Allow for Imperfections

If you were to choose between authenticity and perfect, what would it be? I bet for most of us, it would be the former. Who wants perfect when authentic feels real, inspiring and even more beautiful with its flaws, cracks and defects, than something that is perfect? Think about that for a moment. Relate the thought to your art, whether you photograph, paint, make music or whatever you do.

I know for myself I often seek to make the best I can do, I shoot around a subject to find the best angle, the best composition, the best light. I keep editing the images afterwards in Lightroom og Photoshop until I feel they are flawless. While instead I should allow for flaws and imperfections to bring out the authentic feeling from the outset. The Hollywood version of whatever we create is never going to be real, or even representative of what we stand for. As such, it won’t touch others as strongly as if we had allowed for flaws and imperfections in the creation.

Leonard Cohen once wrote, “Ring the bell that can still ring. There are cracks in everything. That’s how the light gets in”. Flaws are what makes us authentic and real, flaws are what make us shine, and authenticity trumps perfection every time. Those who ring cracked bells are the ones who make the biggest difference in our lives. They are the musicians who write the best songs, the artists who make the most meaningful art, the poets who write the strongest lines, and the people who make the best friends.

When all hell breaks lose, these people’s presence provides hope because they are real. Nobody wants to spend time with a perfect person when the world is falling apart. We want to be with people who understand. Rather than fix our brokenness, they reveal the light even in dark times. Not all cracks are bad; some are just wild edges where birds find refuge.

Think about again. When did you allow for flaws in your creative endeavours? Or at least accept them when they inevitably show up?

The American songwriter duo, Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, has allowed for imperfection to be part of their music. It came about when Linford’s father gave the couple some advice when they moved from the city to a farm: “Leave the edges wild”. It was a curious suggestion for someone who is new to rural life. Linford’s dad was a bird watcher, and he knew that if you make a farm too perfect, you won’t leave any space for the native birds. He said, “Leave the edges wild and let the birds have their hidden places for their untamed music.” Linford and Karin picked up that phrase and integrated the spirit of it into their work. The phrase became a metaphor for how they approached music and life. It wasn’t just about the birds, but about how to provide space for the cultivated and untamed aspects of life to thrive next to each other. If the neat rows of vegetables provided sustenance for the body, the wild edges would provide it for the souls.

Leaving the edges wild is a great mantra for any creative pursuit. Life can become so pasteurized and predictable that there isn’t any space left for mystery or surprise. Wild edges create a zone for the unfinished and untamed to thrive. Einstein once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” and it’s true. Think of your favourite song, book, movie, or romantic love—you can only explain it so far, and there is always an intangible and incomprehensible element that resonates within.

The most beautiful, most wonderful, and most magnificent push past the barriers of our limited minds. Where reason falls shorts, art steps in. Art is the mystery that awakens and stirs our soul and helps us stop being so caught up in the chaos of our small lives. To do so, though, it must be authentic. And authentic comes with flaws and imperfections.

Flaws can be beautiful if we can learn to embrace them for what they are. The creative process is not perfect, but is inherently flawed. And creativity flows the fastest when we strive to create great things but leave some openness for the fringe. Creativity grows best when it has plenty of space to breathe. So leave the edges wild and let your untamed and hidden spirit grow. Allow for flaws and imperfections.

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Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. 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.

The Contradiction of Creating


Some days I can’t get going. I know I have a deadline tomorrow, but I still can’t push myself to start editing the pictures. Or, in another setting, I am travelling in a new country, and I just can’t get myself out on the streets to photograph. Or I need to write an article – or a new post for this blog – but I can’t get myself to do it.

Some days I just can’t get going.

It all comes down to fears, insecurities or doubts. It’s the big contradiction of the creating process. On the one hand it’s the joy I feel when I am creating, on the other hand it’s this big obstacle inside of me which sometimes makes it impossible to get there. This resistance is something all creatives have to fight. It’s part of the creative process, the dark side one may say. But as strange as it might sound, it’s also a necessary part of being creative. Only by overcoming the fears, insecurities or doubts inside of us, are we able to reach our full creative potentials. It’s like entering a cold stream after a long hike. It doesn’t make you feel good until you have submerged your body into the water. But then it’s like rejuvenation.

Adventures don’t begin until you get into the forest. That first step in an act of faith.
Mickey Heart, drummer in Greateful Dead.

