“Blue sky thinking”, meaning creative ideas that are not constrained by preconceptions.
The Creative Pathway – Part 2
In part 1 I concluded there is an idea that photography is or can be a solitary pursuit. There may be limits to self-expression where investigation and innovation are not present in a photographers practice when you are working on your own. We progress as expressive photographers when we learn and grow from our associated colleagues in the visual arts.
1 Hunger – passion, desire, thirst
Before I go any further with this blog post, I must ask if you have a deep and continuing desire to see this process of coming up with new ideas through to the end? Without, a ravaging thirst to follow a path that may not give you immediate success, courage and stamina are required. Hence, at times you may feel like you are going backwards rather than forwards. If you think you have the required persistence then we can proceed.
Just as food is fuel for the body, new or different ideas by others are sources of fuel for your conscious and subconscious imagination. Without a stream of new inputs or questions, our imaginations go into hibernation. We all have the ability to think up photographic questions for us to investigate and build into our practice and workflow.
I love a good Mexican!
Food for thought
As we are talking about hunger and a sense of passion I wondered if you may have come across the phrase “you are what you eat” in my twisted mind this got expanded to “you are what you put in your shopping trolley.” This expansion was on the basis of you cannot eat what you do not buy.
If the only things you put in your photographic shopping trolley are camera hardware and computer software there will be very little to nourish the imagination and hence, ideas. Artistic vision is communicated through your personality and imagination. Technology is the servant of your artistic vision, not the other way around.
2 Attention – Interest, notice, concentration, awareness
It might sound rather obvious but the beginner who wants to progress usually takes a keen interest in the techniques of Masters of the art they are pursuing. Questions about the technical how-to are usually followed by artistic considerations once the how-to of technique is understood to a reasonable degree.
For anybody with any degree of competence, they must have an awareness of the questions around the subject for new avenues of exploration to begin. As I said in part 1 great workable ideas do not appear from thin air.
Questions and what if… are the fuel of creativity
Take Edison as an example from part 1, the question he was trying to find a solution to was how to make a durable light source powered by electricity. Without the initial question or need, there is no requirement for ideas to provide a solution. Relevant questions are the real important issue here. Again, the French philosopher Voltaire said: “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers”.
In photographic terms, there is not a road map of the route to a creatively fulfilling photography practice. Sometimes I describe the creative journey as being like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. In both of these scenarios the destination and route are not defined, the traveller has to decide on the destination and a potentially successful means of getting there for themselves. At least with the jigsaw analogy, you are given all the pieces to work with. Then you have to decide how to fill in the middle once the edges have been completed. We can all ask relevant questions and imagine “what might be if…” these are the building blocks of ideas. The relevant questions will be generated by the boundaries or edges you created in what is definitely in or out of the reason for the change you seek.
Broadmead Shopping Area – Bristol, on the Street Photography Workshop with Dave Mason 2019
“Science (and art) transforms lives. It begins with curiosity.” We the Curious – Bristol.
Interest, inquisitiveness or curiosity are the drivers towards the most profound and deep-reaching research known to humankind. As a species, we want to know if we are alone in the universe or not? Hence, this is why probes are sent deep into space to look for the elemental building blocks of life. The most creative of people are those with a never-ending curiosity to ask questions about why and how things are as they are, or more importantly, how things could be in the future. From an understanding of the current practice, a different or new perspective can be brought to bear to create new ways of thinking and doing.
As a photographer, there is the opportunity to study elements that make up the photographs of others. Photography in its most basic form is selecting, recording and sharing. Each of the basic elements can be broken down into many sub-divisions. In the recording department, there is a chance to study
- Composition – Andre Kertesz
- Aspect ratio – Alfred Stieglitz
- The direction of Light – Helmet Newton
- Time of day – Harry Callaghan
- High key or low key – John Swannell
- Relationship to the background – Elliot Erwitt
- Use of Grain or noise – Snowdon
- Proximity to the subject matter – Martin Parr
- Shutter Speed – Robert Frank
- Depth of field – David Bailey
The 10 examples above are just introductory random examples. I suggest you study the work of those who you admire and want to emulate with essentially some additions of your own style. The random names of the photographers above were generated from a quick glance at my bookshelves.
