Taking Chances

Do chances come your way? When was the last time you had a chance to take an unusual image and you missed it? Do you recognize chance, photographically speaking?

Most of us like to exist in our comfort zones in many walks of life – we are risk averse. Risk is dangerous – things can go wrong when we take a risk. Chance is a bit like a risk, but much less risky – it’s more benign. Chance is offered as an option.

IMG_6876_1When I’m out with a camera in a familiar place I usually have a clear idea of what to shoot. I know the photographic strengths of that place. I may have a specific image in mind: one I’ve taken before but want to re-shoot. We will all have approached a day out with that mindset. The problem with that attitude is that before we even arrive at our destination we have a closed mind: we are wearing blinkers, our vision is narrowed. And what happens if you don’t see what you are looking for? Do you come away rather despondent with an empty card? Or, can you re-think?

IMG_6879_wpChance presents itself to all of us in two guises: firstly as the blink-and-you-miss-it sudden event; and secondly as a result of taking the time and opportunity to see a place anew, in a way that is outside our normal modus operandi. To make the best of chance we have to recognise it first. Sometimes that is best described as riding one’s luck. We need to be open to it, and that requires us to be alert and relaxed at the same time. That sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t.

Chance came my way earlier this week. My wife and I were out in our local city centre. We shopped together for a few minutes and then she said: ‘I want time on my own, off you go with your camera, you’ve got forty-five minutes’. I was like a dog let off the lead! The shopping arcades and their surroundings are a favourite haunt of mine – full of geometry, modern architecture and interesting shop windows with reflections. But on this occasion after wasting quite a few minutes I couldn’t find a single image that attracted me: the place seemed imaged-out, there was nothing new to shoot, and the light wasn’t right. I went and bought a CD instead.

IMG_6903_wpThat break seemed to clear my head of a mild sense of irritation. I checked my watch – thirty minutes left. What to do instead? I paused to look around me, open to suggestions, and I noticed the people rather than the place. And I just started to experiment. I saw possibilities – opportunities – and I grabbed them. My mind had freed up, I felt un-pressured, my eyes were receptive to new images, and I noticed chances. It was a mix of alertness and a process of relaxing into my environment. I moved around, stood still, and waited for something to happen.

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All four images scattered through this post were taken on this walkabout. None of them will win an award. The last one nearly went straight into the trash – shot from the hip along with a few others, over-exposed, and out of focus. But when I looked at it a second time I saw something vaguely impressionistic and I felt it worth processing. The other three are examples where I stopped and waited and took a chance.

In the case of the first image, I shot the graphic and just a few seconds later I saw the lady in red approaching. The shot was instinctive. To make the most of a chance we have to be ready and prepared. Camera in hand, switched on, ready to shoot. And if we walk around like that, camera in hand, observing our environment with an open mind, then chances will always come our way. We just have to see them and take them.

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Personal Creativity

How do we define Creativity? Is it innate or learned? Can it be taught? Is it static or does it evolve?

Most of us will associate Creativity primarily with The Arts: music, poetry, writing, crafts and of course the Visual Arts (including Photography). But it also plays a critical role in so many occupations and businesses. For example: Architecture, Auto Design, Technology, Furnishings, Horticulture, and Advertising – to name a very obvious few.

In business environments, creative thinking may lead to that eureka moment, it’s often associated with problem solving, and it’s also critical to ‘thinking outside the box’. In such scenarios it will often be a team effort: the result of brainstorming, the work of a focus group, or lateral thinking. In business terms, we may well agree with Jonah Lehrer who wrote in the Wall Street Journal: ‘Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes, or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It’s a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and get better at it.

However, when we come to think about the Arts and Photography specifically, I think it is clear that Creativity is firstly a personal concept and secondly the idea that anyone can ‘learn to be creative’ is an oversimplification.

Creativity is a nebulous concept. It’s difficult to define. The dictionary defines it unhelpfully as ‘the quality of being creative’. Here are some attempts by others:

  • A concept characterized by originality, expressiveness and imaginative concepts and ideas.
  • Defined as the ability and power to create
  • Home grown, nurtured
  • An expression of ‘You’
  • Stimulated by the work of others
  • Defined as the ability and power to create

Ultimately it is Personal Creativity that makes my photography different from yours. It is Creativity that steers our ‘Eye’.

When we talk about the Ability to See or ‘Learning to See’, we may ask the question: Why do I see things that you don’t, and vice versa? I think we are asking the wrong question. The real question is this: Where does our Creativity come from? What shapes our inner Creative Self? I don’t believe Creativity can be taught or learned in the traditional sense. I believe it is an amalgam of all the many things that have shaped our lives and made us who we are: our genes, our upbringing, our experiences, exposures, influences, preferences, ideas, and vision. It’s a subconscious drip drip process from the day we were born. In other words I think a little of it is innate but much of it is developed through life. To quote a well-known phrase: it’s a combination of Nature and Nurture.

Otto von Münchow’s blog ‘In Flow’ is notable for the quality of Otto’s writing about the creative side of Photography. Otto writes:

Our artistic work – or creative work – is a mirror of ourselves. It reflects who we are, our interests, what is important in our lives. At best your creative expression becomes an extension of yourself.’

If you don’t yet follow Otto’s blog, you are missing out on something special.

Creativity thrives on exposure and interaction. We continue to acquire new threads to add to it throughout life as a result of our experiences, through our appreciation of other people’s art, and from shifts in our own vision. In other words our Personal Creativity (our inner Creative Self) continues to evolve. In the past year, in London, I have seen exhibitions of the work of Ansel Adams, Sebastiao Salgado and the painter L S Lowry. The inspiration I gathered from those images is now incorporated subconsciously into my Creative Self.

Here’s a clever quote from Alain Briot, American Professional Photographer, writer and teacher: ‘Creativity is an input-output, import-export business. You have to be in contact with other artists … in order to foster creativity’

Our Creative Expression is the output or visible product of all those inputs that combine to form our Creative Self. And that is why we are all unique. Fundamentally it’s what made Picasso different to Dali, or Henry Moore different to Hepworth. And it makes each one of us different too. You can’t define Creativity, and I don’t think it can be taught or learned – certainly not in the traditional sense.

What’s the driver behind both the inputs and the outputs? It’s our ‘Eye’. Our Ability to See.

The Seeing Eye is Creative Expression’s eyepiece. It’s brilliantly expressed in the next quote by Joseph Campbell – American writer, author and mythologist: ‘The eyes are the scouts of the heart.’

Every time we use our personal Seeing Eye – whether it is viewing an exhibition, or taking images – there is a subtle feedback loop working in the background that over time leads to an adjustment to what we seek out when we use our Seeing Eye. It becomes re-defined, its focus shifts. And it will continue to do so as long as we remain active photographers.

That is why our Personal Creativity is constantly evolving. It’s a journey with no discernible endpoint. The direction of travel will change as our Creative Self continues to be attracted to new visual ideas. It evolves as a result of our ongoing experiences. You cannot force a Seeing Eye upon yourself. It is a slow process. If you start carrying a camera everywhere you go (as I recommended in my earlier post FaCT), you will start to find images, and those images over time will have a number of themes to them that will resonate with you, because they will become an expression of who you are.

Three final contributions from other people to end with:

From Edward de Bono [Writer and renowned expert on creative thinking]: ‘There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.’

From Maya Angelou [American Author and Poet]: ‘You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

Finally, I encourage you to sign up to Otto von Münchow’s blog. As an example, read this Post – Unlimited – to get an idea of how well Otto writes about Creativity.

If you have something relevant to add then do make a comment.