Our next Guest Blogger in this series is Josh Terry.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on the KJZZ Movie Show. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College, and plays drums in a SLC-based cover band named after a “Rocky III” character. You can find more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.

 


“Hell is other people.”
-Jean-Paul Sartre

The moment comes two-thirds of the way through the semester. The class has three papers in the bag, and it’s time to introduce the dreaded group project. No matter how well the course has been going, the mere mention of academic collaboration always goes over like a fart in church.

Memories of horrible past experiences erupt to the surface…

I always get stuck doing the whole thing myself! I don’t want slackers to hurt my grade!

Panic and anger combine into an unfathomable resentment for the teacher who wants to put them all through it again.

I am evil incarnate. I am asking them to work with other people.

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Most people don’t like working together. Artists especially don’t like working together. Working together means disagreement. Criticism. Not getting your way.

One reason I got into photography was because it was too much of a pain to get people together for film projects. But photography lied to me. I still have to work with others. Sometimes I even have to talk to them.

Hi, I’m taking pictures for the Temple Square Facebook page and I was wondering if it would be OK for me to get some candid shots of you and your kids. I don’t want you to think I’m a weirdo. I mean, I’m not a stalker or anything. Is that OK? We’ll only use them on the website. We just want to show people having a good time on Temple Square. I do need you to sign this form. Just do what you were doing and pretend that I’m not here. Thanks. No really, don’t pose, just look natural. Please, stop looking at the camera.

It’s the same thing when I am doing a movie review, or playing the drums in my band. It’s there when I’m explaining an assignment for the seventeenth time to one of my English students, or when a picky client listens in while I’m recording a voiceover for their instruction video.

Working with other people is just reality. But as much as much as we fancy ourselves lone wolves and introverted creative geniuses that would thrive if people would just get off our backs, keep their bad ideas to themselves, and submit to the overpowering rightness of our divine gift, working with others can be a good thing. “None of us is as dumb as all of us,” but sometimes the right collaboration can get results.

For example…

Every year I drag my camera to downtown Salt Lake City to take pictures of the Christmas lights on Temple Square. It’s one of my little traditions, like always ordering the chile verde plate at Red Iguana, or signing the name “Mike Dubek” on wedding reception guest books. After you’ve done it a few times, shooting the lights gets redundant. The buildings don’t change, the lights don’t change. Getting an original image can be a challenge, and everything looks like a variation of this:

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So one year I go downtown with my buddy Dennis. Dennis is also a photographer, but Dennis understands the value of collaboration.

We were over by the big reflecting pool east of the Salt Lake Temple when Dennis pulls out a remote flash unit he’d purchased. He gives me the transmitter bit and starts wandering around with the flash while I point my camera at the people gathered around the pool.

Eventually, this happens:

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The next year, Dennis brings the flash thingamabob again, and we get this:

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These shots get me excited, because they are vastly different than the images I had been getting on previous trips. Suddenly I’m seeing an old subject in a new way. My creative switch has been flipped. But I have to accept reality. The creative switch wouldn’t have flipped if I hadn’t been willing to work with another creative person. Collaboration turned routine into invention.

Another thing I like to do in my English classes is to play a little cause-effect exercise. I have my students identify a sequence of life decisions that brought them to my classroom. It could have been taking a creative writing class in high school. It could be deciding to go back to school after working sales for ten years. Maybe it was that one night when the masked spaceman appeared at their bedside and threatened to melt their brain unless they asked Lorraine out to the dance. A lot of times, one of those decisions is a great story they can use for a paper.

When I apply the same exercise to all the freelance jobs I get paid to do these days, I realize they all have a common thread: I wouldn’t be doing any of them if I couldn’t work with people. I get to review movies on TV because I stayed on good terms with the news director of the show I produced for him seven years ago. I got the producer job because I was working for free on a different show for the same station. And I got that gig because one day I decided to call up my old high school drama teacher and offer him some extra Utah Jazz tickets, and he told me about this variety show he was working on.

Looking back, the path seems pretty linear, but I had to swallow my pride several times along the way. I had to let someone else make creative decisions about my work. I had to do some quality work without getting paid. I got laid off from the producer job when our show got cancelled.

And that’s just the path to the TV job. I could trace a similar path for teaching, my voiceover work, the freelance photography, anything. Call it Karma, call it charity, call it the Zen of Bill and Ted. I do what I love because I’ve been willing to work with people.

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The funny thing about that group project is that most of the time it yields my students’ best work of the whole semester. Time and time again I get students who tell me that they went in skeptical, but wound up having an awesome time. Not everyone does, of course. But those are usually the students who have been digging their graves all semester anyway.

There’s something to be said for sticking to your creative guns, and ignoring the naysayers and all that stuff. In spite of everything I’ve written here, I’m still an ornery, stubborn introvert. I will always cringe when an editor asks me to change something, just like I will always hate the people who clog up the passing lane. Hell is still other people, no matter what Sartre really meant by the expression.

But if we didn’t know Hell, we wouldn’t recognize Heaven.

 


 

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