Where Are You Going?

Have you ever heard yourself speaking or singing on a recording? I still remember the first time this happened to me. When I played back the recording I couldn’t believe how much different I sounded than I had expected. It was as if I was listening to a completely different person. Was this my voice?

Of course, this is how it feels the first time for everybody. The discrepancy is caused by the resonance created in our skull combined with the direct passage of sound waves between the oral cavity and the inner ears. The difference between what we are used to hear and what our voice actually sounds like is for many an insurmountable barrier; so much that many end up hating hearing their own, recorded voice.

I think the same dynamic plays out with many creative people’s metaphorical, artistic voice. As much as we urge for our own, distinct voice, many are unaware of how they artistically communicate with others. Worse, this lack of awareness means whatever they create is inconsistent with whom they really are—and perhaps even deeply disconnected from their passions and ambitions. They project who they think they should be, and ignore the deeper signals about who they really are.

I have often written about artistic voice in this blog. More and more I see a clear connection between developing a clear, distinct voice and your creative development. One is express through the other and vice versa. I also believe that being honest in your creative development will infuse a more authentic voice.

Your artistic voice isn’t something you sit down and deliberately create, like a blueprint of your new house. It comes through creating and practising your artistic skills—and simply living, the more authentic the better.

Nevertheless, according to the author Todd Henry, to spur the development of your authentic voice, you must cultivate three tings: A strong sense of identity which means doing artistic work that is rooted in something substantive and personally meaningful; a consonant vision for your work, meaning a sense of the ultimate impact you want to have; and mastery of your skills.

Identity is primarily defined by the question “Who are you?” However you respond, it would be a story about how you perceive yourself and your place in the world. In fact, your sense of identity is a collection of many stories, related to your childhood experiences, your job, your hobbies, your political views and a number of other defining characteristics. Thus, self-knowledge is a critical ingredient of identity, because when it is lacking you are more likely to compromise your true thoughts and beliefs. You must have a rooted understanding of why your work matters to you, what makes it unique, and why you believe it should matter to others.

The second part of what instigate an authentic voice, the vision, is primarily defined by the question “Where are you going?” This implies that you need to be able to articulate the kind of effect you want to have and how you want the world to be different through your efforts. You should at least have a sense of how you plan to impact them. The majority of great creators have some sense of where their work is leading and the ultimate impact they want to have. They have “a north pole” towards which to navigate, even if only in a general sense.

The final and third piece to what positively influences your artistic voice is defined by the question “How will you get there?” As you sharpen you skills you have more tools in your toolbox and give yourself more options for expression. I am often one who attach less importance to skills, but no doubt artists who sharpen their skills are better positioned to create more diverse and stronger work.

The answers to the three questions give you a map for encouraging the development of your authentic, artistic voice. Your sense of identity leads you to a compelling vision, which then illuminates the skills you need to master in order to evolve as an artist.

We have just commenced with a new year. Maybe this is a good time to sit down and ask yourself these three questions. The answers may open up new ways for your creative development and in so doing also stimulate your development of an authentic voice.

Talking about a new year, I want to wish you all the best, creatively and otherwise, for 2023.


Would you like to get motivating thoughts related to the act of photographing? Every once a month I write Sideways—nuggets of inspiration on photography. Sign up to receive Sideways in your email.

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That Time of the Year Again

We are soon approaching Christmas. Today, in Bergen, Norway, were I am presently staying, I woke up to heavy snowfall this morning. It was really exciting and made for a perfect Christmas mood. Of course, it’s still close to two weeks till Christmas, and the snow may be gone again by then. That’s the way the winters are around here. At least the temperature is falling again, so there is actually hope for a white Christmas.

Of course, I had to get outside and photograph the winter-clad city. I enjoyed just walking around, observing people and cars and even bikes struggling to get through the massive amount of snow—at least before the snowploughs had gotten around the city.

Photographically, the result was somewhat disappointing. Nevertheless, it was still lovely to try to capture the Christmas mood, the energy and the bustling people and city. I have long accepted the fact that some days I am just not going to get any great photos. As much as I keep trying, the muses didn’t seem to hear my call. Or more likely, mentally and creatively I wasn’t present enough. I had my thoughts preoccupied with some concerns of a different kind, and that always makes it harder to unfold creatively. Today was rather a day of sketching, just enjoying being outside and not worry about whether I would capture strong imagery.

Enough of that.

Talking about seeing, and Christmas, I want to extend an offer to you, my readers of this blog. Christmas is traditionally a time of giving presents. But what about giving yourself something extra?

