Our Own Way

How do we, who pursue a creative path, find this path, our own path or our own way through the jungle of possible expressions and possibilities? How do we navigate our way through this maze towards something that feels genuinely and authentically ours?

The question came up during a workshop I just taught. One of the younger participants expressed frustration about this struggle to figure out who she is artistically and what her path would be. As such, it’s struggle most artists and creatives grapple with or has grappled with. In fact, we all do, at some point, if not all the time. What we are try to figure out gives cause for much frustration, because the path is not visible from the onset, only when looking back after having walked it.

A week has passed since I got back from my latest photo tour. It took place in the lush and beautiful Nicaragua with participants from both Europe and USA. Always, after an intense week of organizing and teaching a photo tour or workshop, I need time to process the impressions and thoughts from the trip. Among others, has been this question about navigating our path.

My immediate response to the participant was to just walk on. Try different directions; try different approaches, even if you start out feeling blindfolded. If you come across some work from other artists that resonate with you, copy it, try it out yourself. Be open-minded for what may come into your exploration. Be curious, and don’t try to define yourself, who you are and in what direction you need to move artistically, particularly not when you are in the beginning of your creative pursuit. You won’t find your way, it will find you—if you let it.

Imagine a world of only two possible paths to travel. One is the path of reason and certainty. Well trodden, well mapped, it is a path of averages: average pleasures, average pain, average joy, average sorrow. Above all, average results. Along this road, you are certain to experience an aggregate blend, a mean, the middle of what’s possible.

The scond path is your path. Springing from within and obeying your heart’s compass, it is unique to you. Your path isn’t devoid of reason or certainty, but it’s not trapped by them, either. It’s not average because there is no data set to establish an average. Just you. At every intersection, you choose the direction using all your faculties, not just reason: intuition, instinct, heart. This might seem like the risky choice, but it’s far riskier to play it safe. On your path, nothing you do is perfect, but all of it is right. You are doing the best you can with everything you have, in tune with your authentic self. Because of this, nothing you do is ever wasted. Every experience contributes to this journey.

Life is about choices. And so is the creative pursuit. Even when we have no clue about where to go. We just have to start walking in one direction, whichever feels right or just happens to be showing up. Of course and since you don’t know what you are doing, the choice may not be the one for you. That’s OK. If you really aren’t suited to it, you are free to go back to the drawing board. But commit to finishing a few pieces of work before moving on. You will learn something about yourself in the process. Each and every step along the creative path is a step forward; there is no wrong turns for an artist, only branches in a continuing evolution as you learn to express yourself.

What matter is that you start. Start before you are ready. Start with fear. Start with uncertainty. Just start. That’s the only way to go about finding your own path.

Photos are taken during the photo tour in Nicaragua.


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The Creative Habit

Creative blocks are something all creative persons experience, no matter in what field. I wrote about it in my last blog post. One of the best ways to counteract these blocks is by establishing regular routines or habits. That’s a way to get into flow, daily, without having to even think about it.

You may have heard about Ernest Hemingway. He made it a habit to write every morning. He liked to start early, around six o’clock, sometimes not even bothering to dress. He once said, “By writing in the mornings, you make sure that writing does get done.” Hemingway would write until noon and then he could often take the rest of the day off. He wrote standing up, facing a chest-high bookshelf with a typewriter on the top, and on top of that a wooden reading board.

Also Twyla Tharp, the renowned American dancer, choreographer, and author, starts her morning with a regular routine. She wakes up every morning at five-thirty and takes a cab to the gym. And then practice her dancing routine for a couple of hours. In her book The Creative Habit she writes: “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.” And continues: “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.”

I think both establishing habits to get started with whatever creative work one does and do so in the morning, preferable as the first think one do, will work wonders for the creative process. In fact, I have spent the last month finding a workable morning routine and making it into a habit that really gets my day started creatively.

