Blog #71 Working Creatively
Ever since I took a black and white film photography class in high school, I loved making pictures. When I came back to photography years later, it was with a renewed passion and love of the medium and the creative process. Photographers may struggle to keep pace, as many other creatives do, while jogging down the path of creativity. How does one stay motivated? How does one stay original?
We are all challenged to find our own style, to find our voice, to make images about things rather than images of things. Sure, projects, assignments, and working on a Project 365 can work to push you forward and practice your craft. What else can we do to keep those creative juices flowing especially in those lean times?
I’ve been listening to a podcast called LensWork that offers some sound advice on the subject.
How to Live a More Creative Life (Artsy) suggests travel, surrounding yourself with creative people, trying new things as well other food for thought on the subject.
The topic of creativity can be quite controversial as many people consider it a trait that you either have [from birth] or you don’t got it. Creatively, in fact, can be taught and measured. In a simple but brilliant experiment using preschool children and block building, psychologists Goetz & Baer (1973) used social praise only when the children produced block formations that differed from the previous ones that they made. The researchers showed in a simple but observable way that you can teach [and measure] creativity. If we were to extrapolate their results to adult picture making, it seems that involving oneself in workshops and seeking critique might be a logical progression.
Indeed, I love how fantasy novelist Ursula K. LeGuin puts it:
“The adult artist is the child who has survived.”
Fight! Survive! Be Creative!
Remember, the light is always right.
Images in this blog post are original and made with a Nikon SLR, 24mm lens and Rollei 400 Infrared 35mm film and developed at home after a hike with my wife Christine and dog, Pepe.
If you’re like me, you read a lot [I read everything!] and you enjoy the random quotation that floats across your field of view from time to time. Some make me stop and think. A really good quotation can be applicable to anything and anyone. They don’t ALL relate to photography, per se. But then again, maybe they do in a profound way. At least to me they seem to be speaking about photography.
If you read below, you will see my most recent list of favourite quotations by random people, most of whom you will have heard of. They all relate to photography in one way or another or at least the creative process. I will not provide reasons or rationale for this connection since it will take to much space and I would rather that you find your own connections to these quotes and how they relate to you and your creative process.
The images below the quotes are original photos that I made using my Fujifilm X-E2S while travelling in the Philippines.
“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”
- Ted Grant Canadian photojournalist
“Reinforcing contingencies shape the behavior of the individual, and novel contingencies generate novel forms of behavior. Here, if anywhere, originality is to be found.”
From B.F. Skinner’s Science and Human Behavior Chapter 16: Thinking (p. 255)
“Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
– Imogen Cunningham
“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself.”
- John Dewey
“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”
“The best color in the world is the one that looks good on you.”
- Coco Chanel
“. . . as a modern authority has pointed out, it is as difficult to explain how we see a picture in the occipital cortex of the brain as to explain how we see the outside world, which it is said to represent.”
From B.F. Skinner’s About Behaviorism Chapter 5: Perceiving (p. 90)
"Life is what happens to you when your busy making other plans"
"Man plans and God laughs.”
-Old Jewish Proverb
“Art is what you can get away with.”
“The very meaninglessness of life forces a man to create his own meaning.”
- Stanley Kubrick
“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfilment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
- Stanley Kubrick
“I went into photography because it seemed like the perfect vehicle for commenting on the madness of today's existence.”
The light is always right.
Past Blog Posts
Restrictions in creatively can be a good thing that actually facilitates and improves the creative process. But how?
First off, if you are a beginner or hobbyist in photography, there is great value in casting your net widely. In other words, experiment with various formats, film, digital, working with lenses, genres, do a Project 365, work on various projects, portraits, travel, etc… After you master the technical settings of your specific camera(s), the next step is to find your artistic voice. What do you want to say through your images?
Eventually, you can work your way up to story writing, and other creative challenges and projects with images. Thinking of a project can be a bit daunting as there are an infinite number of possibilities out there in the big wide world.
After the initial period of experimentation which will vary from person to person you will likely settle into a small set of cameras, lens, genres, projects, and such. It’s like sanding wood, you move from course to fine, systematically.
At this point in your creative career (or hobby for that matter), it might be helpful to establish some self-imposed restrictions. Interestingly, these can be good in short bursts and actually improve and focus your creative process, image making, and therefor photography.
