Surf Series 019, 2009
I was once again talking to someone yesterday about where pictures come from. I’m not talking about the history or chemistry or digital technology of pictures, but rather where in our minds the ideas or recognition of opportunities for interesting pictures come from.
There are a lot of people who don’t think they have the capacity to be creative. They’re convinced that they’re just not wired that way. To be sure, there are people who are, shall we say, more loosely wired than others, and certainly a lot who are more tightly wound up. The former can be fun to work with, but there’s not much reasoning with the latter because the walls they’ve put around themselves are just too thick and too high.
Whenever I encounter someone who doesn’t think that he or she has the capacity to create original expressions one of the places I refer them is to Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain . Let me stipulate right here that reading this book will not turn you into a Renoir or Picasso. But if it does nothing more than give you the confidence to at least break free of the conviction that you’re incapable of doing anything creative, that’s half the battle.
Yesterday afternoon while driving home from a meeting I listened to Tricia Rose Burt tell a true story about her life on The Moth, a true story telling radio program and podcast that I heartily recommend to anyone who likes personal accounts of life experiences. Ms. Burt described her transition from being a tightly wound, results-focused, briefcase-toting public relations executive to being someone who pieces together a less financially certain, but far richer life around stories, art and the creative process.
It took Ms. Burt several extremely deliberate lessons for her to learn to let go of the belief that every action she took in life had to be competitive and result in not only some grand achievement, but also in her being acknowledged as the most successful person at it.
When people look at my pictures and wonder where the ideas or the composition come from, I have answers to their questions, of course. But they’re almost never what the questioner wanted to hear. That’s because what they hope I’m going to tell them is a trick, insight or single simple technique that, once applied, will immediately improve the quality of their images.
The answer I give most often is this: “Let it happen. Just let it happen.”
There are a couple of ways people react to this. They can either dismiss it quickly as some kind of flaky, feel-good advice and then rush off to ask someone else about what kind of lens will make them a pro overnight or, if I’m lucky, they’ll think for a moment and realize that while “seeing” interesting photo opportunities may not be something that can be learned in a single moment, a certain amount of deliberateness can condition your mind and your eye to become more cognizant of your surroundings and the photo opportunities within those surroundings.
But first, you really do have to say to yourself, “Let it happen. Just let it happen.” Slow down. Be still. Open up. Become aware. Watch. Listen.
And if you’re honest about doing this, whatever “it” is will happen.