View Full Version : I've got the time, where to go for inspiration?
Kevin M Bourque
I just did a show, and now I find myself at a loss for a new project. I spent a great deal of time and effort getting ready for it, and now that the goal is reached, I don’t have a new one.
I’ve been shooting quite a bit, but nothing seems satisfying once I get it to the printing stage.
I think I’ve even offered advice to others about how to get “unstuck”, but nothing seems to be working right now. Opinions? Advice? I’ve got lots of time on my hands right now and it seems a shame to waste it. Maybe one of you can give me an assignment!
I have been thinking along these lines, myself, lately. Trying to discern just what it is that makes a good picture.
Many people seem to be quite successful at making quality snapshots of fabulous subjects, far-away places and grand vistas. These are distinguished more by the exotic subject matter than the photography. And certainly there is nothing wrong with a series of pictures of Egyptian pyramids at sunset, the high desert in bloom, or the pathos of some squalid slum children in Bangladesh.
But, alas, I fear my days of world travel are over. It has become difficult to fly with a large format kit. And flying, in general, is such a hassle these days that the concept of a pleasure trip no longer exists for me. And then there are my knees...
Here in SW New England, grand vistas like those nifty ones out west are in short supply. This area is more the Rust Belt and Graffiti City.
Looking at the work of French painters of a century ago, it dawned on me that they were obsessed with technique, lighting and composition. Subject matter (like grand vistas) was less important. Van Gogh, for example, painted his bedroom, sunflowers, farm workers and his decidedly unshapely mistress. But what he did with these plain and simple subjects!
So I have decided to concentrate for a while on vignettes. Perhaps staging a watering can, garden gate and a pot of flowers. And then go crazy with various films, exotic developers, perhaps Bergger papers, toning and Marshall’s oils. And I won’t forget the lighting. Lots of fill flash and reflectors. Perhaps even explore the use of strong filters, which I haven’t used in years.
I can always return to puppy, baby and pretty girl snapshots for a rest.
Have you considered a new printing media? AZO, or perhaps one of the alternative printing processes such as Kallitype, Pt/Pd, or Vandyke Brown? The alternative processes in particular offer new and interesting ways of presenting images that are quite different from silver gelatin printing.
What was the thrust of the show?
OK. Buy the 8A Century with the big roll-a-round stand on Ebay and do some 8X10 portraits with a vintage 18" Verito and print them in platinum. That ought to do it.
Why force it? If you have nothing to say, there's no shame in being quiet.
Kevin, I can understand your problem very well: I have finished 3 moths project ended with exhibition last saturday, and after 2 resting days I wanted to make some new pictures. but what? Except for my everyday work (working in design studio as part of team, and we are experiencing a kind of "pre-summer lag" with nothing exciting to do) I have no assignments which can force me to think. And because I'm preparing for vacation, friend of mine told me to grab my old Nikon and to just start shooting... around...
And I'm shooting on cheap efke film and thinking who will develop all those films and what will I do with that serial of portraits... friend and colleges on work, in pub, somebody in the street, anybody in the cab.... Well, I can tell you that I was excited few hours ago when I got an old typewriter and had to shoot illustration for "digital print". I will post tomorrow 1st shot, might inspire you (now just passed midnight here in Zagreb and I have to wait for scan).
All I wanted to say - get yourself some kind of break. No assignments can be productive also, at least you might collect some "brutal" wish for photography and maybe you will get some idea worth of investigation?
As you (in "states") would like to say: just my 2 cents ;-)
"I've got the time, where to go for inspiration?"
It's not my place to suggest what your inspiration might be, but I just happened to have rented (and watched) an interesting film entitled (duh) "The Photgrapher" that initially deals with the same "lack of inspiration" theme...then it travels elsewhere...pretty cool film though. Interesting lighting, direction, etc.
Film by Jeremy Stein. Anyone else seen it?
You may find this artical (posted on my photoblog) that I wrote on getting through creative blocks. It was devised from listening to a bunch of musicans (at a seminar) talking about how they get through their creative blocks. I have taken their advice and discussed how it can be used in photography. Creativity seems to be similar in many areas.
Me: I changed from colour film to black and white, and found new inspiration...
The villas of Lago di Garda - Mussolini's, Maria Callas', etc. It is a project of mine which I have yet to start (waiting for my 12x20 - AZO contact prints). My family (mother side) lives nearby. So, if you got time you should fly over and you will not regret it. The wine, olive oil, aceto balsamico and food is worth the trip alone. Inspiration to be found everywhere!
