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Thread: Photographer's block

  1. #11

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    Photographer's block

    "The important thing is to keep working and to try to see newold problems in new ways, to keep yourself fresh. everyone hits blocks, but you have to keep working to find away around or through them."

    I agree with Ellis about seeing in new ways, which requires taking some risk to see differently. I find that staying away for a short period when dry spell hits works for me too. When I get back to photographing, I see new things. There are times when I stop enjoying the photographing, that's when I stop making good pictures.

    Also thanks to Dan, John, Ralph for your views.

  2. #12

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    Photographer's block

    Ralph, you mentioned "creativity." It didn't come across to me what I was doing as being creative. The best way I could describe it is "good composition." Perhaps it's because I work with "found" subjects. If one was working with arrangements like those by Jan Groover, then I think "creativity" fits the description. I personally wish to work well with the latter, but I'm not quite there.

  3. #13

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    Photographer's block

    "I personally wish to work well with the latter, but I'm not quite there."

    That's the bigger "block" for me, I think!

  4. #14
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
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    Photographer's block

    Aaron, if you feel that what you're doing with found objects is merely good composition, you may be stopping too soon in your mental process. Or, perhaps you're discounting a process that is taking place intuitively. I think when we see an object that looks interesting, we're responding to a thought that others might find it interesting, too - that is, there's a "story" behind the object, or it says something meaningful to us. How best to translate our response to the object's story onto film is, I think, the creative part of the process. Do I come in tight on the object? Does it need some context via a wider view? That sort of thing. Composition, I believe, is really only one aspect of that process.

    From what I've seen of Groover's work, her creativity seems to fall into the realm of "design" - arranging objects into a visually pleasing space, and then photographing the result. I see that approach being very similar to painting, as she is creating the space, determining the objects and their relationships, much like a painter would.

  5. #15

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    Photographer's block

    Thanks Ralph. You're right! Intuitive is the better word. Space, balance, variety, viewpoints, what to include, what not, etc. come quite naturally after some years. You know it when the groundglass looks "just right." Maybe that's why I feel creativity is a strong word.

    Each time I ask a question, things become clearer. Thanks for sharing.

  6. #16
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Photographer's block

    "Ralph, you mentioned 'creativity.' It didn't come across to me what I was doing as being creative. The best way I could describe it is 'good composition.' Perhaps it's because I work with 'found' subjects. If one was working with arrangements like those by Jan Groover, then I think 'creativity' fits the description. I personally wish to work well with the latter, but I'm not quite there."

    Creativity may be a loaded word, and may mean different things to different people. But your response begs the question: if all you're doing is "good composition," then who cares? So what if you're faced with a good composition block? Why not garden instead, or play cards?

    I'm not trying to be mean spirited here. Quite the opposite. I'm assuming that since you care enough about photography to do it, and to deal with it even when doing it is a struggle, then you're probably involved in more than a formal exercise.

    First, I'm going to dismiss the idea that photographing a found object is any less creative than photographing an arrangement. Most commercial studio photographers working for the J.C. Penney catalog arrange their pictures most of the time; Weston, Stieglitz, Strand, Robert Adams, and Walker Evans didn't. I'm not sure which group you would consider to be more creative, but I know where my judgements lie, and I suspect most people bothering enough to fuss with a big camera and share their ideas about it would agree.

    But that issue is about theory, and it's secondary. The personal ones are almost always the ones that count. So here's an assumption I'm willing to make: when someone experiences a creative block, it's often because the original reasons for doing the work have changed, gone away, become confused, or become subverted. You don't have to "know" why you are doing your work, in an intellectual, "here's my statement of purpose," MFA candidate kind of way. But it helps a lot to be in touch with the part of you that motivates you. Be able to feel it, and be open to noticing a change of signals. This might involve treating your creative impulses with more respect. Don't apologize for them; and don't denigrate what you do with an unhelpful phrase like "good composition." Treat your motivation as a gift, because it is. Don't wait for it to be gone before you realize this.

    I experienced pretty bad creative block for a few years (and I mention this with hesitation, because I know you were asking about Super Geniuses, not guys who loaf on the internet when their bosses aren't around), but I know my own story better than I know anyone else's. I was in the middle of a many year long project, and suddenly felt very stale. I had become good at taking the pictures in a way that was bad news--they weren't authentic anymore. I was faking my work just the same as if I had learned to fake Ansel Adams' work (which so many people seem to do as a hobby). I didn't know what to do, and I particularly didn't know how to consciously intervene in a process that had been organic and self-perpetuating from the start.

    So I stopped. I decided to study music instead. I bought a bass and took lessons and ended up gigging in all the seedy downtown New York rock and roll dives with a second rate band. I had a blast. And then I got into writing again. That felt more like pulling teeth. Finally, several years after my darkroom had turned into a dusty storage room for drums and amplifiers, I turned back to photography, and opened myself up to all kinds of possibilities. The scariest one of all appeared out of thin air: maybe the reason I couldn't take the pictures anymore was because I was done. Not meaning washed up, but rather done with the project. This terrrified me, because if it was done then it was open to criticique and therefore open to failure. I sucked it up and decided to endure that possibility. For the last few months I've been editing, with the help of digital scans and work prints. And I'm overjoyed to realize that I am in fact done, and I'm happy enough with the results that a book is in the works. So what will come after the book? That's the next scary question.

    The point is that my answer was such a simple one, but it eluded me because I wasn't open to it. My own preconceived ideas-- and perhaps more importantly, my fear--were in the way. It took a lot of distance and some growing up before I was willing to hear what my gut had probably been trying to tell me from the start.

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