Into the Unknown

When we start our journey into the creative realm, we venture into unknown territory. We need to. As a matter of fact being creative means embracing what until the moment of creation was completely unknown to us, otherwise we wouldn’t be creative. After all; to create means to originate or to bring into being from nothing. It means bringing into life something completely new. We—figuratively speaking—take on a journey into new territory. We cannot make this travel without facing the unknown. When we do we are creative discoverers.

For many people, though, the unknown creates a sense of conflict, disorientation, and discomfort. People often attempt to reduce this experience by pretending to know what they actually do not know. But in doing so, they disconnect themselves from the creative source. In order to reduce their discomfort, they manufacture explanations, engage in speculations, and make up theories. They try to make the unknown known through speculations and inaccurate descriptions, and if they aren’t able to, they turn away from the unknown and stay with what they already know. Doing so, though, is detrimental to the creative process.

We grow up in a society that values knowledge, so that we may adopt the premise that we should know what’s happening. This is a value fostered by traditional education, where we are rewarded for knowing and penalized for not knowing. When we create we need to open up for not knowing, be willing to let the journey go wherever it takes us – without knowing.

Thus, an important ability for all who create is being able to live with the unknown, the unresolved, the incongruent, and the contradictory. This contradicts the popular myth that creative people are those who generate fantastic ideas and always have the answer. The truth is that creative people often do not have the answers and are quite aware of the spaces.

It’s like when I go out and shoot on the streets. I literally venture into spaces of unknown. It’s often places I haven’t been to before, but I am curious and open to where the unknown will take me. It’s also a journey in a figuratively sense. I don’t know who I will meet on the street, I don’t know how they will react to me, I don’t know if the will want to meet me at all, I don’t know what these encounters will bring—maybe new friendship, or maybe new knowledge, or maybe hostility or disapproval. Sometimes I do not dare face the unknown on the street, but when I do, my life is always enriched beyond anything I had thought beforehand. And I come home with new and inspiring photographs. I am creating

The Picture Critique is still open, but only for another week or so. By the end of the month I will close this offer to give some feedback if you have a picture you would like to get an outsider’s opinion about. If you are interested, please don’t hesitate to submit a link to a photo on my Picture Critique-page. Remember, it’s not about submitting excellent photos, but about photos you feel uncertain about or photos you would like to get an outsider’s opinion about.

58 thoughts on “Into the Unknown

  1. Well put sir. Not having answers is an invaluable skill.
    A quote I try to live by:
    “Failure is the key to success.
    Every mistake teaches us something.”
    —Morihei Ueshiba

  2. I ventured into the unknown yesterday. I family member wanted me to do family pictures for them. I told her I had never shot people before, let alone families. I haven’t looked yet to see how they came out, hopefully they are ok.

  3. Great post again Otto. I do share with you the UNKNOWN. Especially my last trip to India, where I would wonder around in little alleys where probably no tourist would go, just to experience the Unknown and I did have the greatest photo opportunities. This also taken quite a portion if curiosity , as well fearlessness taking the unknown path.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      1. Fear is the integral part of curiosity in my humble opinion. That fear is something which excites us to venture further into the unexplored and unknown. We had a write who at 90 said he is scared of death but he is ready to go there to know what lies there and he died a few days later. I wonder what did he find there.

  4. An interesting take on the creative process that I hadn’t considered before Otto. A great article as always. Street photography for me is one of those areas that takes me way beyond my comfort zone. Perhaps I ought to get out there a do just that, leave those lovely unthreatening landscapes behind for a bit a take myself away from where I’m comfortable. 🙂

    1. I don’t think so should leave those landscapes behind, but it’s always good to venture out in new territory while still doing something you are really good at. The comfort zone has a tendency to become too comfortable, no?

  5. The use of “journey” as a metaphor for creative endeavors is so good. But it brought a couple of interesting questions to mind: how do we travel in the real world, and how do our travel choices affect our ability to undertake a creative journey?

    Many people prefer to travel via cruise ships or the so-called package tours, where everything is arranged ahead of time. Others, more willing to strike out on their own, still move from point to point, with reservations assured and a list of sights-to-see in hand.

