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.

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Good Habits

Sometimes being creative is extremely demanding. Sometimes I have to push myself to get going, whether I am writing a text, photographing, doing post-production, making a blog post like this or something quite different. Sometimes it’s hurting almost physically to try to be creative.

There is no easy way around the fact. However, good habits can help. As Twyla Tharp, 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.”

These last couple of weeks, I have been making good habits for myself. I don’t say so to brag, but maybe it can be an inspiration for others who might feel overwhelmed by the demands of being creative—or trying to be.

I usually work a lot, but can also be good at procrastinating, particularly chores I would rather not do. As strange as it may sound, creative tasks might sometimes belong to that category, at least until I get started. The point is simply to get started, at least for me. For instance, I find writing more demanding than anything else I do. I love to write, but I hate to write, too. Or; I love to photograph on the streets, but it scares the shit out me, too. It’s all a big contradiction, but isn’t that what creativity often feels like?

Good habits have saved me from complete disaster this last month. I have been buried in plenty of work, which generally is good for a freelancer if you want to survive. But can also cut you short of drowning. My weeks have been juggling between making interviews, photographing for the same articles or some other assignments, writing the texts and editing the photos. It’s been hard not falling behind with the work.

My way to dealing with the load of work, has been to organize good habits for myself. When I have gotten up in the mornings, I start the day with reading the day’s newspapers. As a journalist, I need to know what is going on, so it’s part of the job. When done with the papers, I went to my desk and started to write whatever article I had in the working. There was no way around it. Every day, writing would be the first thing I did. Part of it this, is the fact I pointed to already; that writing is such a demanding process for me. By getting going with writing as the first thing each day—and not allowing myself any excuses doing anything else—I would be working much more efficiently than otherwise. My habitual schedule would be to write up until lunch. From there on, I would organize interviews or photo shoots if needed and/or processing images. Finally, at the end of the workday I would do the odd jobs, like sales taxes, answering emails or other office work.

The key for me has been getting started with the writing and forcing myself to write no matter what. And, yes, some days I felt empty and not able to write anything inspiring. I would still write however boring it would come out, accepting that it would have to be edited at a later stage. As I noticed I was able to keep up with the work, it inspired me to keep going on like this. I think I have been more efficient than I often am. I usually work long hours, starting the day at 7.80 am and not ending work before 7 pm. (It must be noted that included in this time frame, is reading the papers as well as physical training, as I see the latter as equally important as my work and thus need to make sure I create room for it).

Nevertheless, there it’s still plenty of time for work. That has sometimes been part of the problem. In the morning, I might think there is no hurry since the day is still long in coming, so I find ways to postpone what I don’t want to do and end up wasting time. And suddenly the day is gone.

With good habits, I keep pushing and don’t allow myself much breaks before the work is done. Instead, I might end the day earlier and have a longer evening off for pleasures or doings not related to work. It’s really been exciting when I notice I have been able to keep up with all the work needed to be done. Before this last weekend, I was completely adjourned with all work up until then, and for the first time in very long, I could take the weekend off with a clean conscious—despite the workload hanging over me three weeks earlier. Usually, there is always something I could do or ought to do in the weekends, but this time there was nothing to do at all. This weekend I felt light and keyed up realizing I could do nothing if I so wanted. Even if I didn’t, just knowing made me thrilled.

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.”

Play is Not Only for Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Ever Give Up

It takes grit to pursue creativity. Being creative means fighting against all odds—most of all ourselves. However, the creative fight is less a battle for glory than a pursuit of personal spirit and finding a way to express it without fear. It’s not a gladiator’s brawl, but rather a solitary struggle with ourselves.

In previous post over the years I have used our playful relationship with water (at least before we grow too old) as a metaphor for creativity. Extending this metaphor, the creative fight is not Michael Phelps competing for Olympic gold but more like swimming to an inviting island off the coast somewhere. The Olympic Games are hyped up, and they are loud. When we swim to go somewhere, it’s discreet. We use ingenuity, agility and guts to accomplish our goal. Phelps swim against others, but swimming to reach that island is a fight within.

I think that we create with such a drive in mind. At least for me, I create for the sheer joy of making something for myself. Yes, I would like to get recognition, but that is not what is driving me. As when I have swum out to that island, there is great gratification to be had when I can enjoy the view from the island that I have earned.

