Play is Not Only for Kids

You may never have heard about the Brownie, the first easy to use camera introduced by Kodak. It was a huge success—it was the GoPro of 1901. Despite the fact that the latter is infinitely more advanced than the Brownie, both have one thing in common. Their introductions encouraged a more playful photographic approach. Without all the serious features that photographers have come to expect today, the Brownie seemed less like tools and more like toys. Even back then, the elitists scoffed, but amateurs picked up these magic boxes and started to have fun. The secret to the wild success of both the Brownies and GoPros was and are the features they don’t have.

Fun and simple cameras have a broad appeal. Consider the iPhone or any other smart phone, the most popular cameras in the world. Even kids know how to take photographs and scroll through the frames. And without the worry of making costly mistakes, the camera becomes an extension of who we are. Without the burden and expectation that comes with heavy and expensive gear, the photographer stops being concerned. And without the pressure of performing, we become more relaxed. When we let go of our self-critical bent, we take more risks.

Picasso famously said, “the chief enemy of creativity is common sense.” Common sense is a con artist that steals growth and joy. With age we become more and more conform, more practical, yes even cynical. We stop playing as we used to when we were kids.

If we want to grow as photographers, we need to let go, not think too much in terms of final result. Play more. Artists of all kinds know this. They allow themselves to doodle, sketch, play, iterate and test out new ideas. The musician practices a riff. The writer goes through rough drafts. The painter sketches her ideas. The poet jots down a few lines. The most productive practice happens when we can block the critical voices in our heads, when we can let our guard.

When we play more, we worry less and the creative juices flow without any effort at all. Play diminishes stress and helps us relax. Play and work is similar; it’s just that play is more fun. But don’t make the mistake that play isn’t profound. The neuroscientist Dr. Stuart Brown says, “Nothing lights up the brain like play. Play isn’t just for kids. It necessitates a mental shift that changes how we approach our work. In fact, we don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. According to Dr. Brown, “When we stop playing, we start dying”. Which means, play isn’t just a game; it keeps us creative, flexible, and young.

Kids are creative without knowing what they have done. They make up games with toy cars and without self-awareness or a self-critical voice in their head; they let their creativity freely go where it may.

So why not try something you have never done? Why not take the risk to iterate and test out new ideas? Look deep within and you will see a creative force bubbling up inside. The force wants to be free. It wants to roam wild. Let it off leash and give it some space. Maybe it could even involve playing with a “simple” camera, such as a GroPro or just your cell phone.


64 thoughts on “Play is Not Only for Kids

  1. I’ve been out “playing” with my mobile phone in SUNNY Bath today! Caught a playful photo of a reflection of Georgian buildings in a motorcycle mirror! Let’s keep playing!!

  2. Love this post Otto. I long since learned to change things up now and then, use my iphone, my film compact, my film SLR and my little holga, all cameras I consider as play items, whilst I leave my Fuji for my ‘serious’ photography. Quite often I love the shots from the play cameras more!

  3. Some of my happiest moments (and best photos, perhaps not coincidentally) came when I was just “playing around.” Thank you for this wonderful reminder to HAVE FUN, Otto!

  4. I love this. I feel like I’ve been playing with my new photography ideas. Not everyone will like them, but they are playful, and I’m sure that will resonate with people.

  5. I think my Mom had a brownie, it was the first camera I encountered.

    Interestingly enough, it’s not the simple, so what if you screw up because it’s only reuseable bits in the camera that encourages me to experiment, it’s the digital darkroom. But I’ve got a ways to go before I hit fine art on anything like a regular basis. Guess it’s good to have room to grow.

  6. lol i didn’t play even when i was a kid, i had no blankie or stuffed animal that i carried around, i learned to parallel park my tricycle between two stacks of boxes, i never fell off a bike, i just knew how to ride it right away… somehow i seem to have skipped childhood lol i probably play more now than i did back then 🙂

  7. Playing is good, sometimes we need to learn again to play without worries!
    Back in the film times I noticed that oft my better photos were in the last three or four frames of the film: The ones made just to finish the film! Perhaps not technically perfect but much more expressive than many others 🙂
    Good post Otto, good remainder. Thanks.

  8. I had a Brownie when I was a kid, and I had a good bit of fun with it — including learning how to develop film. I’ll never forget that red light, and the smell of the chemicals. Then, I went for decades without a camera, and even after I had one again, I didn’t have much desire to take photos. Now, my ‘serious camera’ is my pleasure and my joy. Part of the fun’s learning what the camera’s capable of, and part of the fun is knowing that I can take satisfying photos even without knowing all the ‘rules’!

    1. Quite a different thing to photograph with a Brownie and today’s much more advanced cameras, even if they can be handled just as easy. I am not surprised that you have fun with your photography today, judging by your blog. 🙂

  9. fantastic motion

    he must smile all of the time because he’s smiling in what must be a terrific amount of concentration

  10. This is so true when you can afford to have fun and not need a perfect image for a profession. I wanted the lensbsby kit lenses because of the simple yet awesome effects a camera lens can do outside of software. I don’t use the creative lenses nearly enough today. Your post is an inspiration as always Otto!!

  11. I’ve become an ageing kid in the past couple of weeks, Otto. 🙂 🙂 Without my download cable I was forced to rely more on my phone to record events (my camera is, to me, more a diary) and comparing the results now I’m ‘home’ again, in some cases I do prefer the phone version.

  12. “Common sense” is often wrong. Suppose you tell someone: “Every time it rains, my yard gets wet. If I wake up one morning, look out the window, and see that my yard is wet, what can I conclude?” Many people will incorrectly conclude that it must have rained. They don’t realize that things other than rain could have made the yard wet. Someone could have watered the lawn with a hose, or an underground water pipe could have broken, or there could have been snow that quickly melted, etc.

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