The Two Faces of Creativity


The creative process often seems to have much in common with a spiritual experience in that the artist often appears to be blessed with a godlike vision into new insights. We all stubble upon those moments where new ideas just seem to be raining down upon us, although, truth be told, a lot of the time the connection with the creative source seems broken or even completely cut off. Opening up this connection and staying connected with the creative well has often been the theme of my posts on this blog. For any artists there are a number of methods to encourage creativity in ourselves, and it’s absolutely necessary to be aware of these methods and use them in order to develop this creativity of ours.

Creativity simply doesn’t come by itself. Most importantly I believe—and this I have pointed out before—is to do the actually work. As artist we need to keep creating, we need to transform our internal vision into something concrete, be it a photograph, a painting, a sculpture, a video, a performance or playing with our kids. The creative process thus consists of two faces: Creation and Execution. The creation is the mental or spiritual part of the process but if we don’t execute the idea, in the end we have not created anything at all. Eventually if we keep omitting the execution of the creation, our creative ability languishes and we will be cut off from our creative source. There are moments in the creative process when creation is present, but there are many more moments when it is not. Often the execution doesn’t involve creativity; it can even be boring in that we just have to implement the creative impulse; for instance as photographers applying the right technique in order to get a pictures as we had envisioned.

Sometimes creation and execution goes hand in hand, for example again as photographers trying out different settings in Photoshop. But without any execution, creation will only be but an idea. For that reason I find it useful to distinguish between creativity and creating. Creativity usually refers to inventing something new. According to Webster’s Dictionary creativity is defined as «creative ability; artistic or intellectual inventiveness». On the other hand create is defined as «to originate; to bring into being from nothing; to cause to exist».

So let’s go out there and create, let’s encompass both creation and execution. Besides, I hope you keep enjoying the summer (or winter—if you are situated in the southern hemisphere).

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Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material 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, 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 a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 10.9 mm (the equivalent of a 24 mm full frame lens). Shutter speed: 1/60 of a second. Aperture: f/1.7. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments and filters.

Visiting My Family Again

Since my first visit to Cuba in 1991, I have as often as possible visited a farming family in the valley of Viñales, in the eastern part of the country. The family has become like a second family for me, always welcoming and always happy to see me again. As I am to see them.

After being done teaching this year’s Cuba workshop, which I have already written a couple of posts about, I once again returned to the family. I spent a couple days with them, unfortunately not having time for a longer stay. It was nevertheless a pleasant reunion.

Since the first time I more or less coincidently came across them, the family has transformed notably. Some of the family members have died and new generations have been born over the years. I first became acquainted with the old couple, Miguel and Catalina, who were the head of the family more then 25 years ago. Both are now deceased. Miguel died nine years ago, while Catalina passed away last year.

Today it’s their two sons and their daughter who is taking care of the family’s land. And grandchildren are already securing the next generation of farmers. The three families—the sons and daughter, included their spouses and kids—share the land and live the same simple life the family has done for as long as they can remember.

They don’t have much, but they always want to share whatever they have. Food, coffee, a smoke or just the evening under an open sky talking together. I always leave the family in Viñales feeling richer and more grounded than when I arrived. I am moved by their hospitality and joy of life—despite the hardship making a living of the land.

I have written about my family previously in these posts: Back from Cuba, Where Time Stand Stills, A Family of Farmers and My Second Family.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material 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, 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 a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-105 lens set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/4.0. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments and filters.

The New Visual Language

I come from a tradition of classical story telling with my photos. It’s the way documentary photographers have emphasized both content and moment in the stories each of their photographs tell. My friend and colleague, Sven Creutzmann, comes from the same tradition. And this—you may call it traditional visual language—is what we teach in our workshop, like the one in Cuba earlier this month.

We are not stuck in the way we see photography and of course let each student develop his or her own voice. At least that’s what we try to stress for ourselves as well as the students and that’s really our focus. Even though we believe in the classical use of visual language, I think it’s fair to say that we are both open to other approaches in ways of shooting and expressing oneself.

Nevertheless, over the last many years, we have seen a shift in how for instance award winning documentary photography are less and less accentuating the clear story telling, and we have both been puzzled by this change. In documentary photography, a more artistic or ambiguous approach has become more prevalent. Personally, I like photos that are open to interpretations, in which the message is not clearly set by the photographer, and where there are layers of understanding embedded in the photo. However, the photos that win these contests have quite often baffled both Sven and me.

