Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where Do We Go For Inspiration?

It's all very well to talk of a muse, but my wife for one, would likely be less than thrilled. So on a more practical vein, where do we go to get inspiration for projects?
The answer depends a bit on what your goal is. If you are a hobbyist photographer who simply wants to be the best you can, and the need to blaze new trails isn't important to you, then the following can be of value.

- check out photo.net for recommended photos - I'd take a recommendation over a high rating every time since high ratings tend to be awarded to nudes and erotica and bright colours and freak weather and great postcards. You start by finding one photographer who you like and go to the people they recommend and so on. In this case you are looking for ideas.

- How To photography books often contain a variety of subject matter and may provide ideas.

- spending a few hours at the library or at a good bookstore looking through the available books is time well spent (hey, you might even buy one)

- magazines - how about getting some back issues of Lenswork or even buying the CD of all the old issues for ideas of subject matter.

- workshops are an awesome source of inspiration, rubbing elbows with artists and fellow photographers is almost a guarantee to stir the juices.

- art - don't limit inspiration to photography - visit art galleries and museums, take art appreciation courses and attend lectures - not only may this stimulate you to be more creative, you may actually get an idea for your next project too.

Now, if you do have ambitions to blaze new trails, then simply copying the ideas of others may not appeal. In previous blog entries I have suggested though that even if you saw for example, a portfolio of lovely images of cathedrals, when you go to visit even the same buildings, there's a really good chance you will see things differently and come up with your own unique vision. Sometimes this can be challenging - for example the Gugenheim Bilbao and Walt Disney theatre, it's the reflective properties of the metal tiles which everone is attracted to and a really different style or message could be difficult. For most more complex subjects though, you are likely to find your own interests being different from those who have visited before.

In fact, all of the above ideas could still be useful, if only to point you to the general idea of subject matter. Ryujie had almost certainly seen lots of flower photographs before - but he thought of freezing them in water, so taking off on an idea already out there is perfectly respectable.

- perhaps you could read about art and creativity, starting with "Art And Fear".
- reading some of the old essays by David Vestal and Jim Hughes or Bill Jay could be helpful.

- you have looked at the images in Lenswork but did you read the essays and particularly the editorials of Brooks Jensen?

- it may be necessary to put aside your stresses and strains and do some thinking - perhaps on a retreat or via mediation or even when out for a hike. What do you care about? What moves you? How could you photograph those things?

- I haven't asked Ryujie where the idea came from to freeze the flowers in a block of ice. Perhaps the idea came spontaneously, or maybe he was hiking and noticed something frozen in the ice. Either way, there was a leap to the idea of freezing flowers. It was not likely a linear progression of thoughts - thus is the nature of creativity. In that case, perhaps you have been ignoring silly ideas and little impractical or useless impulses. Just maybe you need to follow some of those ideas up and see what comes of them. Perhaps you need to do some exercises to free up your creativity and spontineity. There are books and courses which can help.

- if nothing else, simply becoming a better observer of the world when not photographing will help you come up with projects.

- sometimes you just have to go out with a camera and see what happens - the best shots are often the ones you hadn't planned on.

As I am anything but an expert on inspiration, the above is simply the best I could come up with for myself. Perhaps you have suggestions.

1 comment:

Ted Byrne said...

I've often wondered if, or why we might have more than one very good, even great, idea within us? How many one-hit-wonders have there been in script writing, song writing, architecture, or novels? And even among great artists, most are particularly acclaimed for a small part of their work.

Friends lament that the seem to continually retake the same photograph. When I look at their work I tend to agree, however in most cases it is a very good photograph... definately an artistic contribution.

Is it heresy to suggest that we may only have a few inspirations within us? Isn't it wonderful if we have only one? And once our masterpiece has been born, what's wrong with using everything we learned during that process of creation to better enjoy what others do?

Friends who were in their youth very good baseball players seem to enjoy the game at a level I can never approach.

It's not that people should give up photography after the birth of their greatest work, but rather embrace photography as a passive as well as an active experience.

Or ... or is it possible that we may have a continuing stream of greatness within us and merely need to sink new wells to tap different pools?

Dunno... but it intrigues me to wonder.

Nice essay... Thanks....

Ted