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The Creative Space, Part Two

In part one of this post I imagined an inspirational photographic location – a creative space – and then looked at how different artistic disciplines might interpret that space. I ended with the question, ‘how can we enlarge the creative spaces we inhabit to energise our work?’ Let’s look at an example from last year’s workshop, using poetry.

Following an introduction looking at Japanese books illustrating haiku poems and touching on the work of Duane Michels, you are given two poems with the request to visualise them photographically. This introduces text and therefore activates both the left and the right brain.
The process of finding a hook on which to hang a photograph forces us to study the meaning in a way quite different from reading a poem in a book. It stretches our imagination, helps us think in terms of metaphors and pushes us to explore new directions. It is a simple technique but it works. The first reaction is surprise. It seems baffling but we teach tools which help conjure up images out of words . So the initial reaction is quickly followed by intrigue at the challenge and usually delight at the refreshing end result.

But is the idea of enlarging your creative space right for you? There’s an easy way to tell but you will need to set aside a few hours.

Look back over your work of say, the last two years.
Pick twenty favourite images from each of those years.
Lay them out in Bridge, run a slideshow or preferably look at postcard size prints. Review that body of work. What do you see?

Using free association, what are your strongest impressions? Here is a starter checklist;
Rational: choice of lens/camera, depth of focus, vantage point, colour palette, image composition, post processing style …etc.
Emotional: human interest, decisive moments, emotional qualities, use of analogy or metaphor … etc.

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Scribble spontaneously the words which come to mind. Do it quickly and don’t hold back. We’re looking for a plentiful supply of first impressions. Then repeat for the second year. Using the mind’s natural ability to detect patterns, look for recurring themes in words and images, similarities and differences. What is the overall picture? What are the repeat patterns? Are they positive or negative? Then consider this equation:

Do you have a strong signature style which you execute consistently across different creative spaces?
Or is it that you are traveling the world basically taking similar pictures?

The question is: in short, are you in a groove or a rut?

Most of us fall somewhere between the two. And where we fall on that line tells us what we need to do next. Whatever the outcome, this is a useful exercise and I hope you benefit from it. If you like the idea of seeing how different artistic disciplines can influence your photography it is easy to try out the poetry example above with a friend.

If you’d like a more comprehensive approach to enlarging your creative space, then please check out the ‘Visual Conversations’ workshop I co-teach with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College in July and at the Leica Studio, Mayfair, London in August.

Visual Conversations

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

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

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If you have trouble in deciding on your best work in the first place, then check out John Paul Caponigro’s site which has a host of terrific references including a PDF called ‘Finding Your Best Work’.

Find it here.

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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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Illumination_VI_20121

Digital Photo Destinations offers workshops not photo tours.

Our goal is not just to take you to Bucket List Destinations, it’s also to help you discover your destination. We’re committed to helping you discover your story, your vision, your voice and achieve your creative goals.

Our alumni’s successes are proof that what we share works. Our alumni often join us many times in many locations, not only to travel to great locations, with friends both old and new, but also to pursue personal development. They create a community that eagerly welcomes new members. You can become an alumni too and enjoy all of the benefits we collectively offer.

Find out more here.

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“Issue 15 of PHOTOGRAPH magazine is dedicated to the art of landscape photography and seeks out the ideal web of trees, explores what makes a good impressionistic landscape, catches the perfect wave, and examines at how including yourself in a vast scene can tell bigger photographic stories.

Portfolios and interviews include Ray Collins, a coal miner-turned-award-winning-photographer who’s job injury led to his discovery of seeing the sea from a whole new angle; the calm, impressionistic work of former painter Chris Friel, widely known and respected in the intentional camera movement world for his landscapes; Charles Cramer, a classical pianist who studied with Ansel Adams and developed a deep love for creating beautiful prints; and Paul Zizka, who became widely known for his self-portraiture after including himself in his hard-to-reach landscapes.

Regular contributors John Paul Caponigro, Michael Frye, Guy Tal, Chris Orwig, Martin Bailey, Adam Blasberg, and David duChemin—each recognized for their respective landscapes—have contributed articles on audience, perspective, flexibility, how everyday conversation can spark creativity, the natural landscape as metaphor, optical filters, and how negative space can make a positive impact on your photography.”

Get it here.

Photographer, curator, historian, and critic … “During his tenure as Director at MoMA, John Szarkowski redefined the world’s understanding of the art of photography and established himself as one of the giants of 20th Century art history. “ He is the author of seminal books including The Photographer’s Eye and Looking At Photographs.

View 12 Great Photographs Collections here.

Read more in The Essential Collection Of Photographers’ Quotes.

View more in The Essential Collection Of Photographers Videos.

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Courtesy: Cheim & Read, New York

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AFS97.NEG, 10/1/10, 11:55 AM, 8C, 6840x12000 (574+0), 150%, Hank's Art Cop, 1/15 s, R87.7, G62.2, B70.9

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Read more in our conversation here.

View 12 Great Photographs Collections here.

Read more in The Essential Collection Of Photographers’ Quotes.

View more in The Essential Collection Of Photographers Videos.


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