Get Offline—Lose Track of Time

In these days of social distancing and less work—for many of us—we ought to have more time than ever to be creative and put energy into our artistic work. However, at the same time and for the same reasons, we are more online connected than ever. We are on our phones all the time and constantly hooked up on internet. Good for keeping some kind of social life when regular social life is almost nonexistent but less so for giving our mind liberty to be creative.

I have had to have a discussion with self. Consciously step down. Despite more time than ever, it’s been hard to concentrate and getting into a good flow of creativity. My prescription has been: Put my phone away when I want to do creative work.

The beeps and boops of our electronic lives keep us unnecessary busy. We live in a world of time management apps, hacks and tips. Anywhere you go, you might hear a cacophony of alerts sounding, tweets twittering, and the frenetic tip-tap of fingers typing off one more email or text in order to check that one last thing off the to-do list. Or being social. We are so busy—our devices tell us so. Best not to let a single step or typed word go uncounted or not answer the social call.

Even in these times of more time available, we are increasingly becoming micromanagers of our days, dividing our time into increasingly tiny chunks all in the name of progress and productivity. The result is less time to be creative, less freedom to settle our mind into the flow of creative work. Flow requires time uninterrupted.

Many of you I bet have heard of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research on flow states as most conducive to deep creative work. He describes flow as a state in which people become so absorbed in their work that “nothing else seems to matter.” It’s in such states that we are most creative, when innovative problem-solving takes place and great ideas are hatched. What we have taken less seriously as a tech-obsessed culture, however, is the degree to which the electronic productivity tools, the frantic pace of work activity, and being constantly social on social media might be eroding our ability to engage in this most productive work. Particularly now when we are more online than ever.

Business school professors Forbes and Domm noted in an article published in 2004 that it can often seem as though creative flow and task-oriented efficiency are at odds: “Curiosity is open and playful, while drive is serious, competitive, and achievement-oriented,” the authors write. The apps in our lives tend to emphasize the latter (achievement) at the expense of the former (creativity). After all, how does a phone know whether an idea is truly original? How can a step counter track whether the stroll was one during which the walker had a brilliant insight?

Now that we are more online—and paradoxically have more time than ever—it might be important to create strategies for protecting those flow states in which we lose track of those seconds and minutes that our apps are so happy to report on. Here are three such small tweaks to decrease tech disruption and recapture flow.

1. Release your inner child
Work one day or afternoon a week with some creative production and away from any time-keeping device. Even better if you can work in nature or solitude. Be childlike and sprawl out on the floor—or on the ground. Give yourself the opportunity to have your work be an immersive sensory experience, with the tactile experience of doing something physically, spreading your ideas out in physical space to look at them. Get into it.

2. Lose time
If giving a whole day over this way seems scary, set out a specific chunk of time you can “lose.” Use a timer and decide that whatever happens within the hour or two you set for your creative task will be fine. Do not look at the timekeeper while working. Stop worrying about tracking your time in the security of knowing that the ding will let you know when you’re done.

3. Box out technology
Put your phone physically away, whether in a drawer or zipped into your purse or backpack. Turn off sound notifications on your computer. Use an internet-limiting tool such as Freedom, Self-Control or Focus. As the names of these apps indicate, these products limit the user’s access to distracting and disruptive sites creative workers so often go to when ideas are hard to push through, rather than staying in the moment of creative problem-solving.

At the end of the day, being in the flow is where we do our best work and are happiest. It might not always look like productivity, but in a world where everyone else is obsessively measuring and counting, maybe losing track of time is just the right kind of different.

Photographic Development

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Sven fotograferer på Playa del Este

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Most artists go through different stages of development. So, too, do photographers. Their development, maybe more clearly than for other artists, proceeds along two parallel lines—due to the dual nature of photography. One of those lines is related to technique while the other is related to a more artistic aspect. These parallel developments do not always keep pace; one may progress faster—or slower—than the other. Some photographers don’t even realise or care about the lack of the development of one of the skills. I know successful photographers who have no clue about how to use aperture or exposure time in their shooting, and certainly don’t know a thing about post-processing. Their technical development stopped at an early stage. On the other hand, some of the best photo-technicians I ever met wouldn’t know how to make an interesting picture if their lives depended on it. Their artistic development never got off the ground.

