Creativity, Inspiration and the Art in Photography
“I haven’t got a creative bone in my body.”
That’s something I hear time and again from photographers I’ve met in my journey in photography.
“Why do you say that?” I’d ask.
“My images are boring,” they tell me. “I just can’t seem to see the way others do. I can recognise a great photograph; I just can’t seem to take one. I have no eye for composition. I love photography; I’m just frustrated that I’m not creative enough.”
It’s a typical exchange and, in some respects, I wonder if they’re perhaps asking if I could perhaps solve their lack-of-creativity problem. Thing is, creativity cannot be taught. It’s not a formula, process or template that can be applied and which miraculously leads to the creation of great works of art. Or can it… ?
In a way, you can teach someone to be creative by helping them develop a mindset that is receptive to creativity and inspiration. And the first lesson in developing this mindset is: stop trying to be creative.
Creativity emerges when we allow our minds to explore, expand, experiment, day dream, wander. When we stop trying to see or feel, and instead let our senses respond to internal and external stimuli: to sounds, thoughts, feelings, smells, colour. When we abandon logic and rules, when we stop getting caught up with “am I doing this the right way?” and when we take a step out of ourselves and everything that our life has taught us, and say “I’m going to do this MY way.”
We live in a world where almost every aspect of our actions and behaviour is governed by learned behaviour: what’s socially acceptable, what’s lawfully correct, what’s the right way of getting the job done. We have internalised a chorus of inner voices that guide us in what’s right and what’s wrong, that help us self-surveil our behaviour and our thinking. Listening to these voices can be destructive to our getting into the “creative zone”. After all, being creative is about being unique, being rebellious, being liberated from standardised ways of thinking. It’s about being YOU before all these rules, regulations, protocols, responsibilities and inner voices invaded your consciousness.
If this all sounds a bit Zen and the Art of Mindfulness, it’s perhaps because it is. If you’re cringing as you read this, thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s not me at all” — then, perhaps, that’s the reason why you’re not finding your creative voice.
Find yourself time to stop being governed by your structured mind, those thoughts that gravitate towards deadlines, time frames, protocols, rules of thirds and the like. Give yourself the time to let your thoughts wander, to day dream, to be completely taken in by your surroundings. Remember the first time you had the opportunity to explore as a child — whether you were exploring a new, physical environment, or whether you were given carte blanche to be as creative as you wish. Remember what grabbed your attention, what you wanted to create back then.
Give yourself the permission to cultivate this creative headspace. It’s something that you do alone, without fear of commentary, feedback or opinions of others. You don’t have to do anything initially — just let your thoughts wander, dwell on possibilities no matter how impossible, reconnect with your feelings. Then, one day, when you’re cultivating this sense of freedom and possibility, take your camera in hand and take photographs. Take photographs without judging or assessing them, take photographs without the pressure of having to do anything with them, take photographs to answer the “what if…?” questions that you ask.
Do this often enough and you will see something develop in your image taking. Some call it your style.
I’d like to think of it as your visual voice.