The fact is, creativity requires faith. We are heading down a road we don’t know where it will take us. Thus this faith we need to have requires us to relinquish control. That is frightening, and we resist it. We throw up roadblocks on our path in order to maintain an illusion of control. This resistance to our creativity is a form of self-destruction. To overcome it, having a regular practice is a must, whether it’s journal writing, sketching freely, taking photographs casually and spontaneously, or tilling our garden without an eye to the result. The energy is in the effort.

Don’t fear mistakes – there are none.
Miles Davis.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
Albert Einstein.

What we fear the most is the very thing that we are called to confront and work with. Where we find fear, where we feel the most inadequate, is where the energy resides, where great potential hides, waiting to emerge into the full light of day. Once we begin, and move vigorously in the direction of our aim, a joyful moment comes when fear and resistance move into the background and become part of our experience, but not the dominating feature. Our bliss then often emerges from behind this dark, smoky wall of fear.

It is one of the paradoxes of the creative process that it is both immensely challenging and demanding and, at the same time, the source of real joy and true satisfaction.
David Ulrich in The Widening Stream.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. 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.

Zen Camera

A Book Review


In last week’s post I wrote about Your Daily Record, a creative habit that resembles a free-ranging journal of thoughts and impressions in which you let the unconscious mind connect directly with the world around you through the camera. The idea I picked up from the book Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography by David Ulrich. The book itself is worth looking into for anyone interested in expanding his or her photography.

Zen Camera isn’t the first photo book which draws upon Eastern philosophy in its approach to photography. Others include books such as The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes, Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing and Opening The Good Eye: A Path to True Seeing, all books I can recommend even if you are not interested in Eastern Philosophy at all. They all, included Zen Camera, give you a unique and useful approach to expanding your photography.

However Zen Camera, differs from the others in that it’s more a cohesive program or a long term workshop than a book of inspiration and new ideas. David Ulrich draws on the principles of Zen practice as well as forty years of teaching photography to offer six reflective lessons for developing your self-expression as a photographer. His ambition with the book is to purify our seeing and allow our original self to emerge.

In my opinion, Ulrich largely accomplishes the objective. At least if you are willing to look beyond his sometimes a little lengthy deliberations about the meaning of it all, if you get my notion. The six lessons take you step by step from initially developing you seeing and observation skills to how to be able to reach mastery and being able to have your photography reflect whom you are as a person in grander perspective. Of course, mastery is not something you can learn by reading a book, but Ulrich’s reflections around the way to mastery are both well founded and encouraging. In fact, reading a book will not be of much help at all. You need to convert the words into skills by practicing. And Ulrich offers plenty of fun, applicable and challenging exercises.

The foundation of the “program” running as a red thread through Zen Camera is the Daily Record. All the lessons and all the exercises in each lesson can be fulfilled through the Daily Record. By working your way through the lessons and exercises you eyes will open up to seeing most likely in a different way than you are used to. It might also transform the way you perceive life, depending on your susceptibility to the Zen philosophy. At least Ulrich aims at making his thoughts valid not only for your photography but for life as such. As he write in the preface; “Zen Camera is not only about photography; it is about you. In six lessons, it guides you to cultivate creativity with the camera and all areas of your life… It helps you realize Socrates’ great directive, Know thyself, and uncover the seeds of the authentic self, hidden behind layers of conditioning and socializing”.

I am not a Zen practitioner myself, and sometimes Ulrich’s deliberations around life and meaning of life seem a little too contrived to me. It’s just too much of it and a bit too woozy and lofty. However, I am sure others will have a different perception of this. The language in the book is also somewhat scholarly and studious as is evident in the quote above—which at times makes it demanding to read. Furthermore, Ulrich’s wordiness can at times be a hurdle in and of itself for fluid reading. Personally, what I find most unpleasing is his tendency towards using a flourishing languages. An example: “Freshness blooms from the beginner’s mind that has its focus in the eternal now”. For me the language distracts. I get caught up in the wording itself rather than what the words try to convey.

Despite my objections, I have no problem recommending the book. You will just have to take it for what it is. But I am quite certain that no matter how you look upon Eastern philosophy and no matter how skilled or not skilled you are, you will arrive on the other side of the book with a different and more developed approach to photography, as long as you dig into it and transform the ideas into a practical approach. Zen Camera will make you a better photographer and if you can see beyond its elusive framework, it will be both inspirational and encouraging.

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Your Daily Record

As mentioned in my last post, over a couple of weeks around Christmas and New Year I have been trying to connect and replenish my creative well. I have spent time letting the inspiration flow and getting in touch with my muses again, particularly in order to renew this blog.