I have always had to fight procrastination. I would often not start to do whatever work I had to do before I really needed to, maybe because of an imminent deadline. There is always so much fun or interesting things, I could rather do. Funny enough, though, when I get started with photographing, editing or writing, I always enjoy it. Still, I often have had to push myself initially. People with more psychological insight than me point to the fact that creating in and of itself means to explore the unknown and new. And we human beings don’t feel comfortable with the unknown. We are safe when we can be in a known environment. Being creative pushes us out of that safe zone.

By building a good habit for the start of the day, we are able to circumvent that uncomfortable feeling of the unknown we encounter when we want to be creative. I have noticed it myself. My new morning routine has changed it all for me. Now I am ahead of the game, tasks are done before they need to and I feel I have energy and look forward to doing more creative work, whatever it may be.

In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear writes about how to build good habits as well as how to break bad habits. He gives a handful of great and concrete tips. For instance when you want to build a new habit, try to make it attractive. You can do so by pairing something you want to do with something you need to do. You should also make it easy, for instance by make small steps in the beginning. Instead of writing two pages on your novel, allow yourself to just get started and be happy with that. After a while when the habit has come under the skin, you can increase the amount of work or steps. Clear also suggest to make habits satisfying. That could be giving yourself an immediate reward when you complete the habit.

It’s said that it takes around a month for a new habit to establish itself as something you do automatically. That’s about the time I have practice my new morning routine. I still don’t feel it kicks in without my conscious initiative. Nevertheless, I have already seen the result and the positive changes my morning routines has resulted in, so I don’t think there is a way back any more.

My morning habit has worked wonders. If you don’t have any routine, maybe it’s time to build your morning habit? Or at least give it a try?

When you read this, I will be in Brazzaville, Congo, to do a story about a woman scientist who has gained international recognition for her research in viruses, included Covid, Ebola and HIV. What she does is also very creative.


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

Get Over It!

As I wrote in my last blog post, my blogging over the last year or so has been running on empty. It’s never a good feeling, feeling empty. However, all creatives will one day or another experience the well running dry. For writers it’s call writers block, but it’s no different for photographers, painters, musicians—or bloggers.

Julia Cameron, who has written the inspirational book, The Artist’s Way, calls the place from which we draw all our creative inspirations and ideas, the creative well. I like the expression and the analogue it plays with. Like a real well, sometimes it’s plenty full and we can scoop of an abundance of inspiration. At other times, it’s drained and needs to be replenished. Camero suggests treating oneself with something good and kind; if it’s just taking time to sit down in the neighbourhood café and enjoying a latte or treating oneself with a visit to an exhibition or attending a concert.

The thing is, a creative block is not a problem when you see what it actually is. It’s just you running on empty. It’s not about yourself, in the sense that you are a failure or aren’t creative enough. Creative blocks happen to us all—and there is nothing we can do to avoid them. It will happen to you.

The word block suggest that you are constipated or stuck when the truth is you are empty. I so well know from own experiences that the emptiness can destroy the creative soul, as do the shame and frustration that go with it. It can be a very depressing experience. You feel like the muses have abandoned you, or maybe just like they have given you a limited amount of creativity, maybe to do one book, or to photograph on good project, or put together a couple of handfuls of blog posts.

Just remember, they won’t last forever. Sometimes, yes, it will take time to replenish the well, but when you realize that eventually it will refill, it’s much easier not to fall head on into the empty well yourself. Accept the block and fill up the creative well again.

In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes: “We have all been there, and it feels like the end of the world. It’s like a little chickadee being hit by an H-bomb. Here’s the thing, though, I no longer think of it as block. I think that is looking at the problem from the wrong angle. If your wife locks you out of the house, you don’t have a problem with your door.”

Her solution is acceptance—which is something we’re taught not to do. We are taught to improve on uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings. But if you accept the reality that you have been given—that you are not in a productive creative period—you free yourself to begin filling up again.

As Lamott points out: “I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of anything written [Lamott is a writer and have taught writing], three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how they hate writing—just for the hell of it, just to keep their fingers from becoming arthritic, just because they have made a commitment to try to write three hundred words every day. Then, on bad days and weeks, let things go at that.”

Her advice is applicable for all creative activities and all kinds of blocks.

