How are you all today? I hope life is good.
Di and love to write about what other artists and photographers can teach us, using their ideas and work as instant touch points.
Today we are delving into the mind of the artist Leonardo da Vinci, as well as sharing with you links to things that have been inspiring us this week.
One thing that really struck me when we were reading about da Vinci was his relentless pursuit of knowledge and how he turned this into a continuous quest for experimenting and exploring.
This is an idea I really, really value as a photographer.
When I was a young commercial photographer, I was often told that I needed to focus on one very specific photo style so I would be easier to package and sell.
That by relentlessly shooting in one style, it would be easy to tell my photos apart from other photographers.
And I totally could see the point of that. But you know what? It struck me as deathly boring.
To be always refining one way of doing things, dull!
I never want to limit my photography so that people who see my photos can put me in a box.
I don’t think that serves me or anyone else who loves to look at photography.
Experimentation – and having fun – is super important to me. And if you missed our last article it was all about letting your imagination run wild with abstract street photography.
So let’s get started!
“Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.” Leonardo da Vinci
I feel that we often don’t give ourselves time to truly learn things.
We think we should be better now, we should know more now. We are impatient!
But learning happens in such an incremental, often slow way. And not giving yourself the space to slowly unfold into knowledge means you are more likely to get stuck, frustrated with yourself, and stop making progress with your photography.
- Learn how to use the epically good Photo App – PhotoPills
- Experiment with Abstract Photography
- Master your tripod
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do it.” Leonardo da Vinci
Practise – it’s such an unsexy work, but like the slow acquiring of knowledge, practising brings us, over time, the chance to embed everything we are learning, and to make progress with our photos.
You don’t need to read tonnes of articles or take lots of courses. You need in fact probably to choose the learning you consume carefully, but pay close attention to it.
Practise what you’re learning, then practise some more. And then some more.
Interesting thoughts on how Quantity leads to Quality.
‘Want what you can do.’ Leonardo da Vinci
Now I am going to seemingly contradict myself, but it isn’t a total contradiction.
Whilst practising it’s essential to grow and get the skill you desire, so too must you want what you can do. Because momentum is sustained by the feeling of satisfaction at what you are doing, feelings of accomplishment and a desire to do more and move forward.
4. “The artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.” Leonardo da Vinci
We photographers have a special gift. We have the desire to see beyond the ordinary. We have the desire to find exquisite beauty everywhere. We have the desire to see what is around in a fresh and unique way.
Wonder and curiosity are two of the best gifts we have.
Keep searching to see what others can not.
- Check out Ethiopian photographer Girma Birta, turning his eye to everyday life in Addis Ababa
5. “Time stays long enough for those who use it.” Leonardo da Vinci
I am not enjoying the uncertainty of the pandemic. Not one little bit. The stress on our business, our kids, each other. The fear and worry about the future. The fear of the disease itself. Sometimes we stop and think about it and it can feel a little breathtaking.
But once the fear and panic subsides – which it does! – I feel quite a profound resolve to take action. I want to make things. I don’t want this time to be totally lost to panic and fear.
So Di and I try to recommit daily to using the time that we have to keep creating and not being subsumed by panic.
When worrying about time, nothing for me beats Seneca’s book – On The Shortness of Life – here’s a great summary from Tim Ferris.
6. “An average human looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking.” Leonardo da Vinci
It is alarming to think that we are actually living most of our lives on auto-pilot. We do the same things every morning, we walk the same way to work, we buy the same groceries at the store.
We are mostly unconscious to our daily habits because our brain likes it that way. The more we don’t have to consciously think about it, the easier we make life for our brains.
But what that ends up doing is cutting off so many rich new experiences. It stops us from listening to new music, exploring unknown areas of hometowns, reading different types of books – and making leaps with our photography.
We are so used to trying to create a comfortable life, we can forget the thrill and excitement of trying the new.
And making photos can be the perfect avenue into shaking up our habituated ways. It can be the perfect way to break through that straightjacket of familiarity, and instead break into brand new, exhilarating experiences.
Beautiful new photo book from photographer Jesse Lenx – The Locusts, shares the wild and nature-filled life with his three children on his rural farm in Ohio.
7. “A poet knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Leonardo da Vinci
I often say photography is about a process of reduction. Not adding new elements, but instead finding a subject that you love, adding elements that compliment, or support your subject, and then taking away anything that is reductive.
- Photography is all about what you leave out
- A fascinating short video essay about da Vinci’s difficult years: The Long Game – video essay – part 1 and part .
8. “To become an artist you have to be curious.” Leonardo da Vinci
Curiosity is for me more important than any piece of gear. I know this is a bold statement. Especially as I love really good gear.
But I also don’t like the effect that gear has on people. Having a piece of technology in your hand can be really, really distracting and make you think that taking photos is somehow about that piece of technology. When it’s so much MORE than that.
Curiosity is to me about having a heightened attention to the world. It’s about seeing so much more around us that we see everyday, in our thinking- and doing-obsessed world.
When we are trying to find good shots, being curious is the best place to start.
Asking yourself questions – How does that view look from up high, or down low?
Being curious is probing the environment and opening up new possibilities. And it’s when you are in this state that you discover incredible new subjects, angles and ways of shooting.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to the same place time and time again, only to one day catch a totally new perspective or element I had never seen. You never see everything all at once, stop thinking that you do! Open up your awareness with curiosity.
Which leads me onto this beautiful quote, which to me shows how much we can see into and imagine simply the items that lay around us:
9. “Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles, and lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form. This happens on such walls and varicoloured stones, (which act) like the sound of bells, in whose peeling you can find every name and word that you can imagine.” Leonardo da Vinci
Because curiosity naturally leads me to the beautiful world of imagination.
And when we are inhabiting our imagination there are so many more possibilities to see something interesting around us.
- Spirit feeling a little jaded? If you want to be reminded of some of the incredible beauty of the world this is wonderful: The Cosmic Miracle of Trees: Astronaut Leland Melvin Reads Pablo Neruda’s Love Letter to Earth’s Forests
10. “Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity, and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind.” Leonardo da Vinci
Did you know da Vinci only completed 15 paintings in his life? I find that incredible to believe, because of how prolific he was in his drawings and sketches, and the impact he had on the art world.
But to me what this says to me is – keep going. Keep making things, exploring ideas and trying things out.
And for me this year the concept of keeping going no matter what couldn’t be more relevant.
- If you don’t know the work yet of the late photographer Mary Ellen Mark, I encourage you to explore her social documentary projects. Profound and inspiring.
Those are my da Vinci inspired photo ideas – I hope you enjoyed them.
If you enjoyed them I’d love to hear – comment on our blog or hit reply and tell me.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to be encouraging you to take some time to reflect on your photography of 2020.
I have some tips that I’ll be sharing with you, but I’d like to start the process with a few simple questions for you:
What are your favourite photos of the year?
What photo experiences did you have this year that you enjoyed?
What would you like to do next year with your photography?
What is your greatest learning achievement with your photography this year?
Have a great day, and any comments or ideas you have hit reply.
All the best,
Anthony and Diana