In my own photographic development I started out with more emphasise on my technical abilities than artistic growth, but today I care much less about technique. For me the content and the story the pictures tell, particularly on an emotional level, is of much more importance that the technical appearance. I certainly don’t mind if both work together to form a higher unit. On the contrary. But nothing is more boring that a technically perfect, but purposeless picture that doesn’t evoke any emotions, simply because the photo is all about technical proficiency—and maybe composition—than content and purpose.

With my own development—and others as well—in mind, I clearly see that photographs often change their attitude in regards to both subject and the way they shoot as of a result of their technical and artistic progress. In his book Photographic Seeing the late and former Life-photographer Andreas Feininger distinguishes between three different photographic approaches, stretching from an almost pure technical focus to a complete artistic impetus. He talks about objective (which I prefer to call factual), subjective and expressionistic approach.

The factual approach is when a photographer tries to make his or her picture render as much as possible the visual facts, being careful to express neither bias nor personal point of view. Clarity of this rendition is of primary importance, colours should appear natural and the subject must be instantly recognizable. Prime requirement for this approach is photo-technical competence, whereas artistic talent and imagination are of lesser importance. This is often stage number two in a photographer’s development, following the stage of the happy-go-lucky snapshooter. (Personally I’d rather call this factual than objective approach, simply because the latter implies some level of objectivity in the rendered photo, and I don’t believe objectivity exists in any photograph).

The subjective approach is when a photographer makes a deliberate effort to express her or his personal opinion or point of view. It means showing in the picture what the photographer felt in the presence of the subject rather than what the eyes told him or her. In essence this is an emotional approach requiring a high degree of sensitivity, feeling, compassion, imagination and courage of conviction. Usually this approach is the third stage in the development of a photographer, when the photographer starts to realize that there is no objective rendering of any subjects and that an imaginatively seen and expressed photograph can be more stimulating than a purely factual, correctly rendered image. This approach requires are strong personal conviction and vision coupled with sufficient technical abilities to realize this vision.

The expressionistic approach is when the photographer goes all out of his or her effort to present his or her personal point of view, even if this requires a form of rendition which makes the subject partly or completely unrecognizable. As in modern abstract art, feeling is everything. It takes about the same abilities as for the subjective approach, only to a higher degree. Often the expressionistic approach is merely a more revolutionary form of the subjective approach. And some times expressionistic photographers rely on photo-technical abilities to a lesser degree. It’s all about feeling, intuition and being present with the subject.

Where do you feel you are along this continuum between a factual and a expressionistic approach?

Are You Free?

Do you feel pressure when you are practising creativity? So much that you don’t even get started? I certainly do. Not always, but sometimes I have a really hard time getting myself out of the comfort zone. I feel pressure to come up with something extraordinary or at least something worthwhile. I may be holding back by what I consider expectations from my surroundings, but most of the time it’s most likely my own expectations that keep me from exploring a free creative path. I might be afraid of failure – and sometimes even afraid of success.

Performance anxiety is causing plenty of struggles for most creative persons. Moreover, I find it fascinating that in most cases it’s all for imaginary reasons. We construct all kinds of ideas about what we want to achieve, instead of just getting started and see where we end up, without any predefined expectations. Performance anxiety is good for nothing. Still most of us can’t put it to rest.

At best, to be creative means being free to explore possibilities. It means having energy to play, to let go of preconceived ideas of what things should be or not be. Just going with the flow – as it’s often described.

Performance anxiety keeps us from being free. Interestingly enough, when we think in terms of freedom, we most often assume that it means being free from. Particularly in our western culture (and I write us, since it’s where I come from) we talk about freedom from oppression, freedom from regulations, and yes freedom from expectations. In this sense we will never be free, because there will always be something that regulates our lives. But there is a different kind of freedom, namely being free to.

While the first is related to limitations, the latter is opening up to no an unlimited realm. We feel we need freedom from when we are pressured in one way or another. It may be pressure from yourself, your job, your boss, your spouse, your parents, yes even society. At least that’s the way it feels like. Sometimes it has great value to ask what is it that really holds you back. Could it be a feeling that whatever you do doesn’t come spontaneously from inside of you?

If on the other hand, you feel energized, being in the moment, without having to perform – in whatever connotation of the word – then you are have freedom to the create process. Nothing will hold you back. It’s not possible to live in a society and be completely free, that would lead to complete chaos. However, when it comes to creativity, complete freedom is possible – if we let ourselves loose from expectations and preconceived ideas of what should and should not be.