In the beginning, when you are first starting out with some creative endeavour, there are a million reasons not to create, to give up. That is why it’s of extreme importance to make a commitment to finish sections or parts of whatever you are doing, to driving through to the finish. The discourage voice hound you—“this is nothing but a pile of shit”. What you are doing may just be practice. But this is how you are going to get better, and there is no point in practicing if you don’t finish.


Want to get motivated? And are you interested in photography? Every once a month I write Sideways—nuggets of inspiration on photography. Sign up to receive Sideways in your email.

My Community

About a year ago, I decided to downsize my social engagement, included—among other platforms—my blog writing. This blog. Back then, I was running a bit on empty, and needed a break from what more and more had become an obligation—instead of the joy it once was when I started out with my blog for more than ten years ago.

The intention was not to withdraw completely, but rather to step down and just spend less time on social media, included this blog. However, I quickly lapse to just barely being able to keep my blog alive. Those of you who have followed my blog—and still have the patience to do so—will undoubtedly have notice the cut back.

I needed the break, and it’s been good for my mental health to lay low for a while. Nevertheless, I’d have to admit I have missed the regular contact with many of you in the blog sphere.

What I am saying, is that I am ready for a “come back”. It will be a slow comeback, and I don’t know what form it will take. It might not necessarily result in more posts, but I certainly will be more engaged again and go into the blog writing with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

Part of the reason I wanted to downsize my blogging commitment last summer, was the need to focus more on my professional activity as a photographer and creative artist. I felt my work had gotten stuck in an eddy, not progressing any more. I was not doing what I was passionate about any longer and I needed to infuse my professional life with exactly that again. Passion. That which I am passionate about.

That has always been my cue for any direction I have chosen, professionally or otherwise. Particularly the former (whatever I do for pleasure, is, of course, mostly pleasurable anyway). I believe in finding a way to enjoy and thrive with the work you do. Not only for money, but also for fulfilment of one’s life goals or desires. This last year, in fact longer than that, I have pushed myself out of the eddy I felt I had succumbed to. Now, I feel more inspire than in a long time, and I do more inspiring work again.

As part of my “recovery” or push forward, I have read a lot about creativity, psychology, self-efficacy, and other relevant literature. I always read a lot, but this time my reading has been more focus on these themes. One of the books I found particularly inspirational was Creative Calling by the renowned photographer and entrepreneur Chase Jarvis. He writes about his four steps—IDEA—to create a fulfilling, creative life. It starts with Imagine your big dream, what you want to become in life. Then you Design a practice that supports that dream. The third step is to Execute on your ambitions plan and make you vision real. Finally, you Amplify your impact through a supportive community.

This may sound a little too vague or generic, but Jarvis does a good job in making his thoughts concrete and executable. In fact when reading the book, I realized that for most of my life, his four steps are pretty much describing my own path. Nevertheless, I still learned a lot and was inspired to push myself even further.

What more is, I particularly found that I have not been good enough at practising the fourth step. In my whole life, I have pretty much believe in my own doing. I push myself, I mostly create by myself, and I have mostly developed my business by myself. However, reading Creative Calling, I realized I could have gained a lot by being more open for collaborative interaction.

As Charvis writes: “We’re are all social animals. We thrive on human connections. Creators aren’t exempt from this need. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you get through the tough spots with the support and inspiration of people who ‘get you’. Your community.”

His point is if you are walking the path towards your dreams, but getting nowhere, go find communities of other human beings who are passionate about the same things you are and get involved. Roll up your sleeves. Participate. Collaborate. And don’t hold back.

This leads me back to my blog. I need to get back to my community. You. Among others, of course. When I look back at my blogging, it has precisely been a place I could discuss and exchange ideas with people of my kind, creative human beings. So, it’s about time to reconnect and enjoy the human connection again.

Be a Channel

In photography, as in any creative endeavour, the best we can do to ourselves is not forcing the creative process in order to become better, pushing our creative voice into an artificial direction or somehow become original. None of this will do us any good.

