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).

Advertisements

A Camera Will Open the World


Summer is a time for taking time off, for breaking up from usual routines, for travel, for relaxation, for exploring waters or mountains, for good food, for spending time with friends and families. The last two weeks I have enjoyed all this. And off course photographed all while enjoying my summer holidays. The camera is always with me, even when I take time off from working as a photographer.

Summer is high season for photography for most people. It’s also a time when we photograph more freely and use the camera not only to record our dear ones but the world around us as we go travelling to new places. The camera becomes a tool to connect to the world. And it becomes a tool to connect with people. If we only dare.

Photographing people we meet on the street takes courage, persistence and not the least being willing to face a no when people don’t want to be photographed by strangers. However, the reward when we dare take that step will make it all worthwhile. We learn about the life of others, we learn about their culture, we learn about their country in a different way than just reading about it in a travel guide and not the least, we make new friends.

If we only dare.

When my interest for photography aroused many years ago, it was mainly routed in nature and landscape photography, mostly because I have always been an outdoor junkie, but maybe also because it was the easier way around when it comes to subject matter. I simple did not have to relate with or take into consideration anybody else. After some time I started to develop an interest in street photography, though, probably as a natural extension of my passion for travelling. But back then I was pretty shy, and I approached street photography with a 200 millimetre lens – from far away. The result was equally remote and uninteresting.

I remember I read articles and interviews with famous photographers stating that photographing had enhanced their own experiences on many levels not the least in getting in touch with people from all corners of the world and of any and every kind. They talked about how the camera was a way to get into people’s lives. Back then I had a hard time grasping this, not the least seeing myself approaching people on the street. Why would anyone let a complete stranger take a photograph of them? I simply didn’t have the courage to get into their faces. But slowly and over time, my lenses became shorter and my courage increased in reverse proportion. I started to interact with people around me wherever I went and I started to photograph them. In the beginning only a single snap or two and then back up and out again, but eventually I started to relate with people I wanted to photograph on a more profound level. Suddenly I found myself in the same place as those famous photographs I had read about. And at some point my 200 mm was replace by a 17 mm (which I later on mostly have abandoned again because it tends to distort people too much when you shoot a meter or yard away from their faces).

For a long time it still drained me to shoot on the street, and after a day of shooting I could be completely exhausted. I remember quite some time ago; I had been travelling in South East Asia for half a year, and on my way back I had a stop-over in Karachi in Pakistan for 36 hours or something like that. On any given day I would use such an opportunity to go out and shoot for most of the time available. But after having pushed myself onto the street for the most part of half a year, I couldn’t face it one more time. I was too exhausted and I stayed in my hotel all those hours without venturing out even once.

Today I mostly don’t feel uncomfortable approaching strangest on the street or in ghettoes or in camps or wherever my photography or travels take me. Mostly, because some days are still set to be my introvert days, but I find that quite OK. Nevertheless by using the camera and being willing to go out of my comfort zone, I have been able extend my photographic experience and open up myself to the world. The camera has brought the world to me.

(Part of this post is an excerpt from a post I published in May 2012).

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 24.5 mm (the equivalent of a 54 mm full frame lens). Shutter speed: 1/100 of a second. Aperture: f/2.8. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed first with the Pixlr-o-matic app and then 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.

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: 1/80 of a second. Aperture: f/6.3. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments and filters.

Cuba Photo Workshop

Back from Cuba again and trying to absorb the impressions from both the photo workshop I taught and my own work I had time to pursue the last week of my stay there. The latter I will writer more about later. Here and now, I just want to convey my immediate thoughts on the workshop, which took place during the first week of my stay in Cuba.

We—the two teachers, my friend and colleague Sven Creutzmann and me—had a enthusiastic and devoted group of workshop participants in this workshop we have taught on and off since 2007. Our goal is to push every one of the participants to perform and develop as much as possible during the week the workshop lasts.

Sometimes we might be pushing too hard—at least for some—but for us it’s important that each and every participant returns with strong imagery from Cuba as well as with a feeling they have taken some major step forward in their photography. I believe everyone did exactly that, although a few in the beginning had a hard time adjusting to the pace and the frustration of not getting immediate results. As with everything that matters in life, it takes time and work to improve and develop. In a later post, I will show some of the amazing imagery the participants came up with.

The workshop started up with a couple of days in Havana. Among other events, the participants would cover the May First parade, the international workers’ day, which is a big festivity in Cuba. Of course there were plenty of street shooting in the bustling capital. After three days in Havana, we took off for Trinidad, a beautiful, old city situated almost in the middle of Cuba along the southern coast. The pace is slower and gentler and the participants were finally able to devote all their time to their personal project, which they had picked for the workshop.

This was when the participants really started to produce outstanding work. The picture critique every day was both fun and inspiring for that same reason. And of course, Sven and I kept pushing for more. If this workshop is not a boot camp, it’s still not a holiday, at least for those who choose to get as much out of it as possible. All the better that we staid at a hotel right on the Anchon beach so both we and the participants could cool off in the emerald green Caribbean sea in between the battles.

I think it is safe to say that everybody, by the end a week ago, had had a tremendous experience and not the least could look back on a week of great photography and personal development. Already now, Sven and I have scheduled the next workshop in Cuba. It will take place from May 6th to May 12th 2018. Maybe something to consider? Then take note of the date and set time aside.

On a different note, I must apologies for not having been able to follow up comments and notes on my blog while I was in Cuba. Internet access is so bad everywhere in Cuba it’s virtually impossible to do anything but answer emails. I promise I will get back to each and every one of you over the next weeks.