The creative fight doesn’t gloat and it doesn’t crush. Yet the creative person isn’t some pushover that’s afraid of a difficult task.

One characteristic that makes someone a good swimmer is grit. Grit can be defined different ways. It can be thought of as tiny particles of crushed rock. Taking this perspective a bit further, the oyster reminds us that without grit, there is no pearl. Grit is a character that is a mixture of courage, resolve and strength. Like small granite rocks, grit is strength that won’t give up. Those who are gritty have a passion to pursue a goal over an extended amount of time. No one is born with grit. It’s grown into us through difficulties of life.

Earlier this year, I ran my head into a wall. Not literally, but in pursuit of a creative job. I was shooting an assignment for a magazine here in Norway. It was about a couple who had moved to an island to live off the grid, to support themselves as sheep farmers and of fisheries. They had been looking for a harmony missing in contemporary life—and had found their private Eden on the island. It was a fun assignment, offering plenty of creative possibilities. I didn’t have to swim to their island, but it still took some organizing to get there since there was only one regular boat transport a week. The shooting was really fun and I felt it went very well. However, when I got back and prepared to upload the photos, I discovered that the memory card was corrupted. It was a first for me, but nevertheless devastating.

I could have given up. Called the magazine and explained that I wasn’t able to deliver on time, knowing I would have to wait a week for the next regular boat to take me back to the island. Instead, I refused to give up. That evening I called all friends I knew had boats nearby the island and asked if anyone would be willing to take me back. One of the last on my list, agreed to do it. Early next morning I was back with the couple.

I don’t know if you have had to do a reshoot of something you thought went pretty good the first time. Mentally, it feels like having to clean up your own mess. Not fun and definitely not the best starting point for a creative quest. I pushed my worries and frustrations away, forcing myself to be present in the moment and not thinking at all about what I did the first time I visited the couple. It worked. In the end I think I returned with even better photos than the first time. The editor surely was pleased.

Grit isn’t easy to learn—there aren’t any classes offered in schools. Long time ago I asked a friend of mine who is a triathlon athlete if grit can be taught. He said: “The only way to learn grit is to get out there and get your ass kicked. You have to suffer and you have to fail.” My friend does Ironman triathlons. That is biking 181 km, running a full marathon of 42.2 km on top on swimming 3.9 km. He knows what he is talking about.

Grit isn’t something that you will find on an online course. It’s gained while in pursuit of something big. Grit requires belief that it can be done. It means don’t give up when the going gets tough.

The Curse of Good

Technology has helped us improve our creative output dramatically. It’s probably more obvious in photography than in any other creative endeavour. As a result, there are a lot more good photographers in the world. Good isn’t the big deal. Simply point and click. Yet, a few of the good photographers become truly great. Why is that?

Good is easy, but greatness is always hard. When I started out as a photographer, I wasn’t even good. Of course, that’s always how it is in the beginning. Back then, with manual and analogue film cameras, it was even harder to get started than today. Nevertheless, it didn’t take very long to become a pretty decent photographer, at least technically speaking. Getting beyond that level, though, is a much tougher travel—and still is today. Even these days with cameras that do all the thinking.

We all know it. It’s not the camera and it’s not their built-in ability to handle all the technical challenges that makes great photography. It’s still the photographer and his or her willingness to go beyond the obvious. The pursuit for great photography is a quest for hidden things. That’s why the best photographers are such a quirky bunch—like oddly equipped treasure hunters who get out into the world look for the magnificent. Leaving no rock unturned, they search high and low for the perfect shot. The result may still look like an easy accomplishment, but the truth is that effortless and deep photographs take decades of commitment to the craft.

When I teach photography, I am often asked for tricks that can make a student’s photographs better. The truth is, there aren’t any easy tricks that will quickly result in great photography. The curse of today’s technology is that it is fairly quickly to get good at it. That is literally the problem. It’s like inheriting money before you have learned the value of hard work.

Too much good too fast can distract us from a higher goal. When life is good, we stop trying so hard. That’s why so many of the great artists often started out starving. They weren’t only hungry for survival, their hunger infected their art. And, yes, I know it’s a cliché, but not completely. The American author Jim Collins distilled the curse of good in this way: “Good is the enemy of great”. He explained; “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life”.