You know yourself, when you don’t think about it but just create, it’s playfully easy.

Creative Routines

If you want to stand out as photographer (as any artist, as a matter of fact), you need to put in the work. Simply put; it takes a lot of work to excel. Often enough I have written about the necessity to work hard. However, almost as important is developing good habits.

As Twyla Tharp, the dancer and one of America’s greatest choreographers, concludes in her book The Creative Habit: “It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive pattern of behaviour—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, and going the wrong way.” Tharp wakes up every morning at five-thirty and takes a cab to the gym—a trite ritual but, as she writes, “a lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day. By putting themselves into that environment, they begin their creative day.”

Most renowned artists have and continue to develop good habits for the creative work. Frédéric Chopin played Bach preludes and fugues. Beethoven took a walk with a sketchpad to jump-start his mind and jot down rough notes. Novelty in creative endeavours usually arises from routine—you have to be familiar with something before you know what is novel.

In his book The Accidental Masterpiece, Michael Kimmelman writes about the artist Philip Pearlstein—as one of many artists he highlights in the book. Kimmelman, chief art critic of The New York Times, followed Pearlstein’s process when creating one of his paintings and in so doing, observe the routine of his life. Pearlstein’s paintings are unusual and provocative. He paints in a style that has become recognizable his own. As to his work routine, though, he does essentially what most of us do whether we are in an office or teach in a school or we drive a truck or we raise children at home: he follows pretty much the same schedule, day in and day out, trying to make something constructive of it. Contrary to the myth that artists are eccentrics, leaping from one peak of inspiration to another, Pearlstein exemplifies the greater truth that most artists live as they work, incrementally, day by day, in the same way that they build up a canvas or chisel a sculpture. According to Micheal Kimmelman.

Kimmelman also refers to the artist Chuck Close who makes prints out of small, nearly identical dots. Close’s work is painstaking, repetitious, and methodical. As he says to Kimmelman: “My favourite analogy is a brick building. Stacked up one way the bricks make a cathedral, another way they become a gas station. Having a routine is what keeps me from going crazy. It’s calming. My working methods are almost Zen-like, like raking gravel in a monastery.”

Daily routines are also essential for Julia Cameron. She has inspired plentiful of artists and artists in coming by her book The Artist’s Way. The book describes a program for how to open up the creative self and become more in touch with one’s muses. An essential part of her program is what Cameron calls The Morning Pages. As the first think every morning, you sit down and basically empty you mind onto three pages of handwritten notes. The routine will help your artistic development and spur the creative drive.

Good habits create space for creativity. It frees up your mind and inspiration, when you otherwise might get bugged down by the mere thought of what could end up becoming insurmountable chores. Again, to quote Twyla Tharp: “Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I’m doing the right thing.”

One way of developing good habits for a photographer is doing what the photographer and teacher David Ulrich calls Your Daily Record. In many ways it’s similar to Cameron’s Morning Pages, except instead of writing it encompasses photography. Ulrich describes Your Daily Record in his book Zen Camera (which I reviewed in my post Zen Camera).

The baseline for Your Daily Record is acknowledging that it’s imperative to photograph regularly and frequently if you want to strengthen seeing, improve your ability to discover potential subjects and become a better photographer. You need to develop photographic habits. Your Daily Record is similar to a free-ranging journal of thoughts and impressions—like Morning Pages. 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. Ideally, you dedicate time for daily shooting. 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. Now just see and record what you see with you camera (or cell phone). 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.

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 gem-like reflections, in a separate folder.”

I try to shoot and follow the guidelines by Ulrich on a daily basis, although I don’t always manage to set aside time for Your Daily Record. Nevertheless, I notice how it has sharpened my awareness and even increased my effectiveness when I photograph an assignment. I am quickly able to get in flow. The photo following this post was shot one morning some time ago during a walk while shooting Your Daily Record.

For the record, Holly who writes the blog House of Heart, recommended The Accidental Masterpiece to me. She creates beautiful poetry. I suggest visiting her blog.

Candy to the Creative Child

Et nysgjerrig esel på den karibiske øyen Bonaire.

Some days I am flowing over with creative energy. There is no end to my cornucopia; it’s like an endless stream of ideas flowing through me combined with an unstoppable desire to create. I can go on and on and on. Other days my mind is completely empty, I feel drained and I don’t even want to think about creative work, let alone attempting to do such futilities. I just want to shut myself down, crawl up in good chair and read a completely unchallenging book.