One way to tap into our creative mind is by something called Morning Pages. I will get back to this in just a second. The reason I mention Morning Pages is a book I have just finished reading. It’s called Zen Camera and written by the American photographer and teacher David Ulrich. In the book, he suggests something he calls Your Daily Record, which has many similarities with Morning Pages except instead of writing it’s a journal of photographs. I think Ulrich’s idea can be beneficial for all photographers at all levels, and that’s why I want to pass it on to whoever is interested in developing their photography.

But first Morning Pages: Let me quickly summarize what they are all about. The award-winning poet, playwright, and filmmaker Julia Cameron developed the concept. Despite her extensive film and theatre credits, which include such diverse work as Miami Vice and the prize-winning romantic comedy God’s Will, which she both wrote and directed, Cameron is best known for her hugely successful works on creativity. Particularly her book The Artist’s Way has gained worldwide recognition. The book teaches techniques and suggests exercises to assist people in gaining self-confidence in harnessing their creative talents and skills. One of the basic tools is what Cameron calls Morning Pages.

Morning Pages are a way to connect with your creative well. It’s basically writing three pages in handwriting as the first thing your do in the morning after you wake up, just whatever occurs to your mind and without trying to control neither the thoughts nor the writing. The idea is that when you wake up you are still very connected to your unconscious mind—which then expresses itself through your writing. It really works (for more about Morning Pages, look up my post Finding the Creative Well).

I recommend anyone who has embarked on a creative endeavour to do Morning Pages, or at least try out the idea. Despite the fact that you have to write, it’s by far for writers only. You don’t even have to be able to write. Well, literally you will have to, of course, but Morning Pages are good training for photographers and everybody else who is creating even if they don’t believe they can write any good. It’s not really about writing, but about getting those unconscious processes to flow and become an integral part of your creativity.

I read The Artist’s Way long ago and ever since have done Morning Pages—admittedly on and off. Nevertheless, already back then in the beginning, I thought the idea could be morphed or moulded into a similar processed using the camera. I did try my morning photographs for a period of time, but never made it work.

But, alas, here comes David Ulrich and Your Daily Record. In the preface of Zen Camera he does himself compare Your Daily Record with the Morning Pages. Imagine how excited I was when I found out. He had developed a method that works.

The baseline for the idea is acknowledging that it’s imperative to photograph regularly and frequently if you want to strengthen seeing and become a better photographer. How much then? Personally I will strongly recommend trying to shoot on a daily basis. I know, it sounds like a lot, but I am confident that you relatively easily may accomplish some shooting during the daily rut of things you need to do. At least the way described by Ulrich. Doing so will encourage development of your skills as a photographer.

Your Daily Record is similar to a free-ranging journal of thoughts and impressions. You let go of conscious thoughts on how you ought to photograph and let the unconscious mind connect directly with the world around you through the camera. When doing Your Daily Record, make it easy for yourself and use your cell phone, which you always carry around anyway. And if you use a “real” camera put it on automatic or program mode. Furthermore, capture images in jpeg-format. I am an ardently believer in shooting with raw-format, but for Your Daily Record, jpeg makes sense since these are images you would normally not process but only capture as sketches and for you to become aware of and develop your photographic mind (truth be told, though, I have set my camera I always carry to capture both formats, just in case…).

Now dedicate time for the daily exercise. It doesn’t have to be time solely for shooting; use off time if you have a change. Shoot while you go for your daily walk, or shoot while commuting with bus or train, or during your lunch break. Whatever works and doesn’t feel stressful. Now just see and record what you see with you cell phone (or camera). Don’t worry or think about making good photos. These are only sketches. Take photos of everything you see and that strikes you enough to make you become aware of it. Photograph anything and everything that ignites any kind of response or resonates with you. Just captured images without thoughts and any worries about composition, light or technique. Use your emotions as a guiding light, photographing what hits you in some way, whether positively or negatively. Shoot a lot and quickly. Shoot from the guts. Over one week, you should try to capture at least 100-200 images according to Ulrich.

Reviewing the images is just an important part of Your Daily Record as the shooting itself. This is how David Ulrich describes this second part of the process: “Organize your photos and view them daily. You can do this at night or odd times throughout the day when you have a free moment. You want to look for recurring themes and core forms or shapes that appear and reappear. Study how you use colour and form, and your magnetic attraction or revulsion to certain subject matter. Above all, seek the pearls of resonance, those images and scenes that call to you from the deep within, that touch your being in ways you cannot yet identify. Place these, and only these are gem-like reflections, in a separate folder.”