When we become good, we might not see it this way. We think to ourselves, how can this be a curse? Good feels nice. But good is not a stable spot. We might soon becoming dissatisfactory with the result, particularly when we see others climbing higher than us and thus demoting us. When good is good enough, it stops the creative flow. Not good enough is what drives growth. It’s when we feel that we can still become better that we pursue that next level. And then do it again. And again.

Creative Magic

You may have noticed that this blog of mine has been titled Creativity Is within Us All. It’s not only something I have put there (look to the right), I truly have faith in it. I do believe we are all creative beings—as long as we are willing to uncover our creative abilities, which lies within us. It takes courage. It takes faith. But it’s there. This is how I see it metaphorically: the universe hides gems deep within us, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

Sometimes these gems reveal themselves without any effort from us. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to uncover one. When it happens, however it does, when a sudden idea out of the air appears for our inner eyes, it feels like magic.

Elizabeth Gilbert—the bestselling author of Eat Pray Live—does think it’s magic. Literally. In her book Big Magic about creative living, she writes: “I believe the creative process is both magical and magic.” She believes our planet is inhabited with ideas, as disembodied, energetic life form. These are ideas can only be made manifest through collaboration with a human partner.

“When an idea thinks it has found somebody—say, you—who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re are consumed by your own drama, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration. […] But sometimes—rarely, but magnificently—there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something.”

Personally, I don’t quite believe as literally in ideas as real life forms, but I think, as a metaphor, Gilbert’s description gives a way of understanding how creativity works. It’s the way it feels when we are struck by ideas. As something, that just comes out of nowhere to be grabbed.

It’s up to us what we want to do with ideas that come our way. We can ignore them, we can think it’s too hard to follow through or we can say yes to the idea and make something out of is, however hard it’s going to be. For Gilbert the point is really how you embrace the ideas. She suggests to cooperate fully, humbly, and joyfully with the inspiration. You may not achieve success or make a living in your creative pursuit, but if you welcome creativity into life as such, enjoying being creative for itself, you will thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting , passionate existence.

Another quote from Big Magic: “I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you—but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and search for a different human collaborator. This happens to a lot of people actually. This is how it comes to pass that one morning you open the newspaper and discover somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or […]”

Whether or not you believe in ideas literally as life form is not important. What is important is to act on inspiration when it arrives. Not wait until better times. Not postpone until the idea is fully developed. Not put off until a better idea comes around. Not delay because you don’t feel ready.

Are you ready to act on inspiration when it strikes?

Break the Block

We all experience it; the drought, not having ideas, the feeling of being detached from our creative source, the lack of inspiration. Those down times are part of being creative. You just can’t keep flying high and be in constant flow. Sometimes you will have to land and just accept that you need some time to ground yourself again.

Yes, it is frustrating when you hit a creative block. Particularly if it lasts a long time. However, the more you experience it—and the more you create the more you will experience it—the more likely you will know that it’s a temporary state of mind. It seems like the muses have left you, but they will be back again. Maybe not today or maybe not even in a couple of months, but they will. So don’t lose faith. Don’t give up when it happens.

What you definitely should not do, is stop doing something. Just because whatever you do isn’t worth the energy you put into it—in your eyes, at least—it still important to trick the muses to show up again, and you do that with keep working, even if the result is pure rubbish. That’s how you get them back again. I promise.

If you can’t find anything you want to do in your usual endeavour, do something different. Just find something to do—anything, even a different sort of creative work—just to take your mind off your anxiety and pressure. I write a lot; articles, chronicles, blog posts as you see here and even novels, and every so often I do get stopped by a writer’s block. Then I leave my computer, and start doing something else. I might draw something, even if I am not good at it, I might start to construct a new part of a deck or repair something on the house—I will do something, whatever it is. For me, I find practical work to be a good block breaker. Eventually with enough energy put into this other whatever it is the writing starts to flow again.

Albert Einstein called this tactic “combinatory play”—the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another. This is why he would often play the violin when he was having difficulty solving a mathematical puzzle; after a few hours of sonatas, he could usually find the answer he needed.