Some examples of restrictions are as follows:
Although is seems like the task of making images within narrow parameters like these will somehow limit your creative process or result in a boring, homogenous group of images, actually, the opposite happens. It’s really a paradox effect sort of thing. By setting limits, you will somehow start to take a deep dive into the creative process. The results will be well worth it.
The small set of images below were the result of setting the limit (for a day on a family holiday) of only shooting black and white.
What limits will you set for yourself?
Remember, the light is always right!
See these related Blog posts for more tips and techniques on how to improve your photography:
Blog #68 Photography is a Gift
I think photography is one of the greatest gifts. The camera is a technological marvel that is really a miracle. Arthur C. Clarke said,
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.
Indeed, when you expose photosensitive paper in the darkroom under the enlarger for a few seconds, then dunk it into a tray with developer, about eight seconds later an image appears before you. This is science, of course, but it still seems like magic each and every time. Amazing!
Now that we ALL have cameras (including small children) and we collectively upload something to the tune of 2 billion (that’s 1000 million X 2) images daily, we have plenty of pictures to keep us busy for many lifetimes and even earth times. Is it too much? No it is not. I take comfort in this fact since there are an infinite number of image possibilities. From that point of view, we’re barely scratching the surface.
The current SnapGramTwitFace culture that we live in is lightyears from Gutenberg’s printing press from 1440.
Sharing is caring or so it goes.
Images come in many forms and sizes. Share through social media, print a book, print a zine, print on paper, print and frame then give it away. Original art or portraiture is always appreciated when received. Sure there are rules such as don’t post more than one image on Instagram per day. That’s probably a reasonable suggestion. Take into consideration that if someone has one 100 + that they are following and everyone posts one image per day, that’s a tall task to look at 100 images from one single social media site only. You get the picture!
The point here is to share images that are significant with the people in your life. They will appreciate it and you’ll be glad you did. Good photos do nothing sitting in your hard drive as a series of zeros and ones. Bring your art into the real world and the world will be better for it.
Be great, and remember, the light is always right.
*Check out Upcoming Street Photography Workshop in Hong Kong Sunday 13 August*
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Blog #67 Risks, Rules, & Restrictions
A formal education in art and design that includes image making will expose one to "rules" that one should master. Mastery of these rules should result in pleasing image making compared to one that is ignorant of such rules. This is the prevailing logic. These rules are derived from an analysis or critique of many great images usually from paintings from hundreds of years ago.
The term "rule" is a bit of misnomer. Guidelines might be a more appropriate term. Most of these rules or guidelines pertain to establishing the subject of the image and placing that subject in the frame (compositionally) in an interesting manner. Images that "work" could be described as having consistency with (or nearly so) the guidelines for what makes a good image.
The counter point to this approach was best stated by the great Ansel Adams.
"The are no rules for good pictures,
only good pictures”.
So where does that leave us? Learn the rules or throw them all out of the window, screw the rules and the text books that wrote them and find your own path as an artist? Well, in short, yes and no.
A formal or informal study of art and what makes good art (critique) is like learning to cook. There are underlying practices and combinations of ingredients that are generally pleasing to most pallets. These are accepted "norms" and found to be present in most dishes that most people appreciate. These ingredients or combinations and cooking techniques have been distilled and extracted from some of the worlds most popular dishes.
For example, spaghetti and tomato sauce can be viewed as a staple dish. It works. It's delicious, and most people would agree. Spaghetti is also one of the first dishes that children learning to prepare their own meals might learn to make and for good reason. It's not that complex and many variations can be derived from its basic components.
However, the world would be pretty boring if we had to eat spaghetti all of the time. Mastery of basic skills and ingredients of cooking or photography is not only a good place to start, it might even a necessary place to start in order to develop a more elaborate repertoire of either creative pursuit. This is true of many creative fields such as music or acting.
More elaborate images including complex compositional layers and control of depth of field, for example, are likely the result of mastery of the basics and the photographers continued application of those guidelines although in more complex and novel ways. There is more than one road to success or improvement for that matter but I have found this road works for me.
In conclusion, learn the basics and practice practice practice them to mastery. Then, intentionally break the rules, blaze a new trail, carve your own niche, and solve the climate change problem while you’re at it.
Take risks. Experiment. Impose limits on you're self like using one focal length only for the day, month, or year. Shoot film. Shoot in black and white only. Only shoot people. Make a plan and most of all have fun and for the love of photography share your work. Give it away for free.
Remember, the light is always right.
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