I believe we all, as artists, strive to become recognized or hope our work will be inspirational for others or that we one day will acquire some kind of mastery that translates into a personal expression. I see nothing wrong with such aspirations. That can be a good drive for expansion and growth. When such aspirations take a wrong turn, is when they become the goals in and of themselves, when we try to force ourselves into something that isn’t coming naturally to us. That is when we turn ourselves away from life in the hope of making our creation into a brilliant star. All, but futile.

If instead of seeing creativity as something we need to squeeze out of ourselves, something we have to invent or something we are responsible for, if rather we see ourselves as channels for the muses or inspiration outside of ourselves or whatever you like to call it, the act of creating becomes a more fluid process. It becomes a process that we no longer charge with self-consciously guarding.

I often find my ego gets in the way. I want to take my photographs. As if that is the most important part of my immersion into photography. I the creator. Often, though, instead of going out to photograph, I start to doubt myself. The ego wants to stay put where it has always been. New adventures, new ideas, new anything, is challenging for the ego. But that’s exactly what creating means. So, often when I am about to go out and photograph I hear this internal voice “it’s no point”, “you won’t find anything”, “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have a unique voice”, “I am no good”, and so on and so forth. Writers call it writer’s block.

If we rather see our creating as channelling, we become charged with being available to whatever is channelling through us. To the degree that we can set the ego aside, we can then create freely. We turn into a stream of inspiration. We allow it to flow through us. We become an “open channel”.

“The music of this opera (Madame Butterfly) was dictated to me by God. I was merely instrumental in getting it on paper and communicating it to the public”.

Those are the words of the composer Giacomo Puccini. Many an artist back in those days attributed their creations to God. I am not a believer of any godly realm myself, but I see all this as acknowledgement of channelling. Channelling gives us a gate or conduit to something outside of our conscious self, and to let this, whatever we call it—the unconscious, the superconscious, the imagination or the muse—to talk to us. Thus, being creative gives us a place to welcome more than the rational. It opens the door to inspiration.

Viewed this way—as a form of contact with something larger than ourselves—creating does not remain an ego-centred activity we are doing by our brilliantly selves. It does not remain something that must be protected from life. It becomes, instead, a part of life, a cooperative pas de deux rather than a star turn.

It is possible to create out of the ego. It is possible, but it is also painful and exhausting. Ego wants to take credit. “This is my creation”. But then it starts to flood the consciousness with all the flaws and lack of originality in whatever you create and raises fear in you, that whatever you are doing isn’t good enough. Perfect is the only standard for the ego.

If we see creativity as channelling, creativity is no longer our business. It is given, not something to be aspired to. It is, instead, a natural function of our soul. When we open ourselves to something greater than ourselves working through us, we paradoxically open ourselves to our own greatest selves.

Learn to Live with Self-Doubt and Fear

Self-doubt. Fear. Insecurity. Inadequacy. Not being good enough. Marginalization. Disempowerment. Depression. Despair. Cynicism. Egotism. Have you ever felt your artistic attempts are not good enough? You feel you lack talent and can’t express what you really want?

Trust me when I say we all do. Even the best and most talented artists do. It’s part of being creative and as such, I believe it’s actually a good sign. If you didn’t doubt yourself and your creative attempts, it only shows that you are standing still and not challenging yourself. As I have written many a time, challenging yourself is crucial for all creative development.

Here is the thing: Trying to express ourselves creatively in any art form, will place us squarely in the sights of our fears, doubts, and insecurities. It reflects back to the inherent quality of any creative art and their insistent necessity on going inward. Remember, in art, we express ourselves. Our only hope to be successful in art, any art form, is to learn to be unerringly what we are, flaws and all. We cannot destroy our demons all at once, but can accept our circumstances as part of our unique identity.

Everything that you are is fodder for your creative work. Do not run; do not hide from your gifts, your shortcomings, and your background. Make them part of your creative approach.

Each of us arises from our own blend of circumstances and has unique gifts. There is nothing new under the sun to art. Therefore, your unique vision and expression can only grow authentically from yourself. There’s no one else on earth with your particular mixture of talents, gifts, obstacles, fears, inadequacies, and unique insights.