Part of the trick of combinatory play, I think, is that it quiets your ego and your fears by lowering the stakes. The Australian writer, poet and critic Clive James lost his flow and stopped writing. But after a long spell of this funk he managed to trick himself back to work—or more correctly, his daughter did. He lost it all after a play he wrote became an enormous failure. After that he thought he would never be able to write again. He almost ruined his family financially, lost friends and fell into a deep depression. It was only when his daughter much later more or less pushed him into painting her bicycle that things started to change. Not immediately—in the beginning he was rather reluctant even to start the painting—but after some time he found pleasure in colouring the daughter’s bicycle in new and imaginative ways. Finally he began to add hundreds of silver and gold stars all over the bicycle. Although his daughter first was a little embarrassed by the artwork, it didn’t take long before a friend of her asked Clive James to do her bicycle as well. Soon he had painted the whole neighbourhood’s bikes. Painting thousands and thousands of stars was a healing process for him. Finally he realized that one day he would write about this. He had found a way back to writing.

In other words: If you can’t do what you long to do, go do something else. Or, to phrase the famous Stephen Stills song: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”.

Go walk the dog, go pick every bit of trash on the street outside your home, go walk the dog again, buy a colouring book and colour, go bake a peach cobbler, go paint some pebbles with bright colours and put them in a pile. You may think it’s procrastination, but—with the right intention—it isn’t, it’s motion. And any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion.

So wave you arms. Make something. Do something. Do anything.

Embrace Your Oddities

One of the things we need to learn and embrace as creative human beings, is not being afraid to stand out from the crowd. It’s a very human reaction, isn’t it, to not wanting to be the one who protrude, risking getting everybody’s attention. What I am talking is not about being overly assertive or blatantly pointing the finger at ourselves, emphasizing how fantastic we are. No, I talk about not being afraid of who you really are and not hide that self behind the rest.

The thing is, we try so damn hard to blend in with the rest, being afraid of sticking out. Rather, embrace what is odd about yourself; be confident with your own skin. We simply need to find more self-confidence and embrace all those quirks and oddities that make each of us special. Because that’s where you will find your real artistic expression. You art will grow deeper and become more authentic if you draw the artistic expression from your real self, the one that you sometimes, or most of the time, try to hide.

Mind you, it’s not about trying to become different, but accepting what is already different. It’s certainly not about forcing some originality into your art. The desire to be original is actually counterproductive. When we hold on to such an idea as being “original”, we inhibit the creative process. In doing so, we are not creating anything original, but just trying to be different. By forcing ourselves to be original, we close ourselves down to what is, we see nothing with open eyes any longer, but apply a contrived and limiting approach to seeing.

Instead of thinking in words like different or original, I believe what is important is authentic. By embracing what is already different about you—and not trying to squeeze some originality out of yourself—and apply that authentic you into your art, will make your art authentic, too. Your distinctive, artistic voice springs out of what makes you as a person unique. Thus trying to blend in, will only silence or even choke your artistic expression.

So don’t be afraid of what make people smile of you or think you are odd. Those are your gifts, as strange as it may seem. Of course, I know it’s easier said than done. I for one have to fight this desire to blend in, not to be visible in the crowd. For instance, I know I am a pretty good skier, but I still don’t like to ski under or close by the ski lifts because there everybody else can get a good look at me. What if I did something really stupid and laughable?

It’s one of the many fears that so inhibits our art. Fear of success. Fear of not succeeding. Fear of lacking creativity. And fear of sticking out. We want to create original art, but don’t dare to stand out. We got to fight that fear. Rather than trying to create original art, we need to stand up for what we are and embrace our oddities.

Don’t Give a Damn!

A week ago, I photographed and did an interesting and inspiring interview with an artist, actor and acrobat. She said something that made me think. In many ways, simple and yet so relevant for anyone engaged in creative work.

Some years ago while she was rehearsing for a movie shooting, the director of the movie told her: “You are too much of a good girl, doing what you are told. Loosen up and don’t give a damn!” She followed his advice and suddenly her creative career took a giant boost.

