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2013: Burn Like a Fabulous Yellow Roman Candle

2013! A whole 12 months that are fresh and ready for conquering. There’s something really invigorating about a new fresh start, isn’t there? No mistakes have been made yet. It’s a chance to get done those things you’ve always wanted to and do them right for once. The new year holds a sense of inspiration of what can be done with those 365 days. This will be the year, you proclaim!

Like many people, most of my time is often focused on getting to and from work, packing food and snacks to keep me going. It can be an exhausting, repeating pace that you can lose yourself in. What happens if you decide to break the mold? What if you decide to not be a slave to routine, but to break from it and make something that you’ve always wanted to? With all the new avenues for expression that are easy to access via technology, what’s your excuse? Instagram, WordPress, Tumbler, heck even Twitter, are all products that support self expression and they’re free!

I’m not going to say passion and drive make it easier ’cause it doesn’t, but what if you just made one small promise to yourself to do something just for you? Could that make the difference for you to reach the proverbial finish line?

Never, never, never give up.
– Winston Churchill

Yes, Winston Churchill has a great point. I think being a semi-stubborn person has helped me keep up my passions, I don’t give up easily. I also have been known to possess a rebellious spirit. I’m a rebel, Dottie! I have often made my own rules and if you have a burning desire to make your own way, I think it’s vital to adopt this concept or at least respect the essence of it. Think about this quote from Jack Kerouac.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
– Jack Kerouac

Cheesy as it might be, I always find quotes inspiring! I also find other people’s stories inspiring. Other people like you and me? Most people have a love, a passion, a desire for something that comes from deep down, and that’s what makes us humans so spectacular. The world is rich with ideas. It’s just a matter of getting them out there! So, I hereby present people that have done just that! I recently asked a couple of colleagues to answer some interview questions about their personal projects.

First is Ben Rhau, who writes a blog called, You Fed a Baby Chili, in addition to being an Instagram photographer of note. Then, we have the lovely author of Teaspoon SF, Caitlin Dunn! I wanted to talk to them about their passions, their outlets and putting themselves out there through technology.


Ben Rhau

1. Tell us a little about yourself 

I think of myself as a serial beginner. I’ve worked as a trader on Wall Street, research scientist, and now digital media. When I was younger, I avoided trying things I didn’t think I would immediately be the best at. I’m doing my best to shed that mentality, and as a result I’m like a kid in a candy store, pursuing things that have interested me all along. I took up writing and photography in my late 30s, and it’s completely changed the way I live.

2. Do you consider yourself to be an artist, a technologist, an artistic technologist (heh)? 

You know, maybe. I’ve honestly never thought of myself as either. When I started taking my blog seriously, someone told me that it’s OK to call yourself a writer if you write. Doesn’t mean you have to be good at it, or a pro. So I identify as a writer. I have a harder time describing myself as a visual artist, because it feels like I’m describing what I do as some great, noble thing. Until a year ago, I didn’t consider myself to be a visual person, or very adept at composition. But if we can all agree that artists are allowed to be crappy too, then sure — I consider myself an artist, since what I do is try to make art.

3. How does your work in biochemistry relate to the arts? 

I worked on reprogramming cells to crawl toward new signals. That doesn’t sound like the arts, but I do think that scientists and creatives have more in common than people think. A lot of folks, especially if they were educated in America, think of science and math as being dry. The stereotype is that scientists are rigid about the way they think. That really can’t be further from the truth. To be a successful academic scientist, you have to be a trendsetter, a big idea person. You have to understand what questions are important and relevant, and then figure out how to answer them with no guidebook or ready-made tools at your disposal. There’s an incredible amount of artistry and craft that goes into being a great scientist, not to mention being smart about they way you communicate visually and verbally.

I didn’t really answer your question, but I think, generally speaking, the type of curiosity that was necessary for my scientific career helps me think about art. Both how to approach it, and how to make it.

4. What drew you to the interactive photographic world? Why is Instagram an important platform for you? 

It’s funny, one of my cousins interviewed me for her college photography class, and asked me two similar questions. I grouped them together. It’s a combination of community and discovery. I really just started playing around with Instagram because I’m interested in social media, and I wanted to understand, as a native user, what made it interesting. I didn’t really get it for a long time, but occasionally I would see some really interesting images in my Following tab that a few of my friends Liked. As I started to dig further, I found that there was a vibrant community of street photographers, many of whom had no previous experience with non-iPhone photography. The images were stunning. I completely rearranged my feed to see mostly those people, and then tried to teach myself to do what they do. Most people are incredibly generous about it, and I started making friends through the platform, both online and off.

On top of those things, the convenience of being able to not only shoot, but process and share on the same device that’s with you all the time, while restricting the decisions you need to make… How beautiful can you make something that’s taken with your cell phone? There are only so many things you can possibly do, yet the product can be amazing.