Words from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke comes to mind. In his book Letters to a Young Poet, he writes: “You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart.”

From this quote, you can substitute “write” with any artistic pursuit that refers to you. Go into yourself, no matter what you do. With that comes self-doubt and fear. But it’s part of who and what you are.

Thus, take a hold of your vision. It’s yours and yours alone. Don’t try to be good, just try to be real. Each person has some genuine place of genius in their constitution, and you are not going to find it by trying to please others: teachers, parents, admission committees, or peers. Trust your own process. Take responsibility for everything that you are or are not. Your joys, struggles, trials and tribulations, longings, obsessions, and passions are all fair game for your creative exploration.


Photo Workshops and Tours in 2022
Now that the world seems to return to some normalcy and slowly opens up again, I and Blue Hour Photo Workshops hope to get our photos workshops going again.

“The Personal Expression”—a weekend in Bergen, Norway with focus on how to develop your personal, photographic expression. June 10th to 12th 2022.

”Telling Stories with the Camera”—five days in the beautiful village of Bleik in Northern Norway. A dream spot for any photographer. The focus will be on storytelling and the visual language. September 21st to 19th 2022.

”Photo Tour in Granada”—a week in Nicaragua for the adventures. We will explore the colonial city and its extraordinary countryside. November 5th to 11th 2022.

Are you interested in developing your photographic skills? Do you like to travel? Do you want to make your photos tell a story in a much stronger vocabulary? Find your own expression? Develop your vision and become more creative? Any of these workshops would take your photography to the next level. I promise you, you will be in for an amazing experience. Click any of the links for more info.

Creativity Is Being Alive

Have you pondered about why you have this desire to create? In asking, I take it you are pursuing creativity in one form or another—otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. I also presume you find some pleasure in creative endeavours, again, in whatever shape and form you fancy.

Plenty enough people think that art and creativity is for pleasure only. It’s something some people do when they have enough time to spare and don’t need to brawl for survival. It’s an activity out of luxury. Those who create do it for some pretentious urge of self-expression. These people may think the world would go on without art and creativity for its own sake.

I think not. I think being creative satisfies a basic instinct in most people—if they haven’t shut that door completely down. Yes, biologically, our basic needs are threefold and quite mundane. Being able to find food, having a habitat to thrive in and, finally, being able to reproduce. However, there is more to life than these bare needs. One such is the drive to make.

When I create, I am happy. But it’s more than that. I feel in touch with something bigger. I immerse myself in a sea of ideas and inspirations and a void of unlimited wonders—a path in which nothing is fixed or set. Everything is possible. What more is, something tangible comes out on the other side. In creating, I make something, something of which is all my making. It makes me feel alive. I live when I make.

Why are human beings driven to make?


There is a mundane answer, which is we need to expand and develop—which we do by making—in order to survive the threatening world we find ourselves in, whether back when we were hunter-gatherers and needed to protect ourselves from saber-toothed tigers or now as the contemporary human needing to solve the climate crisis (albeit induced by ourselves).

But there is something more fundamental to it.

Since the beginning, the universe has bend towards entropy—ever more chaos and disorder. Every act of creation on our part is an act of defiance in the face of that evolving disorder. It’s almost like an intuitive response, long before science gave us the language to understand what universe and entropy mean.

When we pick up a paintbrush, or compose elements through our camera viewfinders, or press fingers into wet clay to wrestle form from a shapeless lump, we are bending things back toward Order and wrestling them from Chaos.

There is satisfaction in making this Order. But making things is often not enough in and of itself.

We also want the things we make to be filled with meaning. We’re each trying to describe what we know about life, to create a collective sense of “safety in numbers.” When we reach the end of our traditional descriptive powers, it’s time to weave meaning from poetry, painting, writing, dancing, photographing, filmmaking, storytelling, singing, animating, designing, performing, carving, sculpting, and a million other ways we daily create Order out of the Chaos and share it with each other for a deeper and more fluid understand.

