Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Creativity and Authentic Mediums of Exchange

Since my flurry of posts on creativity that started 2018, I have been trying to give some shape to a course on the subject and how it might manifest itself or find expression via the camera. It is an interesting puzzle to wrestle with and I am still losing myself in thoughts about the unique challenges with the camera: instead of the blank page to add to there is a broad vista to subtract from; expression occurs in terms of what you see or receive rather than what output you generate. There are other aspects of photography that set it apart but, despite those, the bigger question are what I would want people to get from a course in creativity; and what would I want to teach that transcends the eccentricities of the camera?


I would not want to preoccupy people with some blather or barrage of numbers about apertures, ISO, light temperatures and all of those aspects of photography. I have encountered too many students realize that exposure to those numbers does not result in the great images that hoped for.

All artists, creatives, creators -- choose your noun -- have the ability to create something that nobody else can. If we remain confident that all of us have a huge capacity for creativity, and I firmly hold that belief, everybody has the ability to create something that nobody else can. That holds true for the camera as well, despite the conceptions that we have because of the deluge of images that we see and the repetitions that result from en masse printing of images and the imitations of popular images that perpetuate or exacerbate the assumption that our collective range of vision is limited to variations on the images we commonly see, whether the fluid compositions we are accustomed to in cinema, the subconscious acceptance of common compositional rules or the occasional esteem granted to images that appear on calendars and post cards. The images that dominate the public sphere actually represent a narrow range and a significant degree of conformity, despite their vast numbers.

Faced with a narrow range of popular, acceptable images, we are tempted to conform to a standard rather than express ourselves or indicate our way of seeing the world. When, not if, I teach a course on creativity and the camera I would strive to encourage people to aspire to a wider range of photographic possibilities and to consider subjects that few other would consider, or even a subjectless approach that starts from within the photographer's soul or heart rather than with a drilled-in template that has become innate after a lifetime of indoctrination by strategically-composed images.

In other words, there may be some unlearning to do before they strive to express a vision of things that is entirely their own and is invested completely with their admiration and respect for what they frame through the viewfinder. With time and practice, the photographers I teach would strive to see new possibilities, find poetry and ultimately personalize the images that they receive.  The possibilities would be in escape from conventions that inform composition and choice of subject. Textures, negative space, colour, mood would emerge in these images and possess an energy that more conformist photographic efforts would limit or eliminate. Poetry would come from a careful consideration of the subject and a development of affection, respect or attachment that would not occur in a rushed shot taken from the door well of a tour bus. Ultimately, personalization would occur when the photographer is willing to take the risks (existential and creative, not physical) to express with the camera things that no one else has.

Achieving that personalization is the thing to strive for. It is will infuse a photographer's images with the energy, pathos and sensitivity that would not occur if one were merely striving for the technical achievement of imitating a popular image of a tourist destination or a familiar motif. Images that are truly one's own will possess compelling appeal. They may not appeal to the majority necessarily, but they will appeal, if only to a select few. 

In that effort to create something that is expresses yourself deeply and whole-heartedly, rather than conforms to tradition or the commonplace out of timidity, you have the opportunity or develop the muscles to more clearly define yourself and become a truer agent in the relationships and interactions that you engage in. With the ability to express yourself more articulately, accurately or powerfully - whether with words, music, stone, a delicate charcoal line or a photograph - comes the opportunity to be more completely yourself. In her essay, The Time for Art is Now, novelist Claire Messud says that without immersing ourselves in great works of art, "we risk losing sight of what makes existence meaningful. ... None of us is made fundamentally happier by a private jet, a drawer full of diamonds, a television show, or a YouTube channel. Nor does watching others accumulate these things enhance our own lives. Capitalism hoodwinks us daily. The stuff we buy, thinking it will improve our lot, proves to be bullshit."

Apart from absorbing ourselves in art, taking the time to create develops the ability and confidence to express ourselves and edge closer to the realization that our selves, while not infinite by any means, are certainly capable of replenishing if we bestow them with wise indulgence upon those we love. Drawing from deep within ourselves to create risks embarrassment or rejection but it will develop the confidence and the habit to share of ourselves freely, in a manner that is present, exposed, attentive and generous. Tapping into our creativity will slay the assumption that we just have mediate our interactions with the material veneer that Messud lays out, whether it is overabundant gifting or a compulsion to keep up with the Joneses. Tapping into that creativity will align our vision with our personalities and our questions. It will also prompt us to interact in a way that will cultivate our inner peace and ensure us that interacting wholeheartedly and authentically will be the most rewarding way to relate to one another.