If I had to choose one photographic buzzword that rang the loudest it would be “creative.” Just look on the Internet and a flood of “creatives, creative, create” and so on hit you. In other words, if you want to be a cool kid you just have to be creative. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept and everything that lurks behind it but let’s examine it further.
Unfortunately, even though we are all marching around proudly with the banner on our backs “I am creative,” I have the feeling that at the end of the day, what’s really left is just a piece of scratched out, empty paper. Don’t get anxious, I am not going to go negative here. I will try to explain my thinking with my own examples.
The first proviso is that my piece is related to photography – that’s what I do and it’s the area I feel comfortable talking about. Here are some definitions I found on the Dictionary website:
Creativity: relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
Creative: a person who is creative, typically in a professional context.
When I went to Wikipedia, things got even more interesting.
Creativity: a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created.
Creative: a person who is paid to use their imaginative capital or creative craft skills to produce work in an advertising marketing communications or ancillary marketing services agency. Usually an art director, conceptualiser, copywriter or designer.
In other words, Wikipedia is telling us that if you call yourself creative, you are most likely paid to sell other people’s products. Okay, Olaf, this is not funny! Let’s take a pleasanter variation and view creativity as “a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created.” I guess most of us would agree on this definition.
Let’s go back to photography. There is no question that we all want to be creative in our seeing. However, between labelling ourselves creative and being creative lies a long, treacherous, risky, twisty road which we don’t usually have the guts to take. Of course, it sounds great if I said to myself: Olaf you are going to go out on the streets of Vancouver and be creative in your photography. That’s the first trap.
I don’t consider just going out and taking photos as being creative. In fact, most of the time when I am walking around and shooting I am not being creative at all. It is not that I don’t want to be – quite the opposite! In fact, I am trying really, really hard!
Stop right now, Olaf – it’s impossible to follow you. Let’s go back then to a definition of creativity: “a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created.”
One of the first things I do when I am back from my photography session (street or not) I look at my work and try to be honest about it. I ask myself: “Did I create something NEW, WELL-CRAFTED or/and SIMPLE?” Most of the time the answer is NO! Sure, I have some nice images. There is one photo of a hippie passer-by caught at the right moment in beautiful light. Then, sometimes it is street action, beautifully composed and delivered. On other occasion, it is a really cool, deep portrait of old man looking into the camera – strong capture for sure.
If I want to feel good about myself I could say: “Olaf you are so creative, you have done very well!” However, it would be a lie! I have seen thousands of iterations of such imagery, which in itself is not criticism. They are indeed very strong photos but this is not what creativity is all about. The problem is that you view the process of taking photos as already being creative, a mind-set which prevents you from trying new things.
This gets me to my second point. It is almost impossible to plan your trip, go and work on the project, have goals and be creative.
Again, what have you been smoking, Olaf?
In photography being creative means seeing something that no one has seen before, crafting a vision in a way no one has crafted it before and executing the image in a way no one has executed it before! However, in order to get THERE, you have to drop “project” “goal” “creative” or any other label and step into the unknown, risky, uncomfortable and different, which is something that cannot be planned or recognized right away.
”Conditions for creativity are to be puzzled; to concentrate; to accept conflict and tension; to be born every day; to feel a sense of self.” — Erich Fromm
Here is my point. The starting point of all the images that are creative, or in other words innovative, and at the same time well-crafted is FREEDOM AND CHAOS. It is a space, opening or mind-set FREE of everything you have known so far. This is why the most creative work I encounter comes from newcomers, young people who operate in one big white space as if they start seeing from zero (will feature some of them soon!).
The problem is that for photographers who have been doing this for a while, our internal space is so plush, balanced and sheltered that it prevents us from seeing anew. To paraphrase Iain McGilchrist: “The nature of creative seeing is to make space for things to see.”
A few weeks ago, someone left me a comment on my social media that went along these lines (don’t remember exactly): “your last few photos are so perfect, polished, simply stunning but…there is something in them that you have done before. You used to take more risks, turn everything upside down; it looks to me as though you are getting comfortable.” This was one of the most valuable comments I have received for a while. The sad part was that this person was right. He hit me just at the right time in the right spot!
Why am I sharing this with you? Here is how I try to think about creativity. If I look at everything I do as creative, I will not be able to see a NEW way of seeing, a NEW way of approaching things. This phenomenon happens very rarely and you usually realize after it happens, not before. It is so easy to miss this moment of roguery, this one opening when you do unusual things and call it creativity.
What’s your point, Olaf? Just taking photos doesn’t equate to being creative. It is a rare phenomenon that needs the right habitat – the less you label everything you do as creative, the more easily you will recognize that you did indeed pull off NEW, DIFFERENT and WELL-CRAFTED.
Erich Fromm said, “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties” – this is exactly what I wish you, my friends, and myself.
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