This week, I want to focus on activities that will help facilitate this process. I don’t partake in them for every project, but they have helped to change my approach. I’m talking about activities that cultivate your photographic eye and your individual voice in photography. We all see things differently, so why should we try to imitate images that we’ve seen before? Sure, looking at the way others have approached a subject is a great way to get inspiration, but it can lead to boring photography. Boring photography doesn’t mean that it’s not technically proficient photography; it just means that you didn’t bring anything unique to the image. You simply saw it as another photographer did. So, how do you stop seeing what others did and start seeing what others didn’t?
When I jumped into photography with both feet, I joined a small photography club in my area. The advisor of the club was the photography professor at the local community college and she played a major part in pushing the creative limits of my photography. One of the assignments she would give her students was one that pushed individual creativity without sacrificing technical proficiency. She would assign the students to select a subject; something simple and not too complex. After the subject had been selected, she would require the students to assemble a series of 10 different, final images of the same subject. This is a great activity to generate creative thinking. It requires the photographer to start viewing the mundane in a new light by forcing a change of perspective and by thinking about a subject in ways that are atypical. Lying on the ground, getting on a ladder, changing the location and context of the item; these are all ways to start seeing things in a different light. One of the greatest examples that perspective has on an image is one of William Eggleston’s. It is variously known as Untitled, Tricycle and Memphis, 1970. You can view the image here.
Remember, art is subjective, and you may find this image boring. A lot of critics felt Eggleston’s show of 1976, which featured this image, was boring and banal. This image has held up over time and is one of Eggleston’s most well-known images. As adults, we would be looking down at the tricycle. Can you imagine if Eggleston had taken this image from that perspective? It would be boring and banal; by changing his perspective, he brought a sense of childhood wonderment to the image coupled with the looming adult world that would dispense of our innocence and naivety entirely too soon. By changing his perspective, Eggleston was able to see what others didn’t or couldn’t.
Another easy activity that will help you locate your photographic voice is simply to shoot more. And then shoot some more. And then shoot some more. It takes about 10,000 hours to become truly good at something, so this means that you need to shoot every chance you get. By continually practicing your craft, you develop a style and become more adept at pushing individual boundaries. One way to do this is to take on a project that focuses on shooting every single day - something like a 365 project or a 52 week project. The point of this type of project is to take your camera everywhere; it should become an extension of your body. You begin to view every single thing around you as a potential image. I completed my own 365 project in 2011 and it was one of the most challenging, yet satisfying projects I’ve ever undertaken. I created work that I never would’ve if I wasn’t out there shooting every day. Were there days that I didn’t feel like shooting or days that I wasn’t feeling especially creative? Of course there were; in fact, you could probably pick out those images in my project photo stream. However, the project challenged me to find ways to interestingly photography mundane objects. The project doesn’t have to be a yearlong commitment; it could be something as simple as taking a picture every day for a month; or shoot weekly or bi-weekly themes. As long as the assignment puts a camera up to your eye more often than not, then you’ll begin to look at the world differently.
A great example of photographers and artists working on a project to push creative boundaries is the Coalesce 52 project. Two photographers are shooting at least a roll of film a week and an illustrator/designer/writer is producing an original visual or written piece a week. Check it out here. If you’re looking for places to get ideas for themes or assignments, look no further than Snap It! See It! They are an instant photography based blog that encourages readers to submit photos to their bi-weekly themes.
The two biggest obstacles in the creative process are the two that I’ve now discussed. The following entries in my series will begin to focus on my personal creative process and how I set out to create art.