Finding “the meaning in the making” is the ultimate fulfilment. That’s bliss and that’s when we feel alive more than ever. Thus, keep creating!

Keep Creating!

In times like this, particular right now, the world needs your inspiration through whatever it is you create. Yes, we need inspiration, something that will give us hope—your art, your writing, your music, your photography, your painting—again whatever it is you create. You can make a difference, not by doing anything out of the ordinary, but through whatever it is, you create.

So keep creating.

I know it is difficult to keep the creativity flowing in bleak times like this. We’d all rather feel like cover up under a blanket or go in hiding, just let things get better and wait the situation out. But I know you have it in you, you are a creative person, after all, you are reading this blog, so please bring whatever it is you create into the world.

You have this gift and it’s full of light and love and wisdom but the thing itself is worth nothing until you make it happen and then give it away. The making and the giving of it is the only thing that allows the gift to keep moving. It is the only thing that prevents that light and love and wisdom and grace from damming up inside you—and in all of us.

You may feel like you are running on empty. The world is hanging on its hinges, whether we look at it with respect to the political situation in many countries, the climate, and of course—and not the least—the pandemic that more than anything inhibits us right now. But don’t let it inhibit you from creating.

We need your art. This world needs your art. But most of all we need you. More than ever, we need people who are vulnerable and compassionate and see things differently and are willing to be as fully, brilliantly human as possible, and it is making your art and having the courage to give it forward that will make you so.

Don’t worry about whether it is good or not. It is good. Because you have made it with passion and love—and that passion and love will transcend to all of us.

It’s a new year. Blank pages. Let’s not let the pandemic be what fills these pages. Let’s live. Let’s inspirer each other. Let’s create. I wish you all the best for 2022.


Photo Workshops and Tours in 2022
In believing that the world will return to some normalcy and open up again within reasonable time, I and Blue Hour Photo Workshops plan a handful of photos workshops for this year.

“The Personal Expression”—a weekend in Bergen, Norway with focus on how to develop your personal, photographic expression. June 10th to 12th 2022.

”Telling Stories with the Camera”—five days in the beautiful village of Bleik in Northern Norway. A dream spot for any photographer. The focus will be on storytelling and the visual language. September 21st to 19th 2022.

”Photo Tour in Granada”—a week in Nicaragua for the adventures. We will explore the colonial city and its extraordinary countryside. November 5th to 11th 2022.

Are you interested in developing your photographic skills? Do you like to travel? Do you want to make your photos tell a story in a much stronger vocabulary? Find your own expression? Develop your vision and become more creative? Any of these workshops would take your photography to the next level. I promise you, you will be in for an amazing experience. Click any of the links for more info.

Become a Better Photographer

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I have been pondering about what it takes to become a real good photographer. I mean everyone can capture a decent photo – particularly with today’s cameras that take care of the basic handling. However, to make your photography stand out requires a bit more than just having a camera. The question is, how can we make that transition happening? Yes, understanding and learning the craft is maybe one springboard, but it can only take you this far. The difference between good photography and photography that stands out is subtle, but at the same time makes a substantial difference. As mentioned, I believe everyone can take a good photograph if they just put a little energy into the process. But the next step, how do we get there?

It’s actually not that difficult, either. Yet, it takes commitment and finding a way to connect with you inner self – and finally make that wisdom be expressed through your photography. I know, it sounds a little phony, but it’s quite how it works. There are no simple tricks, really, but just dedicated steps towards mastering photography at a more profound and more personal level. As with everything else in life, we are talking about making priorities, that is, if you really decide to become an accomplished photographer – and this decision gets ingrained in your backbone, then you can become just that, a photographer who creates captivating and even outstanding photography.

