no time for creativity ??!!

Finally …. a briefly creative day again

…hmmm  …. coming to think of it, that’s not really correct to say, is it, for someone who professes to live a creative life?!
Well, March and April were filled with busily organizing, packing and storing a household in preparation for a move later this year, and then several weeks of travel on an educational tour (in my natural health work). Not much time for camera work; or any work as in the sense of creating some finished art-product.
But isn’t some finite product actually secondary to the process of, a result of creativity? I do feel like I have been starved for a few weeks of being creative, for sure, and many of you will know the feeling of not being able to nourish our souls by following that deep urge to just sit down and write, or paint, or photograph, music …


And, here is the lesson I am reminded of, once again, in retrospect: during those last weeks I have indeed been creative, possibly more so than if I had been roaming with camera in hand. Simply by having the thoughts of doing things, making things, creating images, intrude every time I noticed something of creative potential, yet unable to pursue, my mind also remained free of being led onto any specific path of actual creation. I notice that ideas can flow with less intellectually imposed guidance, the imagination of creative exploration can soar more freely without the restraints inherent in the actual materials we normally use in our work.

inside Morteratsch Glacier, Switzerland

So, I will not fret again ( … yeah…right ! Ha ! ) when schedule and circumstances seemingly limit creative expression, but use the opportunity for mental exploration without the constraints and limiting physicality of tools and materials.
After all, the creative life is, firstly, a state of mind; just sitting on the porch and staring at the grass can be just as creatively artful as finishing a grand painting or poem

zen spring

happily keep exploring

Rules or No

Rules or No

Camera work, as any work, can benefit from learning the basics. Basics include knowing the functions and effects of shutter speed, aperture choice, ISO, the multitude of combinations of these, lens focal length, tripod use, flash and other external lighting if desired, and others. A foundation in image making ought also teach the basics of composition, perspective, and how lens choice affects the image, use of focus and out-of-focus area; using light and shadow, shapes and lines, and colour and black and white in the image.
The technical and mechanical aspects of camera and lens are not subject to personal interpretation or opinion. They are simply the physical and optical facts that we all use and rely on the same way.
However, as soon as we move on to all the other variable options in choice of specific camera settings just before we click the shutter for an individual image, it all becomes a free game of opinion, interpretation, preference, like and dislike. Often, though, and especially during the early phase of our practice, these are based not in understanding and/or experience of how specifically those settings can alter the image. This makes the creative process a rather haphazard one. Haphazard in and of itself is not undesirable, but, if left unchecked, can lead to never reaching beyond a trial and error approach, which, though an important phase in the learning curve, prevents the development of being able to pre-visualize the image before clicking the shutter. Having an idea of the final image in advance is an important aspect of the creative process in general, not only in photography.

birch forest panorama

Then, to make the creative process a conscious, deliberate, and intentional one, we turn to learning composition, to learning how to tell stories with photographs by use of perspective, lighting, colour, placement of compositional elements, to learning how to look at and interpret images. Photo magazines deliver articles on composition every month, books are written, and courses taught plentifully on all these topics. Mostly, we learn of the ‘Rules of Composition’, such as Leading Lines, Fill the Frame, Rule of Thirds, Leave Space in Front of the Subject, Never use Wide angle Lens for Portrait, Always have a Focus. These ‘Rules’ are acceptable, though not necessary, guides for the first and early days of our path of image craft. Very soon, however, they can become hindrances and limitations to free creativity *if* followed and adhered to routinely.
For sure, in many of my images I use one or the other of these rules, but it is always a choice made case by case, image by image, whether or not a rule is supportive to the image vision and intent. Many strong images work exactly because composition, technique, or camera settings do not follow a common rule, because the frame was not filled and leaves emptiness to let the mind wander, because of not having leading lines towards to subject but causing diversion of interest and focus, because the subject is boringly smack centre, or shutter speed, aperture, lens, were chosen contrary to ‘normal’ recommendations.

forest in passing

Ultimately, all the variables have to come together to form the final image in accordance with the vision intent for the image. And those are the very creative core of which there are no fundamentally right or wrongs. Subject, vision, intent and purpose, the audience if any, the technical factors of camera settings, lens choices, lighting, timing, composition, and even where and how the image fits into the larger context of the long progression of images that came before and will come after, all contribute to the one question of whether or not an image fulfills and succeeds as a ‘great image’.
But beware …. as in so many areas of skills and life, one can only abandon rules and techniques when and after one has put in the time and effort of learning a rule or technique to abandon in the first place.
For example, as much as I dislike the term ‘Rule’ of thirds, I do apply it in as many images. Sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly but always as a conscious decision. Besides, there may be many layers of how to apply the somewhat recipe-like rules in any give image and I may find new ways of using leading lines, or patterns, or colour etc. for a specific photograph. We both may be following the same recipe, but still yours tastes slightly different than mine. That’s fabulous!

