We’re funny creatures us humans. When we see a piece of art we love, often our immediate desire is to directly emulate & reconstruct it rather than be inspired by an element from it, and then explore the creative tangents generated.
And in doing so, often we’re inclined to ask all the wrong questions to try and recreate the experience that image gave us:
“What lens did you use?"
“What preset did you use to get that light effect?"
“What did you tell them to say to get that reaction?"
What we forget when we ask those questions, is that what led to the creation of any given image is a whole slew of things, often completely unrelated to photography, that are far more important:
• The artists worldview
• The artists immersion in other art forms, and inspiration gained from elements within them
• The inspiration from particular tools then informing how they use other, different tools
A few years ago, I would’ve thought this to be fluff, but now I see just how true it is.
There’s something repeated just about everywhere you look: “don’t just look at portrait/wedding/travel/(insert your flavour here) photography, look further out”. But the conversation never then goes deep enough into the impact that staying creatively isolated can have on your taste, and artistic context.
t’s kinda why turning off your TV is a great starting point (our folks knew best, after all). We all know our share of chaps who’s worldviews are completely shaped around what they’ve seen on TV, and how greatly that differs from reality.
Can you imagine if we put our faith in Bill O’Reilly to deliver us the universal, unbiased truth?
It’s the same thing with the art you consume. Except, if you’re an artist yourself, it has the damaging effect of confirming to your brain: “this is right, this is how it’s done”… and next, you find yourself boxed into conformity.
By feeding your brain new experiences and art away from photography, and reducing your exposure to what everyone else is doing, you’re giving it not just new ideas, textures, and understanding of how things like light can be used, you’re giving it context.
You are, subconsciously, allowing it draw lines between everything you’ve ever known, and what you’re now feeding it. You’re creating relevance between things you might have thought unrelated. And when those lines start getting drawn, thats when you start producing work thats different, and compelling.
It might be as simple as adjusting your instagram stream to follow just renaissance-esque painters, and then being inspired by how they use the human forms together and deal with light.
Or, it might mean going and planting trees with a group of friends for ten days, and bringing the camera along as an afterthought - as done by Melbournes Rowand Taylor: one of the better modern examples of choosing experiences over gear infatuation.
In the end, your good taste and ability to create context by drawing lines between things is all you have. If you’re not feeding your taste the good things, and not shielding it from the critical mass, you’ll only ever be hovering around the blunt edge of the status-quo knife, and unhappy with what you're producing.
So what can we do to supercharge our brain a little?
Get out there, explore other art forms and circumstances, and let that content inspire your photography, rather than trying to let photography inspire your content.
If you like Oli's work, check out his portfolio and galleries here...