A couple of ideas:
(1) Take a short trip, a hike or just go somewhere, but be sure and leave your camera at home. When you get back home think about all the times during the trip/hike/whatever that you said to yourself "I wish I had brought my camera". Now go back WITH your camera.
(2) Take some time off and read. A few suggestions: The Artist Way, The Zone VI Newsletters, The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Galen Rowell's Vision.
(3) Work on detail. Forget the grand vista with the awe inspiring waterfall and the one in a lifetime cloud formations. Find a 100 square foot area (or whatever) and spend the day working in that one area.
Or consider the very real possiblity that I have no idea what I am talking about and just do whatever feels right. Probably the most important thing is not to try too hard. I very seldom go anywhere with the idea of taking a specific photograph. I will go to a certain area, set up my camera and tripod and start looking. Sooner or later I'll find one of the dozens of photographs that are sitting in front of me, just waiting for someone to find them.
Consider a pinhole. I have several mounted on lensboards that I have made from black matboard, and I always have them with my LF outfit. The simplicity and lack of control can be a relief from the usual LF imagery. Some of these pinhole images are very beautiful when contact printed.
just let yourself wander. if something happens because of it, great --- otherwise its nice to just let yourself relax :)
How about doing a shoot with a focus on "self-introspection?"
Or, do a shoot on the concept of "simplicity in life and the environment in which we live."
Look back at images that you 've done on the sideline, other than those from your recent show. Somewhere inside there may reveal the answer.
"The villas of Lago di Garda - Mussolini's, Maria Callas', etc. It is a project of mine which I have yet to start (waiting for my 12x20 - AZO contact prints). My family (mother side) lives nearby. So, if you got time you should fly over and you will not regret it. The wine, olive oil, aceto balsamico and food is worth the trip alone. Inspiration to be found everywhere!"
Sounds great! Should I make reservations to be there in the middle or end of July?
I haven't run out of projects for many years. Finding the time to complete them is my problem. I am years behind on a couple of book projects and the editors are not pleased. They say I am too picky, sometimes going back and back and back to a site waiting for the right light. I say if its not right why bother? Its their deadline not mine.
My other problem is that sometimes I go thru periods where I cannot "see" images. The visual world is dead to me. I think this comes from doing so much commercial work. It deadens me visually sometimes. My solution is to keep working and the inspiration and seeing always seems to come back. Shoot every week. Get out. Go to places you have never been before. This is something I learned from writer friends. They say treat it like a regular job. Keep regular hours and write your way thru the bad periods. Half of it is just craft and craft is mainly hard work.
I once did a very successful book/exhibit project that showed all over the SW, was critically acclaimed and collected by museums etc. The crowning event was a PBS show on the project that ran nationally. I worked on the images for 12 years and then spent 5 more with the book exhibit etc. That was such a hard act to follow that all projects since then has been rather anticlimactic and unsatisfying. The making of each individual image however is as always supremely satisfying and what keeps me going.
It seems to me that you may only work "thematically". That is you work on themes or groups of related images. Try working on images that are singular in nature, a complete statement onto themselves, a single image that sums up the essence of a place. Like Steiglitz's "the Steerage". Sometimes I do that and that one image leads to another and another and an unforseen theme or group of images arises. This also helps me when I am bogged down in a project. Focus on the individual image and the project will resolve itself.
Shows are like a birth and we sometimes have a kind of post-pardum depresion that follows them. Don't focus on being stuck. Focus on actually making more images. Good luck!
Today, I picked up a past issue (Jul/Aug 2003) of Photo Techniques from the neighbourhood library and in it is a nice article by David Vestal entitled, "Recognizing". In short, Mr. Vestal's message is, shoot what is "YOU" (personally yours) wherever you are, whenever you are. This may not be something new to you, but sometimes, a little reminder like this does the trick.
"Why force it? If you have nothing to say, there's no shame in being quiet..." Right. Spend a holiday week in Spain. Be sure that you must be here, in Pamplona (Navarra) at july 7th. to see the "San Fermín holiday". Don´t forget your camera (of course, I´m not refering to your Canham...).
Sandy, the busiest time should be August - when all Italians are on holiday! Mid-July is the best time during the summer. The water should be just right for swimming in. However, it could be difficult trying to get reservations as it is high season. My personal favourite time to be there is early or mid-September. The temperature is just right and the prices have returned to normal thanks to all the tourists having left.
Mike Troxell said, "(3) Work on detail. Forget the grand vista with the awe inspiring waterfall and the one in a lifetime cloud formations. Find a 100 square foot area (or whatever) and spend the day working in that one area.", and I couldn't agree more.
