blog soon). However despite that fact we both live in the same city we have yet to meet in real life- something we must remedy soon!
I found Mary’s ideas and philosophy of life really interesting and hope you will too. I was especially intrigued by how she has following her instinct on a number of key occasions has been a key part of her creative journey.
Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?
I’m a filmmaker/photographer who runs creative unblocking workshops in Glasgow & Edinburgh based on the techniques developed by Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way and my own 20 years of creating. I’m working on putting together a collaborative photography exhibition and developing a feature documentary.
Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?
Well… I had various quite random wishes of things I wanted to be as a child, junk shop owner, writer and someone in ‘biznis’. However I had a very profound experience walking as a student through a wood in spring when the trees were in blossom by full moon and a most powerful and direct inner voice said to me that my job was to ‘tell stories’.
However in what form as been the basis of my exploration ever since. I started by making films and then I took up photography in a slightly random way about 12 years ago.
I was staying with a friend in London and walked past an early Lomography shop. I had been reading about Lomography online and was compelled to go in. I ended up buying a Lomo LCA from this rather strange woman with a strong German accent who gave me a quick lesson on how to use the camera. And I was off on a whole different kind of creative adventure.
Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?
Yes but partly because there are certain things or ways of working which really don’t work for me (full time in an office 9-5). But there are other ways to look at it. What other people think of a sacrifice to me is a relief. Because what others think is necessary in their life is not to me.
But then they probably wouldn’t travel 500 miles to the best photo printer or spend their holidays in the Imperial War Museum Archive watching rare films by Ruby Grierson!
How do you define success?
Humm well I feel that if I’m creating regularly, in contact with a wide group of creative people, having fun, have something to look forward to and not starving – I’m doing brilliantly.
I’ve found that whenever someone is trying to shove their idea of ‘success’ at you it is because they have achieved their idea of ‘success’ and are as miserable as sin but won’t admit it so they are on a mad recruiting campaign because they cannot countenance the idea that they have swallowed something that does not work. Being happy is the best revenge.
On a side note re money – whenever I have had well paid work which I dislike I’ve always ended up worse off financially speaking due to the amount of cash spent on ‘treating’ myself to compensate on my time being tied up in something I dislike doing.
This is not to say that I’m against money. But I think it isn’t helpful to push the idea of making living from your creativity to legitimate being creative. I found Tom Hodgkinson’s book How To Be Free very helpful about clarifying my ideas around what makes a good life.
What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?
As far as creating goes I’m old school (waggy finger) analogue. I only work with film. My last documentary was recorded on video but had a large tranche of footage which was originated on Super8 which I shot myself.
What I like about these formats is the amount of chance and accident which is involved and actual conditions. By that I mean the shot or footage is dependent on me being there at that particular moment when the light is like this. Its not faked up later. It’s a zen lesson on dealing with what is.
When it comes to promoting my work? Bring it on! Gosh I wish I’d had the internets when I made my first film. It was agony putting myself out and my film out into the world. I now would have such an easier job. The ability to make connections and be connected is infinitely expanded.
I am a total twitter convert – it was my friend Rhiannon Connelly @starrybluesky, a photographer working with polaroids who introduced me to it. As a result I now actually feel more connected to the place I live in and I’m making wonderful connections in a wider way.
I was on an old school email list to do with creativity about 10 years ago and the connections I made via that have meant that in the past 5 years I’ve been on quite extended trips to US and Australia where I actually met all the people I’d been emailing with all those years.
I occasionally have a freak out about the amount of time I spend online. But I am becoming less reactive more organised about it. But I had a lovely aha moment talking to a friend last week when she pointed out presocial media we weren’t all rushing about being wonderful in the now, connected, present people and she could remember spending much time lying on the sofa flicking her way through Heat.
Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?
My films are necessity collaborations or a bit like gathering an army together! I’ve been considering whether it would be possible to work more on film alone and I’ve been thinking about Margaret Tait as a role model here. I would never have made my first film Ethel Moorhead without my producer Steve Quinn who was a wonderful collaborator. We were both novices and learned together.
I think if you do collaborate you have to respect whoever you are working with. My current producer has a strong background in TV so when he talks to me about the way my story is or isn’t working in terms of storytelling in TV terms I have to take what he says on board. I think when collaboration works you can take turns in infusing the partnership with creativity.
On the other hand when you work alone as I do with my photography – I enjoy that very much as its something I can do whenever I want to, I don’t have to persuade or ask permission. However the downside is that I’ve probably not pushed myself as much as I could have. And this is something I have to do more of in my photographic practice.
Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?
Oh yes I put a lot of time in my friendships, maintaining them – they are my ballast as a creative person. We need to be what Julia Cameron calls ‘believing mirrors’ to each other. We can see the talent and possibilities in each other usually easier than in ourselves, which is why it’s important to keep telling each other about our faith in each other.
I made a film about a wonderful woman called Mary Fraser Dott who was a chiropodist by day and SNP activist by night – she was a founding member of the SNP when it had about 30 members. She was my great aunt and she ran a literary salon from her flat in Millar Place with people like Hugh MacDairmid and Anne Redpath. I’m really hoping to start something similar as I’d like to do an in person network.
I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?
Yes I am luckily quite a tenacious person by temperament so have put in many hours learning lo-fi photography methods by myself. I think what helps is making practicing your creativity a daily habit (or at least aim to make it so).
Doing something small but regularly is much more sustainable over a long period than waiting for a large swathe of time which then becomes very daunting because you have then justify putting aside the time. I find the Artist’s Way practice of morning pages (a free form form of writing in the morning which helps to clear the brain for the day ahead) gently reminds me every day of what I should be doing. But generally a working method which is just step by step in the direction you want to go in makes the most amazing progress over time.
Note: this post contains affiliate links to Amazon. One day, someone will actually use them to buy a book and I will be rich wohahaha.