All of that has lowered the barrier for millions to become more active photographers. I know a lot of people make fun of the crappy pictures and crappy filters, but there is also a lot of striking new talent out there that wouldn’t have been uncovered without the iPhone, the app environment, and Instagram.

Here are some examples of photographers who inspire me:

5. What was the best moment for you as an Instagrammer ?

It’s hard to pick a moment, because such a big part of my enjoyment is the emotional reaction to seeing beautiful images, and also the relationships I form with people over time. But if I were to pick a discrete one, it would be a kind of childish/fanboy kind of thing. And that would be when I got a follow from D-Nice, former DJ of Boogie Down Productions. I’ve been a fan of his music for over 20 years, and he’s an amazing portrait photographer. Leica shooter. It just goes to show you that people are willing to engage if you have something interesting to say, regardless of you who are.

6. What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a splash in the creative world, but is just starting out? 

  1. I don’t care how old you are; it’s not too late.
  2. Don’t judge yourself by what others have accomplished.
  3. You’re supposed to suck at the beginning. I promise you everyone sucks relative to some other point in their development. Instead of focusing on “I suck,” focus on “What did this person who doesn’t suck do differently? What makes them good?”
  4. Be social. People are generous, and will respond to your generosity.

7. What are some goals you have for yourself as a photographer? 

I just want to get better at it. I think I’m starting to understand a little more how to find great shooting light, but I’m less comfortable knowing what to do with dim or diffuse light. I’d like to get better at capturing emotion in facial expressions for portraits, especially candids. For posed portraits, I want to develop more of a process of how to go about the shoot and make the subject feel comfortable. I’d like to learn how to use a camera where I control the ISO and aperture… I have a lot to learn, and I find the process very satisfying. And before I die, I want to experience shooting with a Noctilux 0.95.


Caitlin Dunn

1. Tell us about yourself 

My name is Caitlin and I like to bake and craft and do yoga and sell houses and write about all of it.

2. Why did you decide to start a blog? 

While working at my first “real world” job, I started dreaming of what I really wanted to do. I decided I wanted to own a high tea room one day. My blog was then created to document my baking trials and tea tastings for my future tea room, but has since turned into my baking/ crafts/everyday life scrapbook. Don’t get me wrong; the tea room is still happening one day, but maybe as my second career 🙂

3. Since SF is in your blog name, tell us why you love San Francisco and why it’s important to you.

San Francisco is the first city that I have lived, worked, and been completely self-sufficient. I’ve been on an adventure of figuring out what this whole “life after college” is all about and San Francisco has been a great home for personal discovery.

4. What is one thing you learned since starting your own blog?

I learned that it’s not always about knowing how to do something, it’s about knowing how to ask the right people for help (like my amazing logo designer!). I also realized that I do enjoy writing. I never did growing up, but when you get to write about whatever the heck you want, it’s fun!

5. What are some goals you have for Teaspoon SF? 

I’d really like to blog more often and take better pictures. I also have some ideas for baking kits that I would love to sell on my site one day…hopefully in 2013!

6. What is the best moment you’ve had since you started Teaspoon SF? 

I think the best moment was when I posted this Cupcake Christmas tree. At the time, my blog was read by family and friends, probably out of obligation. But all of a sudden, this post went viral and people started reading my blog because they actually liked what I posted! Imagine that? Times like those keep me motivated to make something new and exciting that people want to look at and read about.

7. Anything else you’d like to say to anyone that is just starting out with their own thing/blog? 

Everyone told me that once you start blogging, you will get in a rhythm and it will just start coming naturally. And they are right. So just start the blog you’ve been thinking about starting and see where it takes you! I started blogging for a totally different reason than I am blogging now, but who cares? I enjoy it still, and that’s all that matters.


Thank you both, Caitlin and Ben, for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope that if you, dear reader, have a personal desire to start something on your own, that this gives you a little fire to do just that!

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
– Howard Thurman

So what is your passion? Is this year going to be the year that you make it happen?


Tell us what you're thinking. Leave a comment.

  1. brhau says: January 2, 2013

    Thanks for the interview, Jill! One thing: I noticed that @michaelsson deleted his Instagram account over the TOS controversy, but can be found on EyeEm at the same userid:

    Happy New Year!

    • Jill Specter says: January 2, 2013

      Thank you for being apart of it. Much appreciated I’m sure many will be inspired by you!
      Happy New Year to you as well! 🙂

  2. Cat says: January 2, 2013

    This is awesome! Didn’t know that you had a blog. 🙂

    • Jill Specter says: January 2, 2013

      It’s a semi new adventure I’ve been cooking up this last year with Peter Ridge – we’ll need to have couscous tangerine feature next! 🙂 Hope you’re good Cat!!

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