Teaching a Workshop in Cuba

© Otto von Münchow
© Sven Creutzmann
© Sven Creutzmann
© Sven Creutzmann
© Otto von Münchow
© Sven Creutzmann

Since the weekend, I am back in Cuba again, teaching another photo workshop here. I actually don’t known how many times I have taught the workshop, but it’s always such a joy to meet with new students and photographers. And not the least to be able to talk about and do what I burn for. Don’t we all burn for photography—at least most of you reading this blog?

So far, we have been photographing in Havana, but in a couple of days, we move on to the beautiful colonial city of Trinidad.

This post has actually been written before I left, since internet access is almost none existing in Cuba. I hope to be able to post more over the next week or two, but often I find it impossible. Particularly uploading any kind of photos is quite a trial to one’s patience. Thus, I cannot promise any photos or reports before I am back in Norway again, but I will do my best.

The pictures posted here are from the previous photo workshop I taught in Cuba. Like all Cuba workshops, I teach this together with my friend and colleague Sven Creutzmann.

Some Things Never Change

Det danses tango på Prado

In my post A Delicate Balance last week, I wrote about the dialectic process that photography is. On one hand, you have the technical foundation, that a photograph comes into being by technical means; and on the other hand, that for a photo to capture its audience it needs to hold some emotional content. I also stated that the later is the more important factor. As I wrote, an emotionally loaded but technically poor photo trumps a technically perfect photo lacking emotional content—any time.

What I find interesting is that today it seems like it’s easier than ever to take photos. Present days cameras have become so advanced and at the same time so easy to handle, that everybody can make a technical well capture photograph without knowing much about the technical part of photography at all.

I want to underscore that I just wrote that it seems easier than ever. Because it still isn’t easier to capture the emotional content—and not even technically is it easier, really, with respect to using technique to emphasize a photograph’s content and story. Yes, it is easier to get a perfectly exposed and focused photo, but technique is not only about this. Technique has a far more important role to play—at least if you take your photography serious. You want to understand how you can use for instance shutter speed and aperture visually and how they impact the visual language to substantiate the story you are trying to tell.

The reality is that taking photos that both engage and capture the essence of a moment requires more than just having a advance and intelligent camera—no matter how much of a technical wonder it is. As much as any camera today operates stunningly well under most conditions—and their capabilities keep improving every year, they cannot make the decisions that result in great photos. Only you can. No automatic setting can determine how you want to frame your subject. No automatic camera can decide the best moment to press the shutter button. No camera can choose what you want to photograph. Only you can.

Photography is a skill and a craft. Yes, the technological development has, on some levels, made it easier than ever to take photos. But if you desire more than just perfectly focused and exposed photos—which, by the way, is not guaranteed in and of itself even with today’s cameras—you still need to learn the craft. The camera cannot think for you or distinguish between a terrible photo, an ordinary photo or the masterpiece. You still have to take command of the photographic moment and the camera—whether it is a cell phone, a point-and-shoot camera or an advanced DSLR you use.

Two very important factors that has a huge impact on the visual expression of photography is complete independent on the camera you use and how advanced—or not—it is. The fact is, these two factors are all yours to decide and this has not changed a bit since photography was invented in 1826 when Nicéphore Niépce captured the first ever photograph.

Your choice of space and time when you take a photo will always be independent on the camera and camera technique. If you want to take photos that respond with an audience, you will need to learn how to use both space and time to capture those telling images. In many ways, this is the classical time-space continuum. This space-time continuum is a mathematical and physical model that combines space and time into a single idea. We all exist in this continuum, whether we are aware of it or not, and every photo captured will relate to it.

Don’t let me over-complicate things, though. Understanding that a photo is taken in a certain place and at a certain time is easy enough to grasp. That in itself will have some historical value, but the space-time continuum has far wider implications on how a photograph is perceived.

Space, for instance, as a primary consideration, goes to what you point your camera at, your choice of subject. You need to be in the same space as the subject you want to photograph in order to be able to photograph it. Maybe one day you will be able to capture images formed in your mind without having to direct a camera towards a physical object. However, as I see it, it would no longer be a photograph.

Therefore, you need to pick a space that coincides with the subject you want to photograph. Furthermore, once you have decided on what you want to photograph you also have to decide how you want to frame it. This is clearly space related, too. Which point-of-view you decide on will have a huge impact on how your story in the photo is told. Then finally, you have to decide how you want this stage to be built. What do you leave out and what do you keep in? All these considerations are related to an understanding of space.

Time, on the other hand, is a variable that has other implications on a photograph. First of all, you need to consider when you want to take a photograph. Traditionally, most photographers know that taking a landscape photograph when the sun sits low on the horizon creates a very different result than a photograph of the same landscape taken at midday when the sun is in zenith. Time has also to do with your choice of moment, when to push the shutter release. In a landscape photograph just mentioned, the exact moment will not be as critical as when you a shooting some sport event in which a fraction of a second between two photos can make a big difference in the end result. Finally, time is also a cause for consideration as to what shutter speed you want use to render your idea of the subject. This later time factor is of course a little more technically depended, as you will have to choose a shutter speed that the camera lets you use.

Being consciously aware of space and time will make you a better photographer. The good part of learning to navigate them? You will never have to relearn how to use them if you want at some point to change your camera, because these factors—which have a huge impact on the visual expression—are complete camera independent.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon EOS-5D and a 24/105 mm lens set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/200 of a second. Aperture: f/5.6. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.