How do I go about those days? Well, sometimes I do exactly that, shut down and do something utterly mindless. But in the long run that is no solution at all. I risk never getting up of that chair, figuratively speaking, because most times I feel creatively drained not because I am really creatively exhausted, but because being creative is scary as hell. It’s not for no reason that the American existential psychologist Rollo May talks about the courage to create—because it does take courage. It’s a daring path to choose. Or as George Bernard Shaw once stated in a letter to the violinist Jascha Heifetz; it’s an active battle with the gods—and with oneself I would like to add for my part. The courage to create is something I have already written about in a previous post, so I won’t dwell far and wide about it now.

The question is what do we do when we get into that stage of inertia and creative apathy? As far as I see it, there are four ways around it. We can do nothing, find that brainless book and hide from ourselves. I have already made my point about that solution.

A second solution—which is not a bad solution at all—is to rest your creative mind, not by withdrawing, but by filling it with inputs and new impressions. It’s what I called replenishing the creative well in one of my other, previous posts. Replenishing the creative well (by the way an expression I have taken from Julia Cameron) could be visiting an exhibition, it could be gathering some creative friends and discussing each other’s work, it could be as simple as going to a coffee shop and have a nice espresso or a long walk in Mother Nature.

Another way out of the misery is simply to force ourselves into a creative mood. Is that possible you might ask? Yes, and no. I think it depends on the situation. Sometimes the creative work you are pursuing will not come alive with pure force of mind. Other times it’s all it takes. I know for sure when it comes to myself, that for instance when I have been travelling and shooting on the streets for some time, at some point I run into a wall. Suddenly I feel drained, I can’t face the street again with a camera in my hand, and I just want to spend the day in a nice hotel room or even better in a nice bar somewhere. But then I know if I just make that first step into the street again, with camera in hand and start shooting, albeit it will be lousy pictures in the beginning, at some point the energy comes back again, and I am suddenly back on my creative path again.

The last way out of the creative inertia is by luring. My creative self is in many ways like a child. And just like a child it needs nurturing. So what do you do when a child has decided to put both feet on the ground? You promise it something nice and alluring, something it cannot say no to—if it only starts moving again. It’s simple psychology. If it takes a candy to get the child over the hill, then give the child a candy! So it is with my creative child. If I am only willing to walk down one more street and take scores of photos along the way, I promise my creative child a new camera! That is something that can get me going. Well, I guess I would quickly become a poor photographer if I really did that. But I think you get my point. The point being, you need to find something that you can give yourself to keep going down that creative path you don’t really feel like walking. It’s about motivating ourselves. If not a new camera, maybe I will buy myself that photo book I have long been drooling for. Or maybe that nice bar—but at the end of the day. Give it as a present to myself when I have done my dead, instead of sneaking in with a bad conscious before I have accomplished anything all. Again it comes down to motivation and luring that child to keep going. Just give that creative child a candy!—Or a carrot to the donkey…

Downtime

Retreat and withdrawal is a necessary part of the creative process. Very few of us who work creatively are able to stay on top, creatively speaking, producing day in and day out. We need to let our minds rest and seek inspiration or new energy away from our usual creative field. The creative mind is indeed unlimited, but every so often we need to let it have a bit of rest. It doesn’t have to be more than just a walk in the park or enjoying a bit of social life in a café or listening to some beautiful music. Being social is fine, but in most cases it’s more beneficial if you allocate time to spend all by yourself. And even if you have to let go of a project you are in the middle of completing, it’s not wasting time to leave the work behind for a while. Instead it will become a time of incubation where new ideas suddenly will appear or new inspiration will trickle down upon you.

All artists need downtime – that is time to do nothing. There is nothing wrong with that. But we might even have to defend our right to this downtime towards family, friends or even colleagues if you work in a creative field. It might not always be easy; it may take courage, conviction and resiliency. Such time for ourselves – resting – will strike our family and friends as withdrawal. And it is. But for an artist withdrawal is necessary. Without it, the artist in us feels vexed, angry, out of sorts. Without this period of recharging, our artist becomes depleted. Downtime as in retreat and withdrawal is important for incubating new inspiration in us. If we let ourselves have some downtime on a regular basis, we will be able to stay more creative when we do creative work.

When was the last time you took some downtime alone – walking in the park, resting in the sunshine or did a longer hike or spend a day on the beach?

