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Olaf Willoughby

The Creative Space, Part One

Imagine yourself in a favourite photo location. Maybe for you that is Street shooting in Bangkok or Brooklyn. Or for this post I’ve chosen a beautifully backlit waterfall in Iceland. You excitedly pull out your camera and start shooting. You already know that you’ll get at least some good images. You smile inside at the expectation of processing, posting and printing. Right. Job done. Where to next?

This is a well trodden path which produces some great images and good friendships. But this time let’s not rush off. Instead let’s pause, rewind and consider some alternative scenarios. Consider that location as an empty ‘creative space’ waiting to be filled with an interpretation.

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Now imagine a painter walks into that scene. How would she see the light, the movement and the colours? She has the advantage of being able to add and subtract elements on the spot whereas photographers can mostly only do that in post processing. Which elements might she accentuate and how?

Now rewind and imagine a poet enters the same creative space. He has more leeway to convey the full sensory impressions; the deafening sound of the waterfall and the delicate touch of the spray. The poet might consider how in Iceland it is easy to feel a deep connection to the elemental forces of nature. How trolls might live in the rocky recesses of the mist covered mountains. Is there a photographic equivalent to this kind of inspiration?

Finally, rewind again and imagine you are a composer entering the space. What kind of mood could you conjure up with the full complement of musical instruments at your disposal, ? How do you capture the majesty of a landscape? As Gustav Mahler said when a colleague enthused about the view of the lake and mountains from his cabin at Attersee in Austria, ‘Don’t bother looking at the view – I have already composed it’. How can we approach a fuller sense of the potential of the scenes in front of our cameras?

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You get the point. When we are in our personal photographic creative spaces we are seeing only one small part of the creative whole. A good analogy would be our eyesight where visible light is only a small part of the total electromagnetic spectrum, only one version of reality. There is more to be seen.

Similarly each of the artists above will interpret the magic of that creative space in very different ways. Whilst this is a simple point to understand intellectually, very few of us are skilled in a variety of artistic disciplines. So to expand into any of these spaces seems in practice almost impossible.

And this is one of the much debated issues in photography as an art form. The instrument itself is quite limited. Yes we can stray into impressionism with camera movement, into the surreal with multiple exposures and blend modes and into metaphor with ‘equivalents’ (http://www.moma.org/ collection/works/44200?locale=en)

But these are ‘technical’ solutions and only slightly change how we think about and see our images. So how can we bring some of that artistic inspiration available to other disciplines, back into photography? How can we enlarge the creative spaces we inhabit to energise our work?

There is a way that Eileen McCarney Muldoon and I have developed and teach in our workshop, ‘Visual Conversations’. The principles are covered in part two of this post to be published next weekend.

Meantime if you’d like more information on the workshop please check here:

Visual Conversations

July 10th – 16th, Maine Media College, Rockport, USA

Aug 23rd – 25th, Leica Studio, London, UK 

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Refraction_XLI

You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think you have fears. Fear is useful. In certain situations, fear keeps us performing at our peak – it keeps us alive. But, if we let it go too far and panic, fear can kill us, literally or figuratively. This is just as true in our creative lives as it is in our daily lives. In their classic book Art & Fear Ted Orland and David Bayles address fear as a primary force to overcome in the creative process. In her new book Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert starts a list of fears – and then cuts it short. She started a creative exercise we would all benefit from engaging. Ask what fears have us in their grip, identify them, consider them, and start holding them (or not) instead.

Get started with this list of fears.

Does some of what’s on my list sound familiar to you? How can the voice inside your head be so similar to the voice inside my head? Is it really our voice? Is that voice of fear just the mind doing what it does? Is that voice of fear just the mind doing what it has been trained to do? What are the fears we all share? What are your personal fears? Which fears are strongest or most important for you?

This list of fears is incomplete.

Modify and expand this list of fears in any way that’s helpful to you. Get it all off your chest.

Curiously, after making a list, just making a list, most people feel better – freer. Newfound clarity brings more choices.

