Into the Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Slow Down

One of the curses of digital photography is that it’s so easy. It’s so easy to shoot anything and everywhere. We end up shooting too fast and too much. In photography fast is not always better. We may do better by slowing down, be more deliberate in our approach.

In the days of analogue film, it cost somewhere around 25 cents for each click. That cost would make expenses rise quickly if you weren’t careful. It motivated photographers to learn their craft and to focus, concentrate, and compose in a more mindful way. Back then, you couldn’t just hold down the shutter and hope, not even on assignment with a comfortable budget.

Pushing a button is easy, but crafting a good photograph is hard. Lake paddling across the sea, it takes consistent work. If you have a long way to paddle you will quickly tire out if you go out too fast. In the long run slow is fast. The same in photography. If you want to create lasting images, don’t just shoot anything and everywhere. Don’t just hold down the shutter button. Rather be mindful and slow. As Chris Owen, photographer, teacher and best-selling author, says: “In the era of instant, it’s the permanent that stands out from the crowd.”

By slowing down you may actually accomplish more. Creating photographs that stand the test of time isn’t an easy thing to do. And I believe most people can’t make images that last, because they are moving too fast. We worry about moments missed, and we take pictures in a furious pace. In photo circles it’s called “spray and pray”—that is to say holding down the shutter and hope.

I notice it in myself particularly when I do street photography. In the beginning of a session, I run around searching for something, anything that is worth capturing. I am afraid I might miss a moment, I believe maybe around the corner is a better vantage point with more activity on the street. I end up shooting a lot of photos, but nothing worth keeping. It’s when I take a deep breath, slow down and decide to stay in one place, wait and let things happen in their own time and pace, that I slowly start to get images that might be worth keeping.

Making good photos requires effort from us. So we shoot a lot of photos to make up for our lack of skill. However, just because you can shoot a lot doesn’t mean you should. But we still do. Why? Because less takes more time. We don’t have—or don’t take—the time to take better photographs, so we end up settling for good or even inferior. We work quickly and hope for the best.

Creating photographs that last means, we need to change our pace. Even Ansel Adams used to say, “twelve significant photographs in a year is a good crop.” When you slow down and lower your expected output, you can become an artisan in your craft. The constrains of a slower pace beckons you to photograph in a more thoughtful way.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Fujifilm X10 with the lens set at 20 mm (the equivalent of a 80 mm for a full frame camera). Shutter speed: 1/800 s. Aperture: f/7,1. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Do you need some ideas to improve your photography and not having to spend a lot of money on new equipment? My eBook 10 Great Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Point-and-Shoot Camera might be what you are looking for. It’s an inexpensive eBook full of inspiration, and it’s available on my website http://www.munchow.no.

Leap of Faith

Throwing yourself into the creative process is a leap of faith. You don’t know where the flow will take you, you don’t know where you are going to end up, you don’t even know if you will make it to the end. It’s like throwing yourself into a stream and see what happens. And trust the process. In the beginning, we dare let the stream be only so forceful—probably not much power at all, to be honest, but as we gain more confidence in the process, we take more risks and let ourselves be carried away by stronger currents.

Creativity is about letting go of control, not knowing what will happen. Any creative progress is made by leaps of faith, some small and some large. At first, we may want faith to take the first photo course, the first step toward learning a new media. Later, we may want faith and funds for further classes, seminars, a workspace or maybe even a year’s sabbatical. Later still, we may conceive an idea for a large project, a book or maybe putting our work in a gallery. As each idea comes to us, we must in good faith clear our inner barriers to act on it and then, on an outer level, take the concrete steps necessary to trigger the process; not knowing where it will takes us or whether or not we will succeed. When you start writing a novel, for instance, you don’t know whether or not it eventually will be published, at least not if you don’t already have a name.

The more we let go and the more chances we take, the more possibilities will open up for us. We find that we change ourselves and become more susceptible to the process and own development. We more clearly see that our moods, views and insights are transitory. We accept changes as something positive. We acquire a sense of movement, a current of change in our lives. This current, or river, is a flow of grace moving us to our right livelihood, companions, destiny and opens up our creativity.

Creativity is the process of finding the river and saying yes to its flow, rapids and all. We start to say yes instead of no to opportunities, maybe startling ourselves in doing so. As we begin to pry ourselves loose from our old self-concepts, we find that our new, emerging self may enjoy all sorts of bizarre adventures. By replacing “no way” with “maybe”, we open the door to mystery and magic.

Many a time in my street photography workshops I have experienced participants not seeing themselves taking close-ups of people in the street, not daring to approach strangers. Not a few times participants have cried because they didn’t see how they could dare doing it. And then suddenly they just jump into it. Not long after they can’t believe how much they enjoy it. In my last photo workshop in Cuba there was a woman, who was very reluctant to approach strangers on the street. By the end of the workshop she was going inside homes and house, photographing people up close, that for must people takes years to be able to accomplish. She took the leap of faith, jumped into the river and was washed away in a way she hadn’t anticipated.