This desire for knowledge through networking with other photographers, asking questions and studying the work of others is the way to keep your own work alive and fresh.
4 Stimulus Inspiration, spur, motivation, encouragement
Inspiration – from the Latin inspirare – to breathe life into.
Here we go again about inspiration or stimulus on this blog. I find a great way to reveal what’s in the subconscious is to go for a walk and having a think. Why not use the voice recorder app on your mobile phone to keep your thoughts alive? Then you can transfer them to your new Ideas and Inspiration Notebook when you get home.
Your homework for this blog post is to start a photo journal and start using an Ideas and Inspiration Notebook. Either can be hard or soft copy recording.
I have a notebook on the cover I have written the title “Ideas and inspiration”. When I have an idea, I write it down. Ideas are cumulative if they are lost in the ether because they are not recorded then the subconscious has nothing creative to work with while you are asleep.
5 Investigation – Experimentation, research, testing, trialling
It may surprise to know that not everything you try is going to work out as you anticipated and hoped. Hence, the critical need for hunger and drive to keep going until you reach the promised land.
5.1 Internet Research and a Swipe File
Use the Internet to investigate who else is working or thinking along the same lines as you. It might take a few variations of the search term in use to find what you are looking for. Furthermore, create a “Swipe File” on your computer to hold web info or Bookmarks that you find interesting. This makes it easy to find stuff again. A resource is only useful if you can find it again when the information is needed.
5.2 Buy Books
Buy books and try reading them at least once, it might sound obvious but many of us purchase books that we never even open. Even buying my books is a waste of your money (if you don’t read them and act upon the advice and wisdom offered to you there!)
5.3 Collaboration with other professional discipline’s
As photographers, we impinge on the disciplines of others in the visual arts. There are people who may be able to add their hard-won skills and knowledge to ours. A collaboration or an alliance of skills creates a more fully rounded final result. As an example off the top of my head, say you are thinking about writing a book with your pictures included with the text. I certainly do not have a detailed knowledge of all separate discipline involved in making a published book. There is a good chance that you will benefit from the skills and advice of an Editor, Publisher, Designer and Publicist. It may be that your potential Publisher can offer a complete package of services to help boost the readability and sales.
5.4 Joining in with other photographers
Join a photography Meetup group near where you live. Find what’s available near you by Googling “photography meetup group near me” you might be pleasantly surprised. The Bristol Photography Meetup group has monthly socials, a diary of events to photographed and a night walk. Whatever your interest, there is a free Meetup group for it, somewhere.
Join a learned society like The Royal Photographic Society who have special interest groups including Analogue, Architecture, Audio Visual, Contemporary, Creative Eye, Digital Imaging, Documentary, Historical, Image Science, Landscape, Medical, Nature, Travel, Visual Art, Women In Photography.
Many of the RPS special interest groups hold meetings, weekends and workshops around the UK.
5.5 Photo Projects or Themes
A project is a good way to break out a rut or help to get all the creative juices moving again. If you feel energised by this idea why not write yourself a project brief to include as a minimum the terms – what, why, how, when and where. On a similar or different theme, you could use as a starting point for the brief – SMART objectives Specific, Measured, Attainable, Realistic, Time related. Use the these objective parameters to define and hone your ideas.
I currently have a few projects brewing nicely at the moment – a local weekly building site progress record shoot, Domestica – pictures taken in my house, Fujifilm Instax Prints, and use of a PB Filter.
As an example idea, I could combine the other project themes into the record shots of the building site. Progress has only just started and they are still clearing the site of a derelict barn and junk. So a potential outcome might be a series of dated Fujifilm Instax Prints taken with a Fujifilm 18mm f2 lens and a PB Filter.
