To be creative implies – to some extent at least – to discover new solutions or new ways of expressing one self or finding new territory for the mind to explore. Creativity implies expansion, openness and mentally a willingness to go beyond the beating tracks. We often talk about thinking outside of the box – which means exactly that.
I believe true creativity can only be accomplished by letting go. Lose control. Set aside the established rules. Go where you are not supposed to go. Be curious. How do we discover new ways of expressing ourselves? As far as I see it the solutions lies in the unconscious mind. I think the creative person needs to be able to connect with his or her unconscious mind. We – at least traditionally in my Western part of the world – have come to almost exclusively trust our rational thinking. In most situations it comes in handy, but not when trying to expand our creativity. We cannot find new ways by rationalisation. Using the same rules or established believe systems – which is what rational thinking in reality is all about – will not make you go beyond the framework of the rules. Two plus two will always be four no matter how creative you try to be – as long as you stick with the established mathematical thinking.
Particularly for us photographers our rational mind has a tendency to get in the way. There is just so much rationality around the process of photography that we get caught up in f-stops or shutter speed, camera technique, classical compositional rules, the Golden triangle, S-curves – you name it. But sometimes we just have to let go of it all, take a chance, and just be more impulsive and trust our instincts and unconscious capacity. Like when we react to something worth photographing and we try to impose some compositional rule to make it look good, we actually make it look like something we have already seen before, something we already like. It’s not breaking through into a new dimension so to speak. I am not saying that technique and composition is to be avoided, by far, but it should work as means for our creativity – not as obstacles by taking control of our way of photographing.
Tap into you unconscious mind when you photograph, is what I try to say. And by you, I more than anything mean myself. I am certainly too caught up with technical perfection and the «right» composition. All too often. But it’s hard to let go, it takes some guts. And even then it’s hard. That’s why I have been working to find ways to force myself to let go, to let my unconscious mind take over. And I have found a few tricks that work. Not because they produce anything spectacular, but because they give me new ideas and new tools to play with that I would not have seen otherwise. One way is simply to go out breaking the rules. Like centre the composition instead of making use of the all too perfect Golden rule. Or using a long shutter speed and move the camera around – like I did in the images accompanying this post.
Trusting the unconscious mind also means trusting your intuition or your gut feeling. I see it so often, particularly in street photography. I go around and shoot something and suddenly I have a feeling something is going on right behind me or next to me. I raise the camera, turn around and shoot without really seeing – and I often get something I would never have thought of capturing otherwise. I saw the same when I worked in the studio for the renowned documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark many years ago. When looking through her contact sheets after she had returned from an assignment, I often noticed that one frame that came out of nowhere, I believe because Mary Ellen Mark had sensed something around her and just captured it on the fly.
How do you break out of your customary way of expressing yourself? How do you expand your creativity?