How ideas and creativity work together

Ideas are the fuel of creativity.  

This is the conclusion I’ve come to after years of hearing my students who have hit a wall and feel that it is insurmountable and who say to me,

 “I go out to take photos because it is what I really, really love to do, but I keep shooting the same things over and over.  I am bored with my photography. Why do I keep shooting the same things?  What else is there to this craft? How can I get better at taking photos?!”

When a photographer plateaus with their camera I found that what it usually comes down to is a lack of  ideas and imagination.

I wanted to share a story with you about my day yesterday and include photos of the live shooting/thinking/ process I went through and I am hoping you will see how even a simple (even bad!) idea can get you moving in a fresh direction with how you are seeing the world and make you think a lot about what you do find truly interesting.

A couple of years ago I ended up walking along the highway.  It wasn’t nice.  It was hot and the sun was glaring and I didn’t have my camera or phone (long story!).  I wasn’t thinking of photography at the time, just when I would get my next drink of water!

But as I was walking along the shoulder I saw something that we all know is there.  Pollution.  Untouched, never to be taken away, just sitting there baking in the Andalucian sun year after year: bottles, cans, cigarette packs, tossed bottles of urine and worse, and plastic, plastic.  Yuck.  

It was gross and made me fear for our world.  But at the same time it germinated an idea in me “As a photographer I would like people to see this, they know it’s there, most likely, but I want to confront them with the reality that it is there, and they will never notice it unless there is an emergency and they have to stop the car!”  

That was my idea and I sat on it for at least a year.  Not a very friendly or one that came from a place of love, but pollution has been something I have been repulsed by my entire life.  If not me, then who?

I found myself back on the highway yesterday (voluntarily this time) and found what looked exactly like my expectations.   (Normally I am not a fan of having expectations because then one becomes predictable and as a result so does the art.  Expectations can close you off to new things:  If your mind is full of it then there is little room for the unknown and the Unexpected!  It is here that inspiration and motivation can be nourished.  And it is also here where new ideas can form.)

So I am on the shoulder looking at this awful pollution and I have another  idea (the 2nd one!) about the interaction and impact of pollution on nature and how nature deals with our detritus. Not original at all I know! Doesn’t matter at all. I just wanted to be creative.

I felt my idea was coming along nicely and then I had another idea (idea#3) of trying to create odd compositions that related to my dismay for the situation – odd angles, lines that make no sense, no classic subject placement for me!

Later as I was heading back home, almost off the highway, feeling like, “ that was good but what did I miss?”,

I noticed in the road, things tossed from cars – mostly tinfoil that doesn’t move much in the wind – it just sits there getting run over again and again and takes on the form of the road itself.  New idea no. #4 – how about if the pollution is changed again, from a once discarded thing into something that is both attractive to me and repellent at the same time.

This idea took me right back to my love for the abstract! Did I try to make it beautiful? Of course, I am predictable that way. It is what I do best.

The point is I had new ideas inspired by an old one.  I carried my expectations with me but I didn’t let them limit me. I went to the highway to create photos of detritus and ended up with more abstract work I like.  It was a great exercise in observing and letting my mind roam free.

And I guess that is the point of it all my friends – let your mind roam free, trust in it and you never know where it will lead you.  If you have what feels like a pointless thought that was brought on by a shadow, a glimmer of your past, something smelly, whatever, go with it, don’t hold back, but follow your instinct and open yourself to it. 

If you are stuck with your photography then drop or control your expectations, and open yourself to new opportunities; by cultivating new thoughts, and with new thoughts come new ideas.  They may not all be great ideas but that is beside the point – generating new ideas is how creativity starts. And when the creativity starts it flows like water. Ideas in all forms are the fuel that creativity needs.

If you take anything from this post it is this – photography is more than just being a good observer and understanding light – it is a thinking craft where one must generate ideas to keep your photography moving forward into new places – new ideas that make you feel excited about what you are doing and why you are doing it!

It should be a journey of joy and personal satisfaction.
If you would like to see more of my work of things “at my feet ” I have a collection called Concrete Alibi that you can view over at the Albumen Gallery.
I took several portfolios with me when I went to meet Albumen Gallery in London.  And to my surprise it was the simplest idea I carried that made the most impact with them.  Just goes to show I guess!
I ended up searching for more of this type of foil – fully incorporated into the road.