When Inner and Outer World Become One

En strålende dag i vinterfjellet
Artists and creative people frequently talk about the experience of losing themselves in the work at hand, being fully in tune with the process, with the heighten sense of being completely focused, being in flow—often emerging hours later as if having been in a trance. I know this from myself, and I also know that whenever I emerge from such a trance like state of mind after having worked hard during a photo session, I have been able to capture some great images. I can’t say which picture is going to stand out at the point of capture—as some photographers immediately are able to—but I know that within the batch of photos from the shoot there is bound to be some goods one. This trance like state of mind, in flow, when I lose myself, is for me the ultimate level of creativity, when everything can happen and I am not bound by my own preconceived ideas or thoughts.

I often compare this with being in a tunnel, where all kinds of unpredictable things can happen. I have now idea what happens in there before I finally emerge onto the other side of the tunnel. I wrote about this in the post “Tunnel Vision” quite some time ago. And it does resemble some of the ideas I wrote about the contemplative approach to photography in the post “Different Perspective” not long ago, in which I stated that contemplative photography in essence is about how to fully connect with the visual richness of our ordinary, daily experience.

There is a duality to this process. It’s two worlds coming together – the outside world and our inner world. We perceive and react to what we see, and then bring our inner self and spirit into the equation, almost as if in a dialectic process. In this very concentrated process we focus deeply on a single task, and at the same time something opens, deepens and widens. We are fully absorbed and present to the activity and the moment, to the exclusion of other elements and influences in our lives. But we are also equally attentive to ourselves; our responses, our impulses, and our creative interaction with the medium.

The late and great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson has aptly described photographic seeing as having one eye turned outward and one eye turned inward. When the two images converge, that’s the moment for capturing the photograph. In his acclaimed book “The Decisive Moment” he writes: I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.

Let Go of Comparison

One thing that kills our creativity is this constant urge to compare ourselves with others. We look at those who experience success in our field of work or are doing similar things as we are—with envy. We look at the masters who have developed their skills over a lifetime and feel that in comparison our attempts completely suck. And opposite; we might even be terrified to stand out from the crowd.

It so easy to be sucked into a downward spiral of “feeling not good enough”. Then we lose steam and get discouraged. And even if you aren’t completely dispirited, just the fact that this kind of comparison makes you insecure about your own creative skills, causes you to not be the best you could be. Instead of focusing on your work and feeling good about what you produce, you get sidetracked worrying about what other people might think.

In worst of all cases, someone might think that he or she lack creativity completely. Everyone acknowledge that certain skills, like playing the piano, take years of training. But a common misperception is that you are either good at something or not at all, particularly when it comes to creative expressions. Just think about how many who blatantly state that they cannot draw, they don’t have the talent, and yet have never put in the energy and time it takes to become skilled at it. Remember? As kids we could all draw.

I believe every single one of us have inherent creative capacity. It’s just that too many decide they don’t, without even trying. The main culprit for this: They compare themselves of today with those who are better, not with whom they can become.

Creativity has many elements that work together to push our imagination and desire into new directions. As such, there are many ways in which we can encourage creativity. One way to embrace creativity is to let go of comparison. If you are concerned about conforming or about how you measure up to other’s success, you won’t perform the risk taking and trailblazing inherent in the creative process.

Take skiing, which is something I know well, since I have done it all my life. Most of us accept that when we are learning a new sport like skiing, we will fall down, and other skiers on the slope will see us with our faces planted in the snow. But when it comes to creative work, we tend to freeze up. And not just when we are novices. With people who are skilled in something, perfectionism can be every bit as crippling as a lack of confidence in nonskilled.

Since I am writing about skiing, take myself: Although I am a pretty skilled skier, I still hate skiing under lifts or chairs. Others might see me fall or do something stupid! I know it’s dim, isn’t it, but even if I know, it’s hard to defuse this internal reaction.

Wherever you fall on the artistic skill curve, half the battle is to resist judging yourself. For a photographer, if you can raise the camera without caring about others, your are halfway there. Take baby steps, as I wrote in me post Incremental Progress a couple of weeks ago. Walk up to that stranger on the street and just start taking photographs. Don’t think about what others might think. And show you photos to others without thinking what they may think. Then do it again. I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it can be as long as you take that first step—in whatever it is you don’t dare to do because you are afraid of what other may say. More so, you will be surprised how good it feels afterwards.

Remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”

Throughout our lives, forces can push us toward or away from reaching our creative potential: a teacher’s compliment, a parent’s tolerance for tinkering, or an environment that welcomes new ideas. What matters most in the end, though, is this: your belief in your capacity to creative positive change and the courage to take action. Creativity, far from requiring rare gifts and skills, depends on what you believe what you can do with the talents and skills you already have. And you can develop and build on those skills, talents, and beliefs. After all, Hungarian essayist György Konrád once said, “Courage is only accumulation of small steps.”

Let me send you off with a last quote, this one by Nelson Mandela (and thanks to Through Rose Tinted Glasses that made me aware of it): “I learned that courage was not absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

So go out there and create, not fearlessly, but by conquering all those fears that comparison may raise. And most of all, conquer that urge to compare yourself with others.

Incremental Progress

Hardly anything is as inspirational for us as progress. We get fired up by progress. When you notice that you have personally developed or have accomplished something it boosts your confidence and moves you into an upward spiral of positive expansion.

As human beings, we are motivated by progress. It’s something we can all benefit from when we work creatively.

When you start out on a new creative project, whether it’s photography or any in other art form, it can be overwhelming to try to see the final outcome and figure out the way to get there. The solution is simple—kind of at least. Instead of aiming for the end result, take incremental steps, steps you feel you can easily overcome. Figure out a direction and start moving even if you don’t know how to get to the end. And then celebrate in-between objectives on the way to the final goal.

Take writing a novel. If you think you need to figure out the whole plot and the story line before writing, you will never get started. Yes, you may have an idea or a sketch of the plot, but you will never have all the details figured out beforehand. You just need to start writing the first sentence. And then the next. And so on. If you look to the end of the travel you are about to take on, you will most likely become discouraged before you even get going.

The same with starting a photo project. If you try to figure out all angles and all the images you need for the project beforehand, you end up frustrated and discouraged because you feel you can’t get a grip on what and how it will be. Put down a baseline draft and then start taking the first photo. And then continue, one photo by one photo.

Every so often when you do a bigger project, it’s a good idea to look back and see for yourself that you have actually moved and achieved something since you started. Gather records of what you have done, and make sure you celebrate intermediate objectives. Make a “Done Wall” where you gather up records of whatever achievements you have reach in your creative project.

We all need to see incremental progress in order to feel confident in our creative journeys. Proof of this idea can be found in the analogy of waiting in line. If you find yourself in a long line of people waiting to get into a concert or a restaurant as in the photo above, you will notice that everyone keeps inching forward every few minutes as the line makes its slow advance. But if one person immediately in front of you fails to move with the rest of the line, you will get frustrated. Even if you know that the person ahead of you will move to catch up with the line later on, you still get frustrated as you see the gap of space ahead growing.

Standing still and feeling no progress is difficult. You want to keep moving with the line in order to feel productive. The incremental movements with the line don’t get you there any faster, but they feel great and keep you willing to wait.

Just think about waiting in a line of backed up cars on the freeway. Standing still is very frustrating because you have no idea if the line beyond where you see, is actually moving. Even very slow moving is significantly better than no movement at all. It the same sensation as the one you get pushing the “Door Close”-button in an elevator, even though doing so may, in fact, do nothing (many of these buttons are disabled). Still, it is satisfying to feel that you are making progress.

Feeling progress is an important part of the execution of a creative project. Too often, we tend to stop executing before we even get started. We may have plenty of creative ideas, but the hard part is putting them into life. If your natural tendency is to generate ideas rather than take action on existing ideas, then surrounding yourself with progress can help you focus. When you make incremental progress, celebrate it and feature it. Surround yourself with it.

An example is the latest eBook I have been working on for a while. Before starting out I only knew I wanted to write about how photographers can improve their ability to see so that they are better be able to find interesting and captivating subjects. I didn’t already have all the information or knowledge available. But I started with putting down a loose disposition of possible chapters. Then I started writing. And I kept reading books that could have relevance for my own book. I learned more and I added chapters to the disposition along the way. Then I wrote the chapters as they came to me. And I went back to already written chapters as I found more information that I needed to add. Now the text for the book is as good as done. Next is getting it proofread, and finally I have to figure out the layout, find relevant photos and put it all together. Slowly by slowly the project is moving forward, in incremental steps, in which each finished chapter has kept me going with whatever was left to do.

