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.

Advertisements

African Abundance

Munchow_1575-0929

Munchow_1575-1018

Munchow_1575-0744

Munchow_1575-0982

Munchow_1575-0952

Munchow_1575-1041

Munchow_1575-1065

The African nature is splendid, sundry and striking. From the dry desert to the wet rain forest it encompasses an abundance of diverse habitats and species. Maybe more than anything the African savannah represents this diversity and abundance. It is where we find the big four, the huge hordes of ungulates, the graceful predators and prehistoric animals like rhinos and crocodiles. When I teach my workshops in Malawi, the small country by the lake of the same name, we usually take a couple of days off to go to Liwonde National Park which lies at the southern tip of Lake Malawi and by the river mouth of Shire. Those days embody some welcoming unwinding and a peaceful encounter with Mother Nature’s abundance. We usually get to see animals like various antelopes, hippos, baboons and if we are lucky an elephant or two. During the workshop this spring we came across nothing less than a small horde of elephants. It was amazing to watch those huge animals as they munched off leaves from big trees and grass on the ground. I have finally had time to finished processing the pictures I took during the workshop, and although I don’t regard myself as a nature photograph (despite spending much time out in the wilderness), I know many of my blog’s followers are very much into nature photography, so I decided to showcase a few of the pictures from Liwonde National Park.

Back from Another Workshop

Munchow_1575-0059

Munchow_1575-0210

Munchow_1575-0292

Munchow_1575-0504

Munchow_1575-0585

Munchow_1575-0606

Yesterday I returned from the second workshops I have taught in a row. This time it was taking place in Malawi with a group of Norwegian journalists. As always when teaching a workshop it’s an intensive 10 days of work, but the group was hardworking and fantastic to travel along with. And judging by the feedback they seemed to have enjoyed and had great value from the workshop and the six Malawian journalists we were cooperating with. Every day we were up early in the morning and didn’t stop before late in the evening. A workshop is not a holiday, but hard work and takes a lot of effort. The workshop which I taught along with Øystein (with whom I run Øystein & Otto’s Blog), doesn’t give me a lot of time to photograph myself, but above is nevertheless a handful of photos from the week and a half in Malawi.

The Day We Visited Two Prisons

Øystein and I continue our sad story from Maula prison in Lilongwe, Malawi. As we wrote last week, after a visit ten years ago, our story about the prison resulted in a real change in the way Malawian authorities treat their criminal youth. Instead of being incarcerated with grownups they are now confined to a special prison for adolescence. The big question is still if their conditions have improved at all.

For the whole story and pictures have a look at Øystein & Otto’s blog.

The Day We Closed a Prison

The point of journalism is to inform and hopefully by doing so making the world a better place to be. Most of the time journalists don’t get to know whether or not their stories have had an impact. But when we do, it’s quite a feeling – as was the case for Øystein and me when we revisited Maula prison in Malawi some weeks ago.

Again, you can read the whole story and see the rest of the photos on Øystein & Otto’s Blog.

A Childhood up in Smoke

Øystein and I continue our stories from Malawi – and hope you are yet not tired of the country. This time we look at tobacco, or more correct how the tobacco industry is using child labour in its production. Of course not officially, but the result is nevertheless all the same.

Read the whole story and see the rest of the photos on Øystein & Otto’s Blog.

Sale of a Deathsman

Øystein and I are still full of stories from Malawi that we keep wanting to share. This time we take a look at a thriving business in the country – a business which thrives on not exactly the happy aspects of life – or as a matter of fact the end of life. But as they say, one man’s death is another man’s life.

You will find the story on Øystein & Otto’s Blog.