The obstacles, of course, are that it takes time, effort and sometimes even money to make such a commitment. In addition, it follows that you’ll need to downgrade other things in life, often things that you care about, things that you enjoy, or just things that simply is easier and more pleasurable to do. The difference between a photographer who creates outstanding photography and one who merely captures good photos, may be that former is the one that works relentlessly and don’t mind standing in muddy water for hours – figuratively speaking. Nevertheless, we can all make progress, and he are a few steps that can help you on the way:

Look to other photographer. Read photography books, go to exhibitions, watch other photographers’ work and find photography online. Surely, there is going to be a lot you will not like, but the point of this is just to find photos and photographers that inspire you. Bury yourself in what you find inspiring and that which gives you energy, whether it is workshops, photo books, exhibitions or anything else. Whatever it is, see as much photography as you can find in any media or outlet, and immerse yourself in it.

Work on a personal project. Nothing brings your photography so much energy and is pushing yourself more than working on a personal photo project. But keep in mind, complete freedom is not inspiring. Instead, set some limits you will have to stick with. Find yourself a project or even a couple of projects, and work within the limits you have set for yourself. Do not be tempted to expand the boundaries simply because it is easier and more relaxing. For something really good to come out of your photography, it must have a core of authenticity and a nerve that is being expressed in the work. That is something you won’t get through boundless and leisurely respite. A project can be done in a weekend or it can take years to accomplish. The theme is not important – as long as it somehow touches or is relevant to you.

Care for more than the photography itself. Remember, photography is a tool, not an end in itself. A tool must be used for something. Whether your goal is an art expression or to tell a story, that goal must be foremost in your thoughts, not photography as such. Some of the world’s best photographers do not see themselves neither as photographers nor as artists: James Nachtwey is primarily a social reformer, and the same can be said about Nick Ut, W. Eugene Smith, Sebastião Salgado and several other of the world’s foremost documentary photographers. This also applies to many of the world’s greatest art photographers, but in a different way. They often choose to turn to the world and the viewer differently, but the desire to tell, ask questions, provoke thoughts, to make the viewer smile, react and feel alive, remain the same.

Seek cultural experiences. Cultural impulses are important, even more so it’s important not only to seek impulses from the same field you feel familiar with. The Matrix films would never have come into being without the inspiration from cartoons and their idiom, and the same applies to famous and beautiful movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Sin City, just to name a few. Photographers such as David LaChapelle are possible largely inspired by film and music, and others are inspired by literature, sculpture, painting or numerous other artistic expressions and cultural forms. Keep an open mind, take your pick and expose yourself to different concepts, cultures, thoughts and impressions. Somewhere in there, you might just find your brilliant idea, which you would never know exactly how in advance.

Photograph a lot and often. It takes a lot of work to master a discipline such as photography. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect – no less true in photography. What you do a lot, you will excel in, and although 99.9 percent of your shots might end up being trash, in the process you have trained your eyes, brain and finger. Moreover, taking 1000 photos of which 0.1 percent is good, well, then you have gotten at least one good shot. Not bad at all, or?

Art – What is Art?

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I often get asked how I would define “art”. What is art as far as I see it? Of course, it is an almost impossible task to write what art is in an absolute sense. Much sharper intellectuals than me have tried to define what art is. Nevertheless, I should still be able say something about how I understand the word and look upon art.

For me, what is and what isn’t art, isn’t a clearly defined line, though. There are no unconditional criteria. For me, art certainly does not involve an elitist understanding. An artist does not have to have an art education for the work to be called art, he or she does not have to express herself or himself within the classical art genres—or, on the other hand, having to be part of the avant-garde scene. There are no limitations for subjects art can deal with, the work does not have to be manifested into a physical object; and it certainly does not have to hang in galleries. Street art and street performers can be doing art just as much as a traditional trained painter or musician can.

Art surely isn’t something defined by a selected few connoisseurs or experts, by those who partake in the contemporary dialogue or discourse about art. Anyone have the right to define art as they want to, even if they don’t have an art education, even if they don’t understand the latest trends in art.

Maybe it’s easier to say something about what art is not, rather than what it is. However, at the bottom of it all lays a capability to touch our emotional sensations. For me, art also needs to challenge conventional thoughts. After all, creativity, which is where art originates from, means bringing into life, or bringing something new into existence. Art that repeats whatever already is isn’t art any longer. Vincent van Gogh was a groundbreaking artist, but if everybody afterwards imitated his style, that work by his successors would not be art any longer, no matter how good it might have been, on a technical level.

