Warning, Peace: Melbourne, FL 2012
Note: The idea of the toolbox is from Stephen King’s book On Writing. It is a good read.
Between several things that I have been reading, talking about and thinking about, I have been mulling over the idea of what is the nature of creativity. The subject is more in-depth than the space that I can give it here, but it might be interesting to begin to talk about. The first thing that I want to say is that whatever I write here is not the beginning and the end of the subject.
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about an uncle who had a toolbox and used that story as a metaphor to help his readers have a mental way to organize themselves so that they can write more efficiently. Like most of what he wrote in that book, what he said about toolboxes also applies to any creative endeavor. His toolbox had several layer, or drawers to store all the things that they use to create their art. The idea of the toolbox allows us to have a place for all that we need to be able, in my case, make expressive and meaningful photographs. The overall idea is that the most needed and most used items are on top, and as you get further down into the box you keep those things that are pretty handy when you need them, but don’t used them all the time. The good thing is that you can organize your toolbox as you wish, and I will be talking about mine only as an example.
My Top Drawer: In my top drawer is my sense of craft, what King said was in the case of being a writer, grammar. My understanding of craft drives what the possibilities are. For example, if I do not know how to create depth of field, then I cannot access it when it is needed and may not even know that it is an option. Craft, like grammar, is one of the first things that we learn in photography. Unfortunately, the camera manufactures try to tell us that the camera will take care of all things technical, but do not believe it for even the slightest moment. Craft gives us a variety of tools to make our photographs more interesting if we can just think of them, and that is why they should be in the top drawer. Thinking about how you can link the technical possibilities to making a photograph can really bring your images up a notch.
Also on the top shelf is your point of view. Having a personal point of view is very important because if you do not have one you will be forced to imitate other work that you have seen. This may be OK when learning your craft, and it is OK to be influenced, but it is a cheap way to have a point of view. Throughout the time that we as a species have been making images, there are certain subjects that have been done over and over again. Why do we need another nude? Why do we need another landscape or a portrait, those boats have sailed, haven’t they? The thing is that, point of view is a good deal of what makes all those different images of similar subjects different, even fresh! I am reminded of something that Diane Arbus said, that went something like, “I have some slight corner on the quality of thing, I mean that it is very subtle and a little embarrassing to me, but there are things that nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” Each of us are individuals, different from everyone else who has ever lived. Ergo, we can make a photograph of a nude or a landscape and they will have the possibility, if we learn to listen to our personal voice, to be different and bring something new to the genre. The good news is that our point of view is something that is wired in us, it is already there. The bad news is, that we do not always know what it is, especially when we are new to making art. But in time it will become apparent and until that time, it is best not to think about it too much, but endeavor to make the best and most honest images possible and vision will take care of itself, for worse, but usually for good.
I also want on my top self my muse, though I have to say she never there all the time. Throughout the history of art, artists have had an inner voice that guides and inspire them. By the way, mine is female, but it is not required that they are. She is really my connection to my subconscious. She sits on my shoulder and tells me to do things that otherwise would not occur to me. For example, she will tell me to stop where I would not have stopped because she saw something that I did not. Or she may tell me to turn down some road that I would have otherwise passed. She also often ties together unrelated things that I have experienced or that I have been thinking about and shows me how to make it come together to give my new image uniqueness.
The last thing that I would put in the top drawer is Story or why is the picture is taken. Have a good reason to take the photograph then the answer to everything else becomes more apparent. All photographs should tell some sort of story and all the technique applied is in the service of story. Many, if not all of the rules of composition are based in the idea that those rules are used to help direct the viewer to where the image-maker wants the viewer to go. Story provides the reason.
You may have your own things for the top drawer that are different than mine, and if you think that I would disapprove then think, it is your toolbox. Soon I will post my thoughts about my second drawer, so keep looking back. I welcome any thoughts that you may have about what I have written.
A suggested reading list:
On Writing by Stephen King
Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
The View from the Studio Door by Ted Orland
Imagine by Jonah Lehrer
The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
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