Jim Veneman is as celebrated of a photojournalist that you will find in West Tennessee, having covered stories across the globe (World Trade Center collapse, combat in Iraq, and meetings with Fidel Castro to name a few) for a number of high-profile publications while consistently lecturing in university and workshops settings over the past few decades. While the technology and demand for on-the-run photography has advanced since he first began, Veneman has remained true to finding and revealing truth through “visual storytelling” regardless of the expectation. Currently splitting his time between California and Tennessee for work, the photographer spent a lunch hour during last month’s meetup encouraging creatives with lessons learned over the years that still serve as valuable teachings.
It’s common now to hear of artists or entrepreneurs going on retreat in search for inspiration, hoping to block out noise produced from everyday routines and create space for serious reflection. And while these exercises have their merit, it’s certainly not required for worthy ideas to surface. In fact, Veneman is a champion of short bursts of concentration and shared story after story of how seemingly agonizing, unconventional deadlines have resulted in the best concentration-produced ideas for both him and his contemporaries over the years (no surprise coming from someone in the news industry). “Creativity doesn’t occur when you’re sitting on your bed at night, staring up at the ceiling while dreaming about what’s going to happen the next day,” he told us. “I really think that you’ll do your best work in your entire life when you’re planning for a few hours but only get thirty minutes to make it happen. That’s when [creativity] is the real deal, when it’s over fast.” With less time to process and perform thought experiments, there’s greater likelihood of the absurd ideas filtering through, which often yields results that are the most gratifying. Veneman went on to illustrate with an example of Time Magazine shooting portraits for their covers in a matter of minutes because of both the preparation put in beforehand and the willingness to execute in the moment.
Near the end of the get-together, a slideshow of well-framed pictures was cycled through before the group, all of which were rejected by Veneman’s respective editors. For photojournalists, he noted, capturing a quality image is only half of the job requirement; one must also shed light on some truth through that image that otherwise would be incommunicable, regardless if it’s less attractive or invited. “The nice thing about telling the truth through what you do is that you never have to worry about what you say about it,” he explained. “You never have to come up with an excuse or consider the ‘what if’s’ because it speaks for itself.” In an educative fashion, his culmination encouraged those charged with similar objectives to continue do the same as bravely as they knew how—by telling their stories creatively in the little time they are given.