This much said about the non-repetitiveness of art, I want to add that, although art constantly changes and develops, just because something has come out of fashion, doesn’t mean it isn’t art any longer. Some time ago I came across some very interesting thoughts by the blogger Melissa in her post Perspective, in which she writes about her discomfort when looking at art from artists who have been taught at art schools and how they think about art: “They have been taught that they must participate in the conversation where it was when they came on the scene. They must not paint, because painting is dead. Had they all been born a few decades sooner, they would have been able to join the conversation at an earlier point. Say, before painting had been declared dead. According to this line of thought, all painting that happens today is derivative.” Of course, at least to my understanding, art is not limited to the latest fashion or the latest anti-whatever-was-before.

On a more basic level, art deals with human experiences. It says something about what it is to be human, not scientifically and factually, but in a way that allows us to interpret the artistic expression. As the photographer and artist, Carlos Jurado, once expressed it: “Art allow us to expand the dimensions of our everyday life.”

Art enlighten us, again not through scientific or factual means, but by touching our emotions and make us reflect about who we are as human beings with all what that encompasses. “True art is an epiphany, an enlightening spark dancing in the perceived gap between ourselves and everything else.” That is what Duane Preble writes in a foreword to the book Tao of Photography.

In her post Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Challenger’s Choice (Architecture) Sally W. Donatello wrote that “art is meant to illicit doubt, dialogue, emotions, joy, thought and uncertainty; it is meant to provoke in calming and unsettling ways and everything in between those reactions. It is the artist’s responsibility to give us something to consider, to digest, to ponder, to query.” I wholeheartedly agree with her statement.

So what is really art, then? As I opened this post saying, it is a difficult question to answer. I know it when I see it, but defining it eludes me. I sometimes see glimpses of it in others’ work. Limiting myself to photography, I know that great art is about compassion when I see W. Eugene Smith’s photograph Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, Minimata, 1972. I know great art is about reverence and humility in the presence of great things when I see Ansel Adams’ Clearing Winter Storm. I know great art is about optimism and endurance when I see Paul Strand’s work in the Hebrides—and I know it is about pessimism when I see Robert Capa’s photograph of the falling Spanish soldier. I know it is about the human search for spirituality when I look at the work of Linda Connor. I know it is about the loneliness of life when I look at the work of André Kertész. I know is it is about revelation when I look at the work of Josef Sudek and I know it is about the obscurity and the confusion of life when I look at the photographs of Robert Frank or Garry Winogrand.

In short, great art is never about the art work but seems to be about life, and possibly not, generally, the small things in life. The best artists appear to be engaged in the great dialog of life—the dialog that is usually the field-of-play for philosophers and theologians, for mystics or even political scientists. The great artists don’t seem to be asking questions about technique or the craftsmanship, but are asking the same kinds of questions that were asked by philosophers Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Nietzsche, or Freud—the same questions asked by the poets Aeschylus, Dante, Goethe, Victor Hugo and Mark Twain. What is man? Who am I? What is good? Why is there evil? How should we treat one another? Why don’t we? Why does suffering exist?

I have a Norwegian friend, Morten Løberg, who is a photographer also working with photo as art. On his web site, he has stated that during his 40 years as a photographer he has heard two good definitions of what art is. The first one stems from the then director Ole Henrik Moe at the museum of Høvikodden in Oslo, when he opened the Association of Fine Photographer’s anniversary exhibition in 1979: «A photograph is art when it shows a slice of reality seen through a personal temperament.» The other originates from the former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, Jan Brockmann: «Art brings the viewer to new insights and understanding, or to the brink of this.»

Those two points of view complement each other. And together they bring an understanding to the term art and what it stands for, that for me, is as close to a definition as it is possible to arrive at. So maybe I can extrapolate from those to quotes something like this: Art brings the viewer new insights seen through a personal temperament.

Have you any thoughts about what art is?