Before starting the reviewing, upload the images to a computer. It’s much easier than watching them on a small cell phone screen. Then go through them, initially without any editing or judging. Remember that Your Daily Record is most of all about the process and much less about the final product. And remember—once again—that these images are merely photographic sketches. May I finally make a recommendation at least for those of you who are serious about your photography? Make this exercise a lifelong habit. Keep shooting a journal of free images every day. I promise you it will take your photography to places you wouldn’t even imagine. I have started myself.

Regenerated

A break is every so often called for in order to regenerate the creative well. It is something we all need from time to time. Getting away from daily routines. Leaving worried thoughts behind. Letting go of demands. Taking a break from creating. Just a change of scenery can make a big difference, can invigorate us.

Our creative ability and mindset is like a well. Sometimes we drink of it, feel inspire and can just keep pouring out new ideas as if the well would never go empty. But of course, no well is ever bottomless. At some point, it can run dry. From time to time it needs to be filled up again or it just needs time to let the natural flow of water—or inspiration, if we talk about creativity, which of course I am—pour back into it. Time away can be what is needed, again talking creatively. Or doing something different that acts like a regenerator where you fill up yourself with renewed energy instead of defecating on what isn’t there anyway.

I have had such a break. Needed, not because the well was completely dry, more because I wanted to refresh the water that was still there. Those of you who follow me regularly have probably noticed that is been quite a few weeks since my last blog post. In that post I wrote about my desire to renew my approach to blogging, a search for a change of direction. The feedback from all of you has been immensely encouraging. Just so you know, it was never in my mind to quit, and it certainly isn’t now. I wish to thank each of you for the many heartening comments. I have taken them all to heart. They have helped invigorate me and fill up my creative well. I feel ready to dive into an explosion of creativity.

My search for a change of direction is not over. But I have ideas. Some I mentioned already in the previous post, some ideas have come out of comments you wrote and some have popped up as a result of renewed inspiration. Particularly one idea am I very excited to launch at some point. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I just need to find a practical way to handle it as it’s going to be an interactive endeavour in which I hope to involve many of you. For now, that’s all I am going to say, but I will soon get back to it.

There is not going to be a revolution on my blog. The changes will come dynamically over time. One thing I learned from all your comments is that many of you find inspiration in what I write and that for me is the biggest reward I can get. You know what they say about changing a winning game. So it’s more going to be add-ons instead of a make-over. No matter what, though, authenticity is the backbone of all good blogging. I know I have to be honest to myself and give of myself. Be personal. That is what makes blogging such a satisfactory undertaking. The exchange between different minds from all over the world. Giving and receiving. Isn’t that why we all blog?

I know it’s late and we are already weeks into the new year. Nevertheless: I wish you all the best in 2019. May it be an inspirational and creative year.

Changing Direction

Now that yet another year is coming to an end and we heading into the holiday season—at least for many of us—I will take the opportunity to thank all of you, the readers of this blog, for your support and encouragement. Some of you have followed me since the beginning of my blogging, while others have been with me for much shorter time, yes, maybe for some of you, this post will be a first introduction to my blog. I appreciate every single one of you who has been with me, whether short or long.

I wrote my first blog in June 2011. That’s seven and a half years ago. Not bad, I think… It’s been quite a travel, in which I have look at various aspects of the creative process primarily based on my own experience as a photographer. As a matter of fact, I have learned as much as I hope any of you have from my blogging. When I started out I only knew I would write about creativity, although back then I had not much knowledge about the creative process, besides what my own experience had taught me. Since then I have read every book I have come across on creativity, whether it was plain inspirational books or heavy, scientific studies about how the creative process functions, mentally, sociologically, spiritually and, yes, even physiological. I think it’s fair to say that over the years I have gotten some insight into what it means to be creative.

As 2018 is closing in on us, I feel like I have come to an end of that road I started out in 2011. Lately, I have more and more come to believe that I am repeating myself, that I hardly have anything new to offer about the creative process. It’s not that I know everything that is to be known about the creative process—by far—but I need to find a different approach, I need to find new roads I can follow, both as a photographer and a blogger. Creativity will always be the foundation of this blog, but I want to expand.

However, right now at the present moment, I don’t know in which direction I am heading. Rather, I am going to use the holidays to contemplate about the future of this blog. When I get back with new posts next year it won’t be a revolution, but my hope is slowly over time to make significant changes in how and about what I write and emphasize.