Creativity is a leap of faith. And as we get more comfortable with the slow stream of the creative process, we will soon find ourselves washed down a river of unimaginable creative power. It all starts with letting go of our control. Do you dare?

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Panasonic TZ5 with the lens set at 13.1 mm (the equivalent of a 77 mm for a full format canera). Shutter speed: 1/320 s. Aperture: f/4.6. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Breath of Life

På toppen av Navaho Pass med utsyn mot Mount Stuart

Choosing a creative path isn’t always an easy course to travel. It’s a path of much struggle. At the same time, though, it’s also a path of much joy and fulfilment. For me creativity is a healing path. Part of the struggle is because when we open ourselves up to creativity, we open up to our vulnerability. We learn about ourselves and we see ourselves in a different perspective, cannot hide all that we so often try to ignore about and in ourselves. Being creative means opening up—and that can be very challenging.

I think every human being has creativity in her- or himself. We are all creative beings. Life itself is but creative. Every creature (and just the word itself gives away the fact) is part of the natural order of creativity. We are ourselves creations. And the natural order for us is to continue the creation through our own creativity. But along the way to adapt to life’s demands many of us lose sight of our natural creativity.

To get back on the creative track, particularly for those of us who have been away for a long time, can be a roller-coaster experience. It can be painful, full of doubts and mountains of frustrations. However, as long as we don’t give in, we will eventually experience the fruits of becoming creative again. The fulfilment. Feeling whole. Feeling connected. The creative joy. Yes, creating.

Being creative, means to live. As the poet Alain Arias-Misson once said; «The purpose of art is not a rarefied, intellectual distillate—it is life, intensified, brilliant life.»

When you begin down the path of creativity, you will encounter challenges and moments of insight and growth, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. You will always experience downturns as well as highs. As the writer, director and producer Julia Cameron writes in her book The Artist’s Way. «Frustration and rewards exists at all levels on the path. Our aim is to find the trail, establish our footing, and begin the climb. The creative vistas that open will quickly excite you.»

The peaks-and-valleys that are part of the growth along the creative path are like a series of expansions and contractions. It’s like breath of life. We breathe, in and out. Expansions and contractions. We create, in and out. Thus, become alive.

So at times when you feel lost, don’t feel creative at all, when everything seems like at a standstill; know that it’s just a time of contraction. It’s necessary in order to be able to expand again. Don’t get discouraged. We are all in this cycle of expansions and contractions. We all have times when we can’t get out of the box, feel discouraged, but then suddenly the box fall to pieces, we feel free again, free to create.

If you have followed my blog for some time, you may remember that I was in a deep contraction just before Christmas. Now I am in an expansive uphill. Things begin to open up again. And I enjoy being creative, see things that I otherwise would ignore, feel like I am paying attention to life’s details as I wrote about in the post Pay Attention, two weeks ago. It’s a joyous place to be. But I also know, as certain as rain follow sun in my part of the world, that before I can blink I will be moving into a contraction again. Being alive means constantly alternating between expansions and contractions. Each time I enter an expansive mode, I see new vistas, I learn to appreciate all creation with different eyes—yes, I expand.

Riding the Waves

munchow_1813-202_e

The road to success isn’t paved with gold—or, navigating only through calm waters, to use the analogue I like to think of when talking about creativity; the interaction between man and sea. The path to success is navigating through foul weather, risky straits and choppy waves as well.

Not long ago, my partner and I planned to kayak along the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, USA. As often is the case along that coastline, the weather was windy and cold, and the waves were rolling big onto the beaches. Not conditions for launching any kayak trips.

We had a good time anyway, enjoying the strength of the gale in our hair and feeling very alive when the wind gusts battered down on us. Not kayaking but hiking along the shoreline. Still, we had brought kayaks and at some point, we decided we could use the heavy waves to practise paddling under less than perfect conditions, safely and close to the beach.

With wet suits, life jackets and all the necessary safety equipment we felt safe indeed, as long as we didn’t go far out. Of course, the waves are also the worst exactly where they break onto the beach. For that very reason, it would be good practise.

It took some juggling to get the kayaks launched, but as soon as we were out, it felt pretty good. We paddled through a couple of waves and felt in control. Then we turned in an attempt to surf back in again. That’s when we lost control, both of us. The first wave took us around.

As we had foreseen, we would keep warm with the wet suit and stay afloat with the life jackets. However, what I hadn’t foreseen was that we had already kayaked too far from the beach. I could not reach the bottom. Moreover, there was no way neither of us could get back up in the kayaks. Thus, I started to swim back in with the kayak in one hand.