After you make your list of fears give yourself a break. Later, consider the roots of your fears. Where are they coming from? What foundations do they have? What other thoughts, feelings, and memories are they connected to? Are they changing?

If you consider the roots of your fears, you’re sure to find valuable new personal insights. Don’t judge yourself for what you find. Is judgment useful? Only insight is, if it leads to action. If you do this, you may be better able to choose to change the way you think, feel, and/or act in valuable and significant ways. That’s useful!

Self Worth & Character

You’re afraid you’re not enough.
(Insert a word in this sentence, before “enough.” – good, deep, smart, emotional, significant, important, connected, talented, skilled, trained, educated, political, relevant, funded, supported, hurt, angry, wild, energetic, controlled, disciplined, persistent. serious …)

You’re afraid you’re too …
(Insert a word at the end of this sentence. – intellectual, emotional, insignificant, unimportant, unconnected, trained, educated, political, well-funded, supported, hurt, angry, wild, energetic, controlling, undisciplined, serious, light-hearted … )

You’re afraid that your life hasn’t been painful enough.
You’re afraid that your life has been too hard.
You’re afraid that your life has been too easy.
You’re afraid you’ll have to confront your inner demons.
You’re afraid you don’t have any inner demons.
You’re afraid you may encounter the divine within you.
You’re afraid you won’t encounter the divine within you.

Criticism

You’re afraid you’ll be criticized.
(Replace criticized with any other synonym – ridiculed, mocked, mimicked, embarrassed.)
You’re afraid you’ll lose the approval you’ve already won.
You’re afraid you’ll be called unskilled.
You’re afraid you’ll be called ignorant.
You’re afraid you’ll be called uninspired.
You’re afraid you’ll be called selfish.

You’re afraid other people’s pressures will take the fun out of it for you.
You’re afraid you should feel guilty for having so much fun.
You’re afraid other people will judge you for having so much fun.
You’re afraid that you having so much fun will be take as criticism of others for not having fun.

Significance

You’re afraid what you do won’t matter to anyone.
You’re afraid what you do won’t matter to you.
You’re afraid no one will preserve what you do when you’re gone.

Comparision

You’re afraid that what you do will be compared to something someone else has done.
You’re afraid that what you do won’t be compared to something someone else has done.
You’re afraid that when compared with someone else’s creation your creation will seem less … (Fill in the blank.)
You’re afraid that when compared with your creation someone else’s creation will seem less … (Fill in the blank.)
You’re afraid that when compared with someone else’s creation your creation will seem insignificant.
You’re afraid that when compared with your creation someone else’s creation will seem insignificant.

Money

You’re afraid what you produce won’t sell.
You’re afraid there will be no long-term market for what you produce.
You’re afraid the reward you receive won’t be worth the financial investment you make.
You’re afraid the investment you may now will take away from your family’s future financial success.

You’re afraid you don’t have enough space.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right space.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right tools.
You’re afraid you don’t have enough tools.

Skill

You’re afraid you’re not skilled enough.
You’re afraid skill alone is not enough.

Knowledge

You’re afraid you don’t know enough.
You’re afraid you’ll never know enough.
You’re afraid of what you don’t know.
You’re afraid you don’t know what you don’t know.

You’re afraid you don’t know what really right is.
You’re afraid your right isn’t someone else’s.
You’re afraid your right is someone else’s wrong.

You’re afraid somebody else already did it. (Maybe better.)
You’re afraid somebody will steal you ideas.

Time

You’re afraid you’re too young.
You’re afraid you’re not experienced enough.
You’re afraid you’re too old.
You’re afraid it’s not the right time.
You’re afraid if you do it now, it won’t turn out as good as it could.
You’re afraid that you should have done it long ago and now it won’t turn out as well.
You’re afraid it’s too late to do it really right.
You’re afraid you don’t have enough time.
You’re afraid you don’t know how to use the time you have.
You’re afraid the time you invest will be wasted.
You’re afraid the time you invest won’t be pleasurable.
You’re afraid you’ll give up before it’s over.
You’re afraid you’ll give up before you get started.
You’re afraid you’ll give up after it’s over.