Rules or No
Well, how about we call them suggestions and options, learn them, use them, discard them, then use them again, and have them as one of many tools in our camera bag to be chosen wisely.

take good care and keep seeing pictures

follow up on Are you creative

With Rifqui’s comment ( thank you kindly for bringing it up) on mind, maybe there are a plentitude of possible definitions of ‘creativity’. Is it about ‘what’ is creativity? Or a matter of degree; some people are more creative than others. If so, what is the measure of ‘more’ or ‘less’? Maybe it is concerning ourselves with a result that conforms to some specific pre-defined outcome, standard, who’s standard?
Let’s look at that early-morning wardrobe thing. Sure, it may not be new clothing, or clothing that you invented yourself, and we may have worn it many times before. When we consider, however, that specific morning, the specific mood we may be in, the weather, for a woman maybe the make-up she has or ran out of, and the many other variables in combination, we come up with new choices each day.
When does something move from being non-creative to being creative. Is there a line between, and if so where and how and who draws it? What is the difference between being creative and being inventive, as in creating something new. If Claude Monet, and Renoir, are considered the first impressionist painters, inventors of sorts and creative, how creative then do we consider all subsequent generations of impressionist painters.
And let ourselves not be misled to think creative must equal skillful! Doesn’t matter if you can’t photograph and print like Ansel Adams or Imogen Cunningham, or draw like Leonardo da Vinci, you can move a pencil across paper so you can draw. Even creatively as in inventive. Haphazardly scribble a bunch of wobbly circles and pretty much we can assume that there has never been an exact same scribble ever before. Is that creative as inventing something new? Absolutely. Is it creative as in skillful? Not necessarily. Is it creative as in a human being creating something? Absolutely. Do we like and admire and stand in awe of this drawing? Not likely but who cares, that exactly is what the point is not.

This is not to disregard actual work scenarios in which you are drawing, working, photographing, or inventing for a client or any other specific pre-determined purpose, after all, we got to make a living. Concerning yourself with the result-for-a-specific-purpose for whatever reason and intention is certainly a valid concern, though a whole other chapter not to do with ‘creativity’ in and of itself. Here I am rambling about the nature of the human condition being such that we can not but be creative, no matter how much we may tell ourselves we are not, and how that understanding may apply to and moves us, our minds, our actions, work, practices, and our awareness.

mizu wa mina   ne tatsuru yama no   fukasa kana    all sounds of streams   has faded   so deep the mountains  Haiku by Taneda Santooka (1882-19400, Japanese poet, photograph/ink-brush calligraphy in hentaigana script

mizu wa mina ne tatsuru yama no fukasa kana - all sounds of streams has faded so deep the mountains - Haiku by Taneda Santooka (1882-1940), Japanese poet, photograph/ink-brush calligraphy in hentaigana script

This awareness is, as I see it, the central idea around which creativity becomes manifest. It is the mindfulness, attention, conscious intent, even in the least of activities, that make the creative quality apparent and will, almost inescapably, lead to a richer experience. If practiced persistently, it can also become part of learning the skill component of the process, so we can put it to purposeful use, too, if desired.

Not to force and belabor a point construed, quite coincidentally just a few days ago, I came across another photographer’s mention of his father having taught him that any activity done with passion and pride was an art. Be it sports, painting or sculpture, running a business or being a parent. No matter what it is, when done with passion and conviction, it is art. Great father, I’d say.

So when you go out to photograph whatever you photograph, free yourself from seeing the final picture in advance. ( I’ll do another post, shortly, on why it is important to visualize the final image in advance – Ha !  go figure). Instead of going through the routines of our daily chores, photographing the same subject yet another time, or even when copying something that already exists, we may appreciate that this very moment, no matter how familiar it may feel, actually has never been before.
No matter how many times we have done something in the past, what we do in each and every moment is yet again anew.

It appears to me that shying away from defining creativity in specific terms leaves more room for actual experiences of it.

may your day be creatively mindful