I quickly realized that this was much heavier than I had anticipated. After some time I wasn’t sure at all if I got closer to the beach. Instead I started wondering if there was a tide taking my out rather than in. I did not feel very comfortable any more, not the least because I could feel my stamina started to dwindle too quickly. In addition, my partner and I had drifted apart. At least she was much closer to the beach. Of course, I could let go of the kayak, but that wasn’t an option, not yet. That uncertainty, though, about which direction I was going, was anything but calming.

To make a long story short, I finally made it onto the beach, with my kayak and everything. We both did. By then I was completely exhausted, had to rest in the breaking waves before I could pull myself and my kayak onto dry land.

It was a valuable lesson. I learned where my limit is and I learned that I have to practise much more navigating foul weathers. Of course, I would never launch a real kayak trip under such conditions, but you never know if or when the weather suddenly changes faster than you have anticipated.

The mistakes we do underway are what build strength for later successes.

The path to success usually goes through choppy waters, for then to experience some calm and beautiful sea—for a little while. The path to success starts out with interest, passion and ideas. Next come the hard work and the fight to get closer to where we want to be. Then some mild success, and next some failures as well. And eventually—and hopefully—we will hit the big wave taking us far and away.

Creating your life’s best work and living the life you imagined requires having a deep drive to reach the top, but also a strategy for making it back home. It isn’t very creative to sail the biggest waves only to crush onto your doom. True creativity requires a more holistic view that includes both the up and the down.

Personally, I have had my share of success—in my eyes, that is, which is what is important in the end—but these days I am once again fighting my way out of a trough, as those of you who follow my blog know. It’s part of the creative path, and I know as long as I keep swimming and learning how to navigate back onto shore again, I will soon enough be riding confidently the big waves.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 105 mm. Shutter speed: 1/500 of a second. Aperture: f/22. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop and finally a Bleach Bypass filter added from Nik Color Efex.

Last Week’s Instagram

Fuktighet kondenserer

Since my last post where I talked about the problems I—and the whole media business as such—is facing, I have received so much encouraging and positive feedback, I want to thank you all for such a wonderful response. I have used the week since to get started working on my new projects and feel good about it. However, it’s always a little scary to throw yourself into deep water. Either you learn to swim or you sick. I plan to do the former, but I guess this week’s Instagram is telling for my situation or my feeling.

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. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments (well I guess I gave some comments this week), hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with my cell phone processed in the app Snapseed.

When Catastrophe Hits You

Sometimes we just have to take the bad with the good. The reality is that nothing is so bad that it can’t be good for something. If we can only wrap our heads around and see the misfortune—whatever it might be—in the right perspective.

I know, it’s easy to get discouraged when bad things happen to us. Right in the middle of it all, it’s hard to encourage positive thoughts. But however hard it is, if we can slowly drag ourselves out of the miserable feeling, we stand to win more than we might have lost.

I am in such a place right now. The last couple of weeks have been hard. My work has been slowing down more than I like to admit. The reality is, I have hardly gotten any new assignments over last the fortnight or so. What more is, I believe I won’t get more work for the rest of December.

Of course, it has to do with the industry I am working in. As you probably know, the media businesses have been struggling for years already. The disruption of the digital era has come down hard on the media, as it has for instance on the music industry as well as other branches. For most media companies it’s been hard to make a profit these days and keep a sustainable business, and for one who delivers to those businesses, of course I would have to expect to get hurt, too.

So far, I have managed fairly well, though. Yes, it’s been harder to get assignment at times, but I have just pushed harder, and gotten what I needed to survive. Now in the end of November, it seems to have come to a standstill, though.

I don’t expect it to stay like this forever. As a matter of fact, I believe I will be in full business come January as all the companies I am working for will start on a new budget year. However, the present standstill has gotten me thinking. I need to diversify and I need to find more legs to stand on. What happens now have giving me an opportunity to reflect on my own situation.

It’s by far a new thought for me. For years, I have been thinking about other areas I can expand into. The problem is finding time to develop new business areas, when you are so busy with the work you already have. I have—slowly and discontinuously—done various attempts but nothing that is ready to take over the loss of business during this time of standstill.

But alas. Suddenly I do have time. Moreover, that’s what I am going to do the rest of this month. Start working on my new ideas and develop those business areas. My hope is I will get far enough to be able to put them into action already in the beginning of next year. It was about time I got going. I knew I was playing with fire when I year after year postponed getting into new areas. Time to expand and find myself again. I hope…

I will end with a quote by Becca Fitzpatrick, an American author, best known for having written the New York Times bestseller, Hush, Hush: «Sometimes bad things have to happen before good things can.».

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 105 mm. Shutter speed: 1/30 of a second. Aperture: f/4.0. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.