There are different routes to instant prints, I use a Fujifilm Instax Printer for the 85mm x 55mm (Picture 61 x 45mm) prints. A Jpeg file is bluetoothed to a linked Instax printer. The alternative is to buy a camera and printer combined. Both Fujifilm and Leica sell them. You can probably guess which one is four times the cost of the other! Don’t expect the Fujifilm black and white Instax prints to be neutral without a colour cast, mine are a very cool tone ie. Blueish.
5.7 Invention – innovation, novelty, revolution
Here is a current example of an invention and adapting older ideas to suit contemporary needs. Relatively new to the market are STC clip-in in-camera body Neutral Density and Infrared filters. This idea is not entirely new. The positioning of a filter at the back of the lens was available on some older Sigma lenses. Putting a Gel filter at the rear of the lens was a potential solution for neutral density and colour correction with a very wide-angle or fisheye bulb-shaped front lens element.
STC now offers a range of in-camera removable ND and IR filters that work with most mounts. In-body filters are available for
- Canon Full-Frame DSLR / APS-C DSLR
- Nikon Full-Frame DSLR
- Sony α7 series, α9 / E-mount APS-C MILC
- Fujifilm X-series APS-C MILC
- Pentax Full-Frame DSLR / APS-C DSLR
- Olympus M43 MILC
- Panasonic MFT.
(MILC – Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (I had to Google it!)).
I have a 9 stop STC ND filter in a Fujifilm X-H1 body which works well with most of my Fujifilm and Samyang lenses. The design of the Fujifilm 18mm f2 lens is slightly extended towards where the filter is housed and therefore the lens will not fit into the bayonet mount. After that slight issue with one lens, so far so good.
The reasons why
The reason for trying a 9 stop ND filter in an IBIS body is I want to use 50,000 ISO, f2.0 and a shutter speed of around a 1/15s. On a very bright and sunny f16 day like today, a standard exposure at 50,000 ISO is around 1/32,000 at f4 with a 4 stop ND filter on the front of the lens. In order to get to the required exposure, I need at least 18 stops of light reduction. I then also use a 2-8 stop Variable ND filter to control the exposure.
The noise is the picture
The reason for using 50,000 ISO is, for me, digital is too everything – sharp, saturated and clinically clean. 50,000 ISO puts noise into the shadows and mid-tones but not the highlights with optimal exposure. The noise is the picture. This idea of using 50,000 ISO goes back to the 1980s when I was using Kodak TMZ 3200 ASA film developed in Agfa Rodinal to give grain like golf balls. (Kodak TMZ was one of the fastest films available then). The pictures then and now are about shadows and grain rather than a clinical representation of what something looked like in front of the camera. As a photographic artist grain and shadows interest me far more than clinical descriptive reality.
6 Understanding – Realisation – comprehension, recognition
As your realisation grows about a subject you are fascinated by what you have come to understand. It will dawn on you the more you know the more there is to know and understand. It is a never-ending cycle of realisation.
“Good artist copy, great artists steal”
There are very few new ideas, however, there are very many new combinations of existing processes we all know and take for granted. Take, for example, the combining of three variables such as Low Key, Abstract Modern Architecture and a Wide-angle Pinhole lens. This combination of ideas is going to be more challenging to the viewer than the combination of two variables such as Abstract Modern Architecture and a sharply focused 100-400mm zoom lens.
Left – See the architectural work of Fujifilm Photographer Felix Mooneeram with a Fujifilm XF 100-400mm zoom lens.
My goal with photography is to use the medium to project my interpretation of the chosen subject rather than to simply describe how something looks. A digital camera can produce descriptive reality very well on its own with the aid of an operator, not a photographer. For me, the creative and expressive photographer brings a sense of artistic communication to the pictures they make. Our style and vision to do our own thing gives the viewer a hint of the personality, determination and bravery to push the artistic boundaries. When you stand out from the crowd you are not following the crowd.
“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance”.
Pablo Picasso put into words what every artist knew for hundreds of years before him. Picasso stole ideas from others and made new combinations of ideas together with his own thoughts by adding his own vision and style.
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