For some time now, I have been thinking about how I can use my skills as a photographer more directly in my blogging. For instance, I have been mulling over the idea of posting practical tips about how to capture better photographs. At the same time I am aware that so many bloggers do exactly that, so then the question is how can I add anything different to the mix—or can I even? I have also considered writing posts in which I tell about what goes on behind the scene, showing how I am thinking when I am out on assignment. Again, the question is what value that brings to my readers—something different that’s not already out there? Finally, I have reflected on finding a way to give concrete feedback for any challenges you, the readers, are struggling with or just feedback on photos you take. For time to time, I have offered picture critique on my blog, but I find that the format hasn’t really been working good enough.

So many thoughts and so many reservations. What to do?

One thing I am sure about; I want to throw myself out on deep water. So often, I have written about stepping outside of the box, taking chances, face you own fear in the creative process. That is exactly what my blog needs at this stage. It needs some fireworks and colouring outside the lines, it needs to break free from whatever it has become. Or maybe it’s only me that need to allow myself some more freedom from my own restrictions, more don’t give a damn.

May I throw a curveball out to you, my reader? While I spend the holiday contemplating what I am going to do with the blog, maybe I can ask for your thoughts. What would you like this blog to be for you? How can it be more useful and more inspirational for you? Do you see a way in which you may use my expertise as a photographer (and a creative inspirer) more in line of your own needs? If you have any thoughts, please don’t hesitate to bring them fourth in a comment below. One more thing; if you have come across a book or some documentation about the creative process that you thought was extraordinary, could I ask to list that for me? I still want to learn more about developing our creative abilities.

Finally, I wish all of you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. I’ll see you again next year.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. 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.

Creative Destruction

Sometimes we who do creative work come to a standstill. It’s like we don’t see a road that could take us any further in our creative endeavours. We have maybe reached a certain level, both when it comes to craftsmanship and creativity. Maybe it’s just as far as we get. Or, so we think.

We might feel tired or indifferent. We might be frustrated or bored with what we do; we might not even know why we do what we do any longer. Moreover—the result, our photos, paintings, writings or whatever we do creatively—might seem boring and uninspiring. Mind you, I am not talking about a creative block, but rather a deeper and more fundamental fatigue.

Don’t despair. It’s just a sign that it’s time to move on. It’s time to expand and let go of your control. Take chances, let the unknown take you by surprise and lead you on to a road you didn’t even know existed. Make the decision to move on. But before doing so, remember that some projects and some creative endeavours take time and patience to complete. Don’t use moving on as an excuse for lack of patience.

But when it’s time to move on it’s time. Of course, that raises the question how do you move on? When moving on sounds right maybe you don’t know exactly what to do next, and that’s part of the fatigue. The American photographer Harold Davis suggests that we can play with what he calls creative destruction. He points out that many of the world’s great innovations and works of art have been born out of creative destruction.

Creative destruction is perhaps most familiar in a business context: A company innovates a new product because its old business is slowly diminishing, and with the new product line further cannibalizes the old business. The scenario is extremely fruitful as a model for artistic creation. You cannot create anything unique while stuck in a rut, but getting out of the ruts often involves change, destruction, and effort.

You can often witness creative destruction in children’s play, where, for example, a train track is decimated by an outer space alien invasion amid cries of glee, leading to more involved and intricate subsequent play space and structure once building starts again. For a photographer—as in any creative arts—creative destruction is a very useful technique with many possibilities. For example, shining a harsh light from behind a glass straight at the camera destroys any chance of delicately rendering the glass. But harsh light directed this way creates new possibilities in the spirit of creative destruction.

In the field, you can stop and decide to “destroy” the image you are working on by moving on. A simple technique for encouraging creative destruction is to rotate, and photograph whatever is behind you, whether or not it seems like a valid subject for a photo.

Closely related to creative destruction is the concept of allowing yourself to fail. I have written about this before. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. If you make a mistake, it shows that you are human and that you are trying to do something new. When I see the imagines of a participant on one of my workshops that are without mistakes, I see someone who isn’t willing to take risks and get out of the comfort zon.

In other words, always be willing to get messy, take chances and make mistakes. Truly inspirational work comes from the creative destruction that this kind of thinking out of the box implies. If you are willing to try something different and to risk failure, you may be amazed at what you accomplish and succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

Above, I have come with two examples of creative destruction. Do you want to suggest how you could apply this principle in a practical way? Maybe we can create a list of concrete ideas to creative destruction? Put your thoughts and ideas in a comment beneath.