inspire: breathe in
So uninspired right now. By that I mean totally unmotivated to take my camera (did you know the way we use the word "camera" comes from the latin – camera obscura – meaning dark room? The original "camera" was a large room that functioned as what we’d think of now as a big pin-hole camera) in hand and go shooting. But to be inspired is, at least linguistically, to be affected by an in-breathing. And I’m not much breathing-in these days. I get in these swings where the technical demands and concerns become the whole thing and creativity is edged out in favour of technology and technique.
So, were I to pry my kilted butt out of my aeron chair and my eyes away from my monitors, here are the top 10 inspiring, creatively inhaling, activities I would immediately engage in and thus re-direct my creative talents toward good and not evil. I’m not inspired enough to do them, but better people – smarter people like you – will see the wisdom in these ideas and you’ll embrace them as you would orphaned children needing love and care.
1. Pick up a book of the works of one of the classic photographers. Preferably someone whose style is different than mine, even someone whose work I don’t care for, and take it in.
2. Having done that – create an imaginary shot list asking yourself the question, if I had to create an homage to this piece or this photographer, but in my own style – how would I do that.
3. Go do that.
4. Look at your favourite 10 images from the last year or last month, whatever, and make a list of the similarities. Do they all share a same basic framing, basic narrative, colour palette? Where they all shot with the same lens, same lighting, same basic settings? What you’re doing here is finding a palettable way of asking: what’s the rut I have fallen into. On it’s own, this is a great exercise.
5. Get out of your rut. If you’re shooting horizontally, shoot vertically for a day. And ONLY vertically. Creativity functions best within confines – so impose some rules. If you always shoot with that 85/1.8 then slap on your 24mm and don’t take it off. For a week. Always shoot colour? Stop. Always shoot in soft light? Go out at high noon and shoot something garish.
6. We gravitate to shooting things we love. Go shoot something you passionately dislike. Passion is important, but we tend to favour that which is beautiful or easy. Comedians often make a career of talking about those things that they are passionately infuriated by. So go shoot the ugly.
7. Lose the technology. Grab your point and shoot or your Holga. Heck, grab a sketch pad and go make some really bad art. Try framing some shots with a pencil without ever bringing a camera to your eye. Call it your "man, if only I had my camera" experiment. But go back to the basics.
8. In narrative the heart of story is conflict. Stories do not move forward without conflict. Ever. In photography I beleive, or I think I do, that conflict is expressed through contrast. So go create some images that are high contrast conceptually. A hell’s-angel biker sitting on a tricycle or Big Wheel. A priest at a casino or strip club. A bridal couple in the slums. A man in a speedo at a black-tie wedding reception. Or something simpler – a Starbucks cup littering an idyllic beach, a couple arguing in a romantic spot. Think contrast. Mechanical vs. organic. Curvy vs. Straight. Dark vs. Light. Are you beginning to see the how contrast and conflict are connected?
9. Break a rule. Screw the rule of thirds or the golden rectangle. Use slow shutter speed. Stop focussing. Blow out the highlights. Point the camera in the wrong direction. Do something, anything, to silence that inner rule-monger who is so afraid you’ll create an image that you can’t even salvage in Photoshop with the Un-Suck filter.
10. Make up a creative exercise all on your own. Go do it.