It’s the postmodern or even post-postmodern school of young photographers that are now dominating the spearhead of photojournalism. It’s a kind of photography that is often described as deconstructed in which traditional rules or guidelines are broken in order to create a new visual language. Again, I am one who promotes not following any rules or established guidelines. However, I have found a lot of this new photography rather boring, drab and uninteresting. As I wrote in my post The Emperor’s New Clothes? a couple of years ago, the postmodern approach is often plain and boring—almost as intended—but is raised to the sky by pretentious acclamation.

I admit. This sounds like an old, outdated photographer ranting about times that are changing. And maybe I am. Still, I have always been one to push myself and try to go into unknown territory. So, after Sven and I were done with this year’s photo workshop, we decided to sit down and figure out what this new visual language is. We looked up a bunch of award winning photographers and tried to deconstruct their deconstructed photography. I tell you, the result was quite surprising.

To quickly sum up what we found: One aspect that we took away was the fact that a lot of the photography we looked at for us would have been mistakes we wouldn’t have selected and certainly not submitted to any photo competitions. Furthermore and to be more specific, we found that these photos often put elements in the foreground that are unsharp and add a visual disorder to the imagery. Photographers who shoot with this new visual language move further back or move out of the story (whereas I always teach that you cannot get close enough). They seem to capture in-between-moments where Sven and I have trained ourselves to be able to capture the peak of a moment. They use less wide-angle lenses and they often shoot reflections or through windows or openings. They often include weird details or something that is not quite clear what is and often the composition is static or symmetric. Their photos are often simplified and does not try to build a story, at least not in a classical sense, and part of this is that they often do not include moments at all (not only off-moments as already mentioned) nor people. Finally, we found that many of these photos are heavily worked over in post-production.

One thing that puzzled us was why some of these approaches were used, until a friend of us who is not a photographer, told us that maybe it’s to leave more open to interpretation instead of showing a clear-cut story, simply to be less clear. Of course, that is at least part of it.

Deconstructing is one thing, though. After having done so, Sven and I went out in the streets of Havana and tried to shoot with this new visual language as a template. At first, it felt a little weird and uncomfortable, but it didn’t take long before both of us got a sense of freedom in our shooting. The next couple of hours we completely lost ourselves in the process and captured thousands of photos. We had fun, we felt inspired and it was simply liberating to do something completely different.

Even the result took us aback. I am not saying this is amazing work, by far. But it certainly gave me a different perspective (you can judge by yourself). I think I am more open to the new visual language. Furthermore, I am sure I will pick up what this lesson taught me. It won’t shift my photography completely, but I have gotten a new tool in my photographic tool box. I really enjoyed this new visual language. Of course, by now what is new has already moved ahead to a new place. But that’s OK. I will just have to repeat this exercise every so often.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material 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, 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 a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-105 lens set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/100 of a second. Aperture: f/7.1. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments and filters as well as the Ludwig filter in Instagram.

Students Facing Their Fears

© Nina Ramberg
© Kari Anne Kvam
© Jan-Morten Bjørnbakk
© Jan Holm
© Berit Roald
© Anders Øystein Gimse

I am always amazed by the work students come back with during any of my photo workshop. During this year’s Cuba workshop we had participants with quite different photographic skills and knowledge, but not matter their background they were all able to produce some outstanding photos.

Personally for me, that is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching a workshop. I believe I always learn just as much as the participants from their different perspectives and their different ways of shooting that they bring into a workshop. Yes, we as workshop teachers push them to grow and expand, but they all come with their own photographic voice, whether refined or still in the making.

Likewise for the participants, I think being push from teachers with a different perspective than themselves is what makes attending a workshop so worthwhile. When participants let them be move into new ways of seeing and are willing to go outside their usual box, that’s when they will experience tremendous growth and development during a workshop.

During this year’s Cuba workshop, all the participants did exactly that. Yes, some of them felt vulnerable when we pushed hard, which is something we experience in all workshops we teach, but they also came out on the other side with a new photographic confidence and a stronger sense of their photographic voice.

Shooting on the street is difficult for anyone who is not used to it. Particularly approaching strangers on the street with the intention of capturing photos of them can be challenging. It takes a lot of practice to be at ease when walking over to a complete stranger—even for a seasoned photographer used to shooting on the street. Even more so for participants who have never done anything like this before. But again, the participants of this year’s photo workshop ended up getting into any situation by the end of the workshop, yes, they equally easily entered houses of strangers and kept shooting inside their homes.

I think this willingness to face up to the task was what made their work so outstanding. This post gives a little sample of photos by the participants.