    I’d rather go to hell than be consigned to a cruise ship or bus tour, but it wasn’t always like that. Not until I made the choice to travel from Liberia to London overland did I experience traveling into truly unknown territory. I remember feeling a great deal of astonishment at the time that I was doing such a thing, but it was wonderful. Later, I went back for a six week visit, and traveled much the same way. Since then, all of my traveling has had that element of “into the unknown.” Without those experiences, I very much doubt I ever would have begun writing or picked up a camera. It may be that one good way out of feeling “stuck” in the creative journey is to take a real journey: as Graham Greene called it, a journey wIthout maps. I think once we’ve traveled through real unknowns, entering the world of creative unknowns isn’t so terrifying.

    1. It’s always scary to travel into the unknown – not the least in a literally sense. However, if you have first tried, I think you will keep going without maps, as Greene says. Like you, I’d rather go on my own and be open to whatever can happen. At the same time I understand that some people would rather go on a trip where everything has been prearranged. Not everybody sees travel as a way to explore the unknown. 🙂

  6. Hey Otto, so you probably know about parallel universes, i think everyone does, but i heard someone say that every time you jump out of your comfort zone, you jump into a new universe with new possibilities 🙂

    I enjoyed your article on the unknown, the unknown CAN be very scary… so a good idea is to MAKE IT KNOWN haha

    can i submit another picture? 🙂 i would have to search for another one that i’m unsure about…

    1. Make the unknown known would in some ways defeat the purpose, but at the same time what eventually happens when we enter and stay in the unknown. But then we move to a new universe. Just submit another photo, no problem. 🙂

      1. oh goody!!!! i will go search for something that i worked on but couldn’t get it right or something!! then you can take it into a parallel universe xoxoxox

  7. reading your narrative reminds me just how long it’s been since i’ve taken my camera and gone out to look for and capture images as i used to do on a regular basis.

    this gentlemen appears to me quite the cordial sort

  8. Åh, “Into the unknown”…vilka ljuva ord! De andas livslust och kreativitet och är mitt/vårt sätt att resa…till 95%.
    Vår resa till “Världens tak” var fantastisk och jag vill inte ha den ogjord…men det var en gruppresa, då man inte får resa i Tibet på egen hand och jag kände mig ofri och påpassad. Första…och sista gruppresan…men, som sagt, Tibet var en sällsynt upplevelse, bergen, öknen och förstås…de fantastiska människorna. Kina har jag inte varit i tidigare, min man däremot, var där för 31 år sedan, efter att ha åkt Transsibiriska mellan Moskva och Peking. Tittade på bilder innan vi åkte…då bara cyklar på gatorna…nu bilinfarkt och en totalt ointressant och själlös storstad.

    1. Ja, gruppereiser er alltid begrensende, og som deg, vil jeg helst reise på egenhånd. Men noen steder er bare åpne for gruppereiser, og jeg er sikker på at Tibet var en stor opplevelse, til tross for begrensningene med å være del av en gruppe.

  9. I like the notion that creative people are aware of the spaces, and don’t always have the answers.For sure! We have to leave room for life to happen, and knowing answers beforehand doesn’t do that. The last paragraph summed it all up very well, and I could actually visualize you striding to some new corner of town, camera in hand…

  10. Sometimes I wonder about the value of all the facts I’ve acquired through my life — but I never question the value of learning new things. A life well-lived is an adventure, and I love your observations about the process. I bet the guy in your photo has stories to tell!

  11. Thank you Otto!
    The poet John Keats thought of poetic creativity as “negative capability” which he explained as a capability to live with the unresolved. Your post is very clarifying in developing this thought. And it pleases me a lot what you say about what happens when you “make the unknown known”. Every time I’ve understood something new, I discover so many new doors to worlds I didn’t even know existed. There’s a lot to be said about creativity, isn’t there?

  12. Hello Otto, what a stunning post. I love how you’ve articulated your thoughts and offered us some lovely thoughts on creativity and the unknown. Thank you for this 🙋🏻💐

  13. such a great image!! and thanks for the reminder that to create is to leave the comfort zone and explore the unknown…

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