Note: As is always the case with my posts you may CLICK on the image and view it in Lightbox Mode for more detail.
Recently a photographer friend of mine was lamenting about their lack of desire to make images and a general loss of creativity. Creative block, such as what my friend is immersed in, is indeed a real and crippling challenge for artists. Many of us who write, paint, and photograph face it from time to time. I read an article that said there are seven kinds of creative blocks ranging from mental blocks, to emotional, monetary, habits, and so on. I cannot say for sure where the the creative block comes from but I suspect it generates within an emotional or mental state. Creativity can be an intensive process and becoming trapped by your thinking can force you into making assumptions that are limiting to the creative process.
On a recent Facebook Post, on a popular photography site, a reader, who was fairly new to photography, asked how they could make the kinds of images she saw from many of the contributors. She was not able to travel to such beautiful places and was looking for ideas. Looking for ideas and help is a good beginning, but comparing, in her mind, that travel equated to making good images was forcing her into a vary narrow view. She was not yet engaged in the basic processes of image making, both the technical parts and the joyful, artistic parts, and in so doing entered into quite a creative block.
Sometimes you can literally fight your way through a block and at other times you might have to sit with it for awhile. The latter has been my preferred strategy for many years now. Fighting a creative block has never proved successful and after years of living in the problem, and meditating about it, I just realized the sun would come up the next day and this fearful block would move on. And much of it is fear based and leads to procrastination and resistance. In my early days I would refuse to even take my camera out unless the light was perfect or I was in some fantastic landscape out west. Unless I was going to be able to take the next show-stopping, award-wining landscape image, I just would not shoot. Oh, how I wasted such time and creativity in that silliness. Thankfully I have been able to move past such inhibitions.
I am not going to suggest it was, or is an easy process. Far from it. For example I have been known to have moved between different camera systems in order to reignite the creative process, an interesting idea, albeit irrelevant, and comes with a financial backlash. It is not the camera. The camera is only a tool that you engage in the process. Finding subjects comes, I think, from disengaging from the act of finding subjects. I know that is a mouthful but think about it for a moment. The intent to photograph is not the same as photographing with intent. Discovery often comes from completely disengaging from the desire, want, and need, parts of the brain. I think about photography all the time even if I do not have a camera in my hand. Most of this comes in the form of visual exercises where I am looking at compositional forms or how light is falling on the scene. At other times I look at the work of other photographers whose work inspires me. And I read. Reading imparts a sense of understanding visual scenes through written descriptions. All of these techniques are tools that help me think about image making without actually taking a photograph.
The images that accompany this essay are part of another technique I use; the photo walk. Photographs, all kinds of photographs, exist around us – inside our houses, in the yard, down the street, the park, the city – and we need only engage in them. I find photo walks are a great way to be immersive in the visual world without the pressures of having to make an image.
On a very foggy morning I spent nearly 4 hours on a photo walk, with a bit of photo-driving, just looking and watching the light and fog. In fact it was several hours before I even made an image and much of the time was spent in just reflective thought. About a year ago I started working on a simple series of images I have referred to as my "Abandoned Series" and it focuses on forgotten rural landscapes and buildings. After several hours in the fog I headed over to one of the farms at Antietam National Battlefield that I had scouted on previous walks and it was in that moment of complete thoughtless openness that I came upon what I now refer to as "The Cupola House".
I have driven past this house many times and it has gone unnoticed by me. But on this day the foggy conditions and beautiful sense of light combined to reveal an intensely lonely place surrounded by the battlefields landscape. The first image of the morning just came easy for me and I knew instinctively I would be pushing most of these images into black and white. In fact I set the Fuji XT-2 on the Acros Black and White Film Emulation Mode to help me visualize the shots. As I walked the grounds a whole series of images and compositions were revealed and I just moved in and out of them with a mindful joy. The shaped of the buildings, the trees, the fog, and the light made for sublime conditions. Behind the house I discovered outbuildings and a small barn and the images continued to come forward.
The gifts of discovery continued when, behind the barn, I found the discarded barn cupolas. These types of cupolas adorn many of the barns in my area but I had not seen them up close in this way. They were huge, standing well over 7 feet, and beautifully adorned with scalloped details and curly metal flourishes. They were like giant pot belly stoves with smokestacks. I spent a good bit of time exploring compositions and moved between several lens focal lengths. What a wonderful discovery.
When you reach a time of creative conflict I would encourage you to embark on a photo walk. The intent should be about seeing and discovery and not on image making. Of course you will make images but the idea is to learn to respond to the sub-conscious parts of what you see. Just walk and immerse yourself in the world without judgement. The images in this post came after several hours in the landscape and then came like a flood. Are they fine images? I don't know and do not care. I like the forms and the contrasts and they are inherently personal explorations of the place I live. Finding those connections to place are extremely important and can help give a voice to the images you make.
Usually I will give camera data on the images in my posts. In this instance I will not as that is not relevant to the making of these images and I do not want the reader to become fixated on lens choice. All were shot with a Fuji XT-2 and that is as far as I will go. As to processing most of the shots were conceived in black and white as I wanted to remove color as a delineating factor in the compositions. On the shots were I employed color I used a more desaturated process where I remove most of the color vibrancy and then tweaked out a