Friday, 13 July 2012

Inspiration and criticism

A fairly frequent question on photography fora goes something like this: "I've got a day off tomorrow but am stuck for ideas of what to go photograph, any suggestions?" A recent one was asking what inspired people to take up photography in the first place. The second one provided a number of prosaic answers. Often the motivation was to photograph things they were interested in. Which suggest to me that making pictures isn't their motivation, but recording things they like is. I guess that's pretty much everyone's main driver behind their photography. I was inspired, if that's the right word, to make photographs by being given a camera, and later by looking at photographs - first of all in the popular photography press and then, more importantly, in books.

Getting back to the first question, the one asking others for inspiration, brings up something that is fundamental to the creative process. You can't get inspiration from others, just as you have to learn to criticise your own work you have to inspire yourself. It was something David Hockney said that prompted this ramble. He said that "Inspiration, she doesn't visit the lazy." Apparently (thanks to good ol' Google) a paraphrasing of something Tchaikovsky said.

There is much truth in the concept. You get inspired to make pictures by making pictures. It's quite simple. Even if the pictures you make are rubbish. Eventually there sill be something ion one or more that provides the spark to light the flame and away you go. Just going out and doing it is what's required. The problem that a lot of hobbyist photographers have is that they only want to make certain kinds of pictures. This is why they also keep asking about how to acquire a style of their own. Like inspiration, a personal style doesn't come through sitting on your bum or making the same photos as everyone else. You go out, make lots of pictures and the style finds you. Hobbyists in all realms think that success can be ordered up rom Amazon. Whatever you do you only get better at it by doing it.

In all areas of creativity you have to learn to be self-motivated. You also have to learn self-criticism. The other topic beloved by hobbyists is criticism. They neither seem to understand what it means. It doesn't mean posting a picture you like and asking the great unwashed what they think of it. I would never seek an opinion on a picture I thought worked in that way. Not that I would ask the internet masses for an opinion on anything. It's far better to ask people who's opinion's you respect than those who could be knowledgeable or could simply be internet parrots repeating received wisdom.

I made one attempt at offering criticsm on a photo forum and one only. The picture was getting slated because it had so many faults. Technical faults, and strayings from the rules. But it was an interesting picture and the photographer had obviously seen something. I tried to stress the positives before mentioning the flaws. The consensus was that I was an idiot. That's the problem with a democratic decision in creative media. Most people are scared to break the rules. Scared to step outside the norms. To take the risk of doing something that might not be approved of by their like minded herd. They like looking at things that remind them of things they liked looking at previously.

So, along with self motivation to drive inspiration, it's good to learn to criticise your own work. Best of all be a harsher critic of it than someone else might. In that spirit here's one I made earlier...

I was out and about, I had a camera with me and I'd seen these rolls of fleece for rolling over vegetable seedlings before. They had looked like a subject to fit in the 'farming today' theme that isn't quite a project, but could be. Photos that show how modern farming impacts on the environment. With the sun shining and the fluffy white clouds there seemed to be something going on that might work out. The clouds and the rolls shared a look of sorts. The idea was good, I think. The way the rolls 'lean' to the left is sort of mirrored by the shape of the clouds. There's something not working though, which as yet I haven't put my finger on.Thinking about it now it could be that a wider view, providing more  context, might have been more successful. Maybe there'll be another chance.

Whatever the outcome, nobody suggested going looking for rolls of fleece. The inspiration came from being out and about. Once when I first spotted the rolls, and when the conditions added something extra to what I had first seen on a dull day. The brighter light was essential to describe the texture in the fabric. This shot was also not a one off. I tried a number of compositions, waited as the light changed and tried again. It's what was called 'working through' an idea when I was a student. And that's the nub of it. You have to put in some effort - physically and/or intellectually - to  come through inspirational blocks.

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