The last time I was blocked up (photographically, not digestively) I spent some time in my own driveway. My driveway is just long enough to hold my car, and just wide enough to open the doors without whacking the walls on either side. I found that this exercise helped me focus on the fundamentals of form, composition, and light rather than on any notions I had about the beauty of subjects. This was just the cure I needed at the time. After that, I looked back up at the world in general and started to see potential projects everywhere.
(My current work was inspired by this exercise. There area across the street from my house is wooded so now I'm working on the forested areas of western Pennsylvania, trying to capture the "feel" of this part of the world.)
I don't know if this would work for you but it sure worked wonders for me.
Don't know now why I promised to post that photo. I'm not satisfied with it as I was yesterday, but designers are still happy and will use it.
(this thumb is linked to directory on my server, choose large or small "continental" jpeg)
http://belaj.com/unsorted/continental_v1_thumb.jpg (http://belaj.com/unsorted/" target="blank)
Now I think about being depressed... maybe is that just from rain outside?
One of the most dangerous places for me photographically is when I concentrate on the finished product. I know that I constantly battle over whether my photographs have meaning. It's much easier for me at times when I have an assignment. Then my photographs have a strong reason for being. There is an underlying reason why they should exist and why they are important: namely, they complete a project or they satisfy someone else's requirements. If I have to focus on create images that express, say, a sense of isolation, then it's easier for me to make photographs, because I know what I'm trying to express. There is an underlying reason for the photographs. There is a concept that makes them important.
But, for me, it's a little bit dangerous...because when that project is complete there is a void. The reason for making the photographs is gone. My photographs feel empty. I worry far too much about what gives my photographs meaning.
When you were putting together your show, did you have a central focus for your photographs? Was there a sense of external motivation: wanting to have prints that you wanted people to see for the show? What made you feel a sense of focus or excitement about putting together photographs for the show? Do you do better when you photograph for others or photograph for yourself?
When I get too wrapped up in this quest for meaning in my photographs, I have a couple of tricks to get myself back on track again. I tend to be quite externally motivated, and so sometimes it's nice to work on a project for someone else. It doesn't have to be great art...just something to give me a reason to shoot pictures. When I was in grad school, I made the equivalent of a yearbook for my friends. It was a fun and not too deep project, and it got me back into realizing that all of my photographs didn't have to be "gallery quality". I could just have fun shooting and printing.
I do much better when I let my inner seven-year-old play with images and ideas, but it takes practice to let him roam about with a camera. When I shoot for a specific project, and I focus on the outcome of the photographs, I prejudge the meaningfulness of my photographs. It's a specific style of thought: I ask myself whether a particular image is worthy of the project. But then when the project is completed, I remain mired in the same style of thought, and I struggle to find meaning without an underlying reason for the photographs. However, if I can stop dwelling on the meaningfulness of my photographs for a while and let my inner seven-year-old play with the camera long enough, I eventually find themes and interests to pursue more heartily. And I think many of the suggestions within this thread are in that vein...ideas for recapturing a sense of wonder and curiosity. It's perhaps the equivalent of sketching, or doodling, or buying a set of tempura paints because they look fun to try. It's just playing with ideas without overly judging them and letting my sense of wonderment abound again.
Best of luck to you.
May not be everyone's "cup o' tay" but I had the same thing earlier this spring (summer is here now, 105 today). I wanted to go out and see a few motorcycles for Arizona Bike Week. Took a 35mm and Efke 25 and drove up the road to Phoenix. Fun to watch people, bikes, races and just get away for a day. It worked to help free things up. Different format, subject matter I just liked to see, not great art at all. Mostly fun without worrying about a subject, theme or work. The LF meet in Monterey later also helped.
Where do you want to go this weekend? A day trip and a 35mm will work wonders. Just take what you want to take without any prior planning. Works for me.
Take photos of your SO's toes.
Kevin, your experience is quite similar to that of writers after finishing a book which may have taken years to write and endlessly rewrite and edit. You feel almost totally useless for a while, and some people even report that it's very much like enduring the loss of a loved one. Now is the time to catch up on those many little things which you put off while being too busy with the show. Just give it some time (very hard to make yourself do it) and things will eventually straighten themselves out.
Take a hike. I tell my patients to get involved in volunteer work, help the underpriviliged (e.g the blind) and realise how lucky you are. Teach photography to kids in your neighborhood or in summer camp.
Brett Weston said "inspiration comes from working, you just haul your ass out and get to work".
Kevin M Bourque
Thanks for all the kind comments, everyone. The show was mostly landscapes and found objects (I thought about calling it “Everything but People”). It represented most of the good stuff I’ve done over the last two years.
Just this weekend I started doing some close-up abstracts….maybe that’ll get me going again.
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