Success

You’re afraid you won’t succeed.
You’re afraid that once you succeed, you’ll never have another success.
You’re afraid your success will make someone else look less.
You’re afraid your success will make someone else’s success look less.
You’re afraid it will bring out the worst in you.
You’re afraid that the worst in you will be the thing most focused on.
You’re afraid the best in you will bring out the worst in others.
You’re afraid success will go to your head.
You’re afraid success will go to other people’s heads.
You’re afraid your new successes will undo your past successes.
You’re afraid your old successes will prevent your new successes.

Sacrifice

You’re afraid you’ll have to give up something.
You’re afraid you’ll have to give someone up.
You’re afraid you’ll have to give up a part of yourself.
You’re afraid what you get won’t equal what you give up.
You’re afraid that the process will change you. (And you don’t know what that change will be.)

Conclusion

And this list continues to grow! Clearly, there’s no end to fear – unless you put a stop to it.

When you say things to yourself, ask yourself, “Would say the same things to anyone else?” If not, why would you say them to yourself? Ask yourself one more very important question. Is it useful to say these things? If so, how and how much and how often? When it’s not useful, stop doing it.

Acknowledging our fears can be quite useful. Pace yourself. You may find it useful to do this in several smaller sessions rather than all at once. Past a certain point, dwelling on fear can become counterproductive. It can keep us from living the lives we want to live. It can be a form of procrastination. Taken too far, catharsis can quickly become reinforcement. Taken to an extreme it can become a matter of fear feeding fear. Don’t feed fear. Look at fear clearly. Learn what you can from fear. And then move forward. Take the steps you need to take to live the life you want. Make the move you need to make to be the person you want to be.

While you can make some pretty good guesses and make some pretty good plans for things to do to ensure things go the way you want them to go and contingency plans for getting things back on track if things don’t go the way you want them to go … The truth is you don’t know what will happen. The truth is you won’t know until you do it.

Creativity is a process of discovery. It’s worth the risk. Dream. Dare. Jump.

Read more on Creativity here.

Explore The Essential Collection Of Creativity Quotes here.

View The Essential Collection Of Creativity Videos here.

These are two book covers for projects I’m currently developing.

I create visual reminders for projects I’m currently working on. Then I place them in my working environment. They constantly prompt me to consider the work I’m developing at many times and in many moods. I sleep on it. I collect sketches and notes. I plan trips to make new exposures and list what I kind of material I’m looking for. I assemble relevant finished images in the series. I look for connections between images currently being made and images made in the past. I list many ways to develop the work.

What projects are you developing?
What kinds of visual reminders would be helpful to you?
What other things can you do to develop the work you want to do right now?

Learn more about creative planning and goal setting here.

Learn more in my creativity and digital photography workshops.

ArrangingPDF

How you present your work may be almost as important as what work you present. It’s the art of sequencing or arranging. And it is an art, which involves specific techniques that can be learned. What are some of the guiding principles involved? Here are a few.

Sequence matters. Start strong. Finish strong. Make getting there interesting. Whether it’s a symphony, a novel, or an exhibit. It’s good advice for arranging any creative product. To sequence a project, you can use the metaphor of building a fence. The strongest pieces can be thought of as posts. The less strong pieces can be thought of as rails. You want to start and end with very strongest pieces to create a strong structure. You want to periodically reinforce runs of less strong units with one or more stronger units. You don’t want long runs of rails without posts or the structure may fail. A fence made only of posts becomes something else entirely, a wall with no variation or grace. The number of strong pieces you include determines how long a fence will be, though the number of other images you include may modify length somewhat.

Remember the golden rules of marketing; primacy (the first thing you see), recency (the last thing you see ), and frequency (the number of times you see the same or similar things). Frequency is rated first. Primacy is rated second. Recency is rated third. They’re all important. It’s all about effective memorable communication. So, the most important thing is to have a consistent body of work (frequency). The next most important thing is to start with your strongest work (primacy). The next most important thing is to finish strong (recency).

