Taking Risks in Photography is the Doorway to Your New Creative Growth Spurt
Have you ever felt like you’ve been creatively stagnating as you butt your head up against the barriers of yet another creative plateau. Have these barriers prevented you from realizing the full potential of your next artistic growth spurt?
Well, I’ve felt this way…
I’ve felt this way a few times in my 20 year plus professional landscape photography career. Yeah, I started shooting professionally in my 20s. I was kinda young.
Overall, I’ve been through a few “creative blocks” during my career as a photographer. But, what I’ve noticed each time I felt that I was in a creative rut may surprise you. Furthermore, what I learned in 2012 as I bumped up against yet another creative plateau was that I need to get a little excited about my artistic future. My excitement as I realized that I was in a creative bloc in 2012 may seem strange to most people. But. it isn’t. Let me explain.
Over the years I’ve learned that when I feel that I’m in a creative block I correspondingly realize that it is time for me to redefine what “being creative” means to me. Let me illustrate my point using the somewhat deep creative block that I found myself in about 5 years ago as an example.
About five years ago I was on the cusp of leaving a solid career with a good income in another field to become a full time struggling photographer, again. I had started my professional photography career in 1997. Since then I have been an off and on again full time career photographer for a number of years enjoying a roughly 75% full time/25% part time split over the years since 1997. However, in 2012 I decided to go full time again and have basically been a fulltime photographer ever since, interjected with a few brief forays into a few short contracts working for Banff National Park.
Photography is part of who I am
I can’t imagine “not” being a photographer
But, I’m digressing. Let’s get back onto the topic of how I periodically wrestle with, and overcome, my own creative plateaus.
Breaking through barriers
In 2012 the crux of the problem that I was dealing with was that I felt I was just photographing the same old, same old, over, and over again. I was producing nice landscape photography. But, I didn’t feel like I was contributing to the advancement of the landscape photography industry, or even to my own personal creative growth. It was time to for me shake things up a bit.
I remember very clearly sitting down in front of my computer struggling with the editing of another “nice” photograph. I knew that the photograph I was editing had a lot of potential. Also, I knew that I more to give emotionally to others through the final print, my art print. I knew that I was going to be able to use it to effectively emotionally communicate to others. This ability for artists to emotionally communication to others through their medium of choice is the common thread that all successful artists possess, outdoor landscape photographers included.
The Road to Happiness, colour version. I felt that this was a nice photograph, but I also felt that it had more to say… © 2012 www.brianmerry.ca
Looking to my mentors for guidance
I turned my emotional search for the meaning of this photograph inwards reflecting on the feelings I wanted to communicate to the viewers. I looked back towards the beginning of my self directed learning in photography. Early on in my artistic development I studied who I think are some of the Greats in the industry. I studied the photography of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Galen Rowell and Courtney Milne. And, one of the influential emotional communicators I have ever studied is Freeman Patterson. The influence of my mentors collectively shaped the type of photographer I’ve become.
Back to the Basics
I thought about the beginnings of photography. I thought about platinum printing. My mind wandered back to the beautiful black and white darkroom that I had in Banff about 15 years ago. I Thought about how the sweet smell of the chemicals stimulated my creative juices as I dodged, burned and with short aggressive flicks of my wrist. Recalling how I used to agitated my traditional photographic prints to life in the developer bath makes my forearms tingle. I lovingly remember the gentle rocking motion I used as I rocked the exposed but yet undeveloped print back and forth in the developer tray.
It’s enjoyable to think about some of my favourite negatives that I took with my Linhof Technica III 4×5 and my Calumet 8×10 view cameras. As I learned to previsualize the final print I became a better photographer
In the darkroom I can see, and feel the traditional black and white prints that I produced in my darkroom. As I write this now I can vividly remember the sweet smell of the fixer solution in my wet darkroom. I used the fixer to wash the excess developer from the print improving it’s stability. Ahhhh… My senses are awash with loving memories from my “wet” darkroom days as I write this.
I can FEEL my creative juices flowing as I write these words…
And then,… it struck me.
It struck me that I could similarly use the computer to simulate the traditionally abstract and artistic photographic processes that I had previously used in my wet darkroom. This connection seems kind of obvious to me now as I write this. But, five years ago it took a bit of a different way of thinking for me to make that connection. In essence, I feel free now as I realize that my creative growth seems boundless, albeit punctuated.
Using my 15 years of photoshop experience I adapted a selection of my darkroom skills to the digital world. I creatively thought about how I could apply abstract digital editing techniques to produce a simulated Infrared photograph. Furthermore, I drew upon my photoshop experience and let my feelings guide me through the artistic editing decisions. Generally speaking, I used my feelings as my editing guide.
Instead of moving the cursor around the screen following a preconceived set of editing steps, I let go of control. My emotions guided me to the next menu item in photoshop. With intention I moved away from applying the cookbook recipe set of steps that I had grown accustom to using regularly when editing my photographs. I cleared my mind of the preconceptions that I had of what the photo editing process should be.
I began to FEEL the photograph…
As I looked down at my keyboard and I swept my hands across the keys. Secondly, I arched my mouse across my desk in broad sweeping strokes like a painter sweeps their brush across their canvass. While looking at the colour version of the nice photograph, I dreamt about the possibilities. I “thought sideways,” as Freeman Patterson would challenge his students to do in his teachings. Then, I let go of control allowing myself to correspondingly feel my way through the editing process. In summary, I cautiously kept the pure emotional message I held close to my heart intact, as I worked towards the final print.
During this creative process I created the first digital infrared interpretation of an RGB colour image that I had ever seen.
I separated out the preconceived emotions that I had for the colour version of this scene. After that, I was able to package a deeper emotional message into my creation. My heart spoke about mystery, fear and peace, beauty, caring and love. My new creation strives to create enough separation between the viewer and reality help them to open up emotionally too. Altogether, this separation prepares the viewer to receive the emotionally message that I am intentionally sending in this new version of “The Road to Happiness.”
Do you feel what I felt when I captured this image?
I feel that this photograph is now complete.
Never stop learning, seeing, feeling, and communicating.
Never. Stop. Growing.