I think in my younger days I was too much of a good boy, too. I did what I was told. Creatively I certainly didn’t draw outside the lines. I follow the “rules” and did what I was supposed to do. Although nobody gave me the same advice as this artist I interviewed got, slowly by slowly as my creative self matured, I started to care less and less about doing the “right” thing. Instead, I have become more like a rooky, creatively speaking (not necessarily in my interaction with other people).

I think we all need to be less nice or good and rather let loose and don’t think so much about what is the right thing to do. When we start to don’t give a damn, we enter into a different mindset, our creative thinking changes, we see differently and begin to discover new ways of expressing ourselves. Our creative voice will take a boost when we loosen up, if nothing else, because we start to create and do things differently from everybody else. Giving ourselves permission to don’t give a damn will be the first step towards a distinctive way of seeing and expressing ourselves.

Thus being bad isn’t always bad. On the contrary, we need to be a little more bad—and please understand me right when I say so. There is a Swedish saying that goes like this: “Nice girls come to heaven, bad girls can come as far as they like”. Unnecessary to say, it goes for both girls and boys.

On a different note, some of you may have noticed I have been absent from the blog sphere the last week or so. It’s just been extremely busy times and I haven’t had a chance to engage in social medias. However, I hope to be back now that summer on this part of the hemisphere is approaching and life may start to become a little less busy.

Slow Seeing

For a photographer being able to see is an indispensable quality. Anybody can see, one might point out, but the fact is, it requires more than merely taking in the world through the eyes to see beyond the obvious, to become observant and consciously register what is going on in front of your eyes. The fact is that we lose our ability to see—in the finest and broadest sense—that is using all your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. As we grow from birth, we learn to objectify everything we see. The result is that we rather quickly stop being able to see with our conscious mind. When we have objectified or catalogued something, we stop seeing it—really seeing it—because we think we unconsciously know what we see.

This is a survival mechanism in order for our brains not having to deal with every sensory input as if it was a first encounter. It makes us stop seeing the familiar. However, as photographers, who want to make engaging images, we must recognize the value of the familiar.

This need to categorize, to understand the world, is an inherent part of being human. When I reach out and touch a cup, the moment my hands makes contact is pure touch, the sensation is unprocessed. But within milliseconds my mind needs to identify the object, and so the mind kicks into gear. Once we have identified the cup, the process of perception stops, and all other aspects of the cup is lost to us. We tacitly believe that when we have gotten a name for something, we know it. And once we know it, we stop noticing its qualities.

This objectification, categorization and intellectualisation is a very human approach. Animals have a much more direct way of perception. A spider for example, feels the universe through its legs, which touch the key strand of its web. It knows when it’s raining, or when food is available. It doesn’t think to itself, “that is not a fly on the web. That is rain.” Yet it knows. The spider doesn’t deliberate about what kind of fly it would like to eat or criticize the rain for trying to deceive it. A spider just does what it does, effortlessly and spontaneously.

How then can we train ourselves to start seeing again—seeing the world as it really is, not only as we think it is? It would be handy, wouldn’t it, if we were able take a red pill, as in the movie Matrix, and suddenly see the world as it is. Early on in the movie, the protagonist gets the choice between taking a red pill or a blue pill. If he chooses the blue pill, he will stay in the constructed world he has been deceived to believe in, but if he chooses the red pill, the deception will fall apart and he will see the world for what it really is.

Since we don’t have such a red pill, how can we start seeing beyond what our minds have made up for us? The first step to start seeing for real again is simply to slow down. Slowing ourselves and our minds down allow us to observe the world more deeply, and to shift our brains to examine more clearly those depths. It makes us see really, what it is we’re trying to photograph.

Our lives are normally so busy and so packed that we don’t have time to see anymore. I certainly find myself too often running from one place to another, to get to a meeting or an appointment on time, or to catch a train or bus. I bet most of us do. By literally speeding up our lives, we don’t take the time to see the deeper levels of things and so, without meaning to, we become shallower observers. This is not a beneficial state of mind if you want to capture meaningful photos.

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.

When we want to see with the intention of creating photographs we need to start getting out of this automated way of seeing, this subconscious registering through which we have trained ourselves to look at the world. We need to de-learn objectifying everything and re-learn to see everything with a pure and uncontaminated vision, everything as something unique and particular, almost as the child when she first learns to see.