So if you are about to start on a bigger creative project—or would like to—don’t get discouraged by the long road ahead of you. Just start without thinking what lies ahead of you too much, but take one step at a time. And celebrate each mile you pass.

Vision is Beginning

Intent is what brings depth and significance to a photograph. In many ways you can say it’s the lifeline of the photograph—or any work of fine art for that matter. A photograph without intention behind it won’t convey any importance to the viewers either. It might be as beautiful as anything in the world, but we still won’t stay with it for more than a glimpse of time and we won’t remember it if it doesn’t reveal the photographer behind it. A writer without anything to say in his novel, a filmmaker without a story in her movie or a musician without passionate songs, aren’t going to spellbind their audience and will all soon be forgotten. In the end nobody is going to care about their work. So it is with photography and photographers. A photographer who has no intention with his or her photography will most likely bore the viewers—no matter how technical brilliant the work is or how beautiful the composition is. Intention is what brings uniqueness and substance to a photograph.

«Without intent we’re left with accidental photography, and while accidental photography may once in a while generate interesting photographs, it will not generally count as an act of expression any more than hoping that saying random words will result in a sentence that says something meaningful.» Those are the words of David duChemin taken from his eBook The Vision Driven Photographer.

For David duChemin intent is a way to focus on the why instead of the what in the photographic process. It’s all about being clear about why you shoot what you shoot. By having a clear intent you will better be able to express your vision. For David duChemin the photographic vision is just another word for the intent behind the photograph. Vision is everything—without it the final result is dead. duChemin is one of the contemporary photographers who has been most unambiguous about the need for intent in the photographic process—for the photographer to have a vision. He is probably also the one who has best been able to put words to the somewhat abstract idea of vision and the role it plays in photography. It’s not without reason he calls himself a vision driven photographer.

The photographer’s vision is where the photographic process begins—or where it should begin. Unfortunately most photographers—and I willingly admit that I am prone to the same thoughtlessness, too—don’t have a clear thought about their vision, they just never get beyond the technical part of photography or beyond seeing light or composition. «Before our photographs can say what we want them to, and in so-doing to look like we want them to, we need to understand what we want to say, and how we want to say it. That’s vision.» That’s another quote by duChemin.

In order to better understand the vague and abstract idea of vision, David duChemin splits it in two types. He talks about personal vision and photographic vision. The former is something everybody has although we are not always consciously aware of it. It’s our understanding of the world around us and ourselves. It’s what makes you vote for a certain party, it’s what makes to choose to do what you do, it’s what makes you pay attention to what you see, it’s what makes you photograph something and not something else. The personal vision is based on experience and learning, and it changes with time as it grows more depth with ageing. Photographic vision on the other hand is the link between our personal vision and the final photograph. It’s what makes you frame an image in a certain way, it’s what makes you choose a certain lens over another, it’s what makes you photograph from one angle or another. While personal vision is the how you see life, photographic vision is how you see life when the camera is put to the eye.

Your personal vision is where it all starts. It’s what makes you choose to photograph something over something else. It’s the intent, which could be anything from wanting to show injustice in the world to declaring your love for something or someone. As a photographer you then move out into the world with your intent, and as you know, suddenly you see something that catches your attention. That’s the moment of perception. On the street you suddenly see a couple or an action that arouses your photographic interest. Even in the studio the same thing happens, but instead of moving around in the world until something catches your interest, you move the world around you and rearrange it until it feels right. While in that moment of perception, take a bit of time to reflect over the reason why you were stopped by whatever made you stop. Even if it was only light that seemed to arouse you interest, something made you choose this subject matter of that. This is paying conscious attention to your personal vision. Then continue to discern how you best can express this intention by photographic means available to you. This is the part where your photographic vision comes into play. Only then is it time to pull the trigger and continue the photographic process all the way to the final print, the manifestation of your vision.

This all seems like an elaborate process but as a matter of fact the more you get into the habit of paying attention to your vision, the faster the whole process will progress. From something catches you attention, till the camera has captured the subject, in reality it might only take a fraction of a second. The important part is being aware of your intent—or having a conscious vision. Unfortunately most photographers don’t. They see something without being aware of why the subject caught their attention and then start shooting right away. Of course their personal vision still made them react, but they just don’t know why or are not aware of it.

Do you have a clear intent when you are shooting? Are you a vision driven photographer? Or do you only arbitrarily take snap shots of whatever catches you interest?