Until December 22nd, I’ll put my eBook “Photographically Seeing—Seeing Better, Seeing Deeper” out for sale. You’ll get it for half the ordinary price.

Photographically Seeing—See Better, See Deeper” is an eBook about seeing and indispensable for any photographer wanting to develop his or her perception and photography. For a photographer, seeing is where it all really starts. If you don’t see anything that interests you, you won’t be able to take any interesting photos. This eBook will teach you to see what is rather than what you believe is there.

Get it now. The price is only 8 $, half of the regular price. The offer only lasts until December 22nd. ORDER HERE.

With that I will log out for this year. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you again in January.

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

When Stealing Is OK

Pat O'Rourke og Otto von Münchow på tur i Olympia

In a couple of post last year, I have brought up some thoughts about what it takes to develop as a photographer. In Starting with the Box I made a point of needing both creative thinking and learning the craft. And in the post Become a Better Photographer, one of the advices I suggested was looking to other photographers.

Let me take this a step further. Because what better way to develop your photography, both inspirationally and technically, than to learn from other photographers? To push it even further: Steal from any photographer whose work you like. Yes, steal (and this goes not only to photographers but to all creatives). I know, you have been told that steeling is bad and dishonest. But stay with me a little longer.

My point is that we all learn from each other. And how do we learn? By stealing. All artists steal from each other. As the singer and songwriter David Bowie put it: “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” Anyone working creatively—any artist—asks; where do you get your ideas? The honest answer is; I steal it. In the delightful and very inspiring book Steal Like an Artist, the artist and writer Austin Kleon puts it bluntly: “When you look at the world this way [that all ideas comes from stealing], you stop worrying about what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’—there’s only stuff worth stealing, and stuff that’s not worth stealing. Anything is up for grabs.”

The thing is; nothing is really original. Everything has already been done—as I wrote in my post Originality long time ago. The point is: what makes something different and yours, is your take on it. Yes, steal, but add yourself in the process. Or steal to learn before you are able to impose your own vision on it, and then start make you own expression of an old idea.

The writer Jonathan Lethem has said that when people call something “original”, nine out of ten times they just don’t know the reference or the original sources involved. What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before.

The filmmaker Jim Jarmusch puts it this way: “Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that, which speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”

Austin Kleon suggests that you collect all, which inspires you in a scrapbook. Thoughts, phone calls, favourite passages out of books, and cut and past things you see around you that speak to your soul. See something worth stealing? Put in the scrapbook. Then use this book when you need inspiration.

At the end of the day, what this leads up to is getting around the simple fact that nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying—by stealing. I am talking about practice here, not plagiarism—plagiarism is trying to pas someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.

At some point, you’ll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. Imitation is about copying. Emulating is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing. Then you start to ask the question, what can you add—that only you can add—that makes it different?

All artists think and has worked like this. “We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.” That’s the words of the great filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

So: Steal. But add yourself into the process! Eventually.

By the way, if you feel like you are running out of ideas and are in a creative rut, I strongly recommend the before mentioned book Steal Like an Artist. It’s a quick read and full of positive energy.

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Three Photographers. One Week. One City

The passed week I spent in Naples, Italy. The purpose: nothing but photograph people of the city. Once before, I have been in Naples. It’s a hectic and chaotic city, with proud inhabitants. Although such a description fits many, if not all cities, in Italy, Naples is more so than any other I have visited up through the years.

I didn’t travel alone this week. We were three photographers who had decided to make Naples into a common photo project. We arrived respectively from Sweden, Germany and Norway (me that is). At times, we photographed side by side, all three of us, or only two. At other times we photographed on our own.

Being three on such a photo project is both inspiring and pushes each of us to do more than we maybe would have done single-handedly. It’s something about the energy in a group, the group dynamics and maybe also a little competition between the three of us. The latter however, wasn’t more than we respected each other when shooting together, and helped each other whenever that was needed.

I have noticed with amazement before, when photographers photograph next to each other, how different they (or we in this case) see the world and capture it in the images. Even when standing side by side, the photos come out quite differently. And often I saw one of my colleagues and friends photograph something I thought would be rather boring or uninteresting, only later to see an astonishing result. We all have our independent, well developed vision and voice. Experiencing this is maybe the most inspiring part of photographing together during a week such as this.

Apart from the photographic experience, it was not the least good to be able to be on the road again. For two years travelling has been quite limited, if not nonexistent. Being able to travel again feels like being liberated.

Here I have posted some of the images I captured during the week in Naples.

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/