You can use classic story telling devices (like structure, proximity, pace, length, etc) to strengthen any image presentation and bring to light subtext in and connections between images that give work added depth and dimension.

In short, arranging matters.

Learn more about the art of Arranging in this free PDF.

Subscribe to Insights enews and download it free.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

10MinsADay copy

Do you want more time for your creative life? (Or anything in your life … reading, music, yoga, meditation … ) Steal the time. Get up early and pay yourself first. Instead of thinking in big lots, think in little chunks. (Don’t think of these little chunks as substitutes for big lots of time; instead think of them as meaningful additions.

Look at how the minutes add up.

Day      Week       Month      Year        Hrs        Work Weeks

5           35          150          1825        30         1

10         70          300          3650         61         1.5

15          105       450          5,475        91         2

20          140       600          7,300        122        3

30          210       900          10,950      183        4.5

60          420       1800         21,900      365        9.5

Right now you’re probably making excuses. Here are the most common excuses. Sound familiar? I made them for decades.

“The time I can make isn’t at my peak performance time.”

“The first few minutes are spent preparing workspace and materials.”

“The first few minutes are spent getting into a mindset.”

“There are days when I’m away from my workspace and materials.”

Do everything you can to eliminate these barriers. You’re resourceful.

Then, stop making excuses and just do it – consistently.

Your time will add up and you’ll see real results.

If you don’t start, you’ll be left with excuses.

Go for it!

Read more resources for your creative life here.

Every voyage I’ve made to Antarctica has revealed new dimensions in the subject – weather, light, seasonal changes, annual variations, and my growing understanding of the region have all contributed to this.

With so many wonderful places to go, why would you return to the same location more than once?

Let me count the ways.

1    You’ll see more of and learn more about a place.
Increase your understanding of the places you photograph and your photographs will become more interesting.

2    You’ll have an opportunity to get the images you missed.
Try making a short list of the shots you missed when you shoot. Even if you never return this activity will prompt you to be clearer about why you missed the shots and you can take steps towards remedying this in the future. If you do return, you’ll have the beginnings of a working plan that will greatly increase your productivity and success rate.

3    You’ll have an opportunity to refine the images you made.
You may have made images that barely made the cut but would shine if they were reframed or made with different equipment or in different conditions. For this reason I recommend you review not only the images that worked on your previous trip(s) but also the ones that didn’t asking yourself why they didn’t and what you could do differently.

4    You’ll see new things as your vision matures.
Having first found the images that come to you more naturally, you’ll later find yourself challenged to look for other kinds of images, which will stimulate your creativity and increase your visual versatility.

5    You’ll see changes in the place.
Time reveals. Weather, time of day, seasons, and the accumulation of years change a place. They change us too. These changes can become a wellspring for many images.

6    You’ll learn more about yourself.
While it’s true that you can learn more about yourself when you experience new things, it’s equally true that you’ll learn more about yourself when you re-experience them. You’ll find that your relationship with a location will change over time, as you experience more and mature. You’ll see not only how a place has changed but also how you’ve changed – and how the place has contributed to your growth. These types of insights are harder to achieve in new locations. Because the perspective with which you look at thing is different, the types of things you learn are different.

7    You’ll get to spend more time in your favorite places.
Just as you can’t go everywhere, you can’t return to every place. Return to the places that call you. Passion kindles the fires within, which will be visible in your images. Passion energizes and recharges us. A large part of the reason we do the things we do is because we enjoy them.

Unfamiliar locations challenge you to see new things in new ways, familiar locations challenge you to see the same things in new ways.
Just because we see new things doesn’t mean we will see in new ways, in fact the times when we are grappling with so many new variables are often the times when we fall back on our habits. When we see the same things again we are forced to see in new ways and/or deepen the ways we see them.

Even with a lifetime of adventuring, you can’t see it all. Your question is do you want to see a lot or do you want to see deeply? You’ll want to strike a balance between the two, surveying the many opportunities before you and choosing to return to one or a few of the places that call you the most. Exactly what balance you strike at any given moment is up to you.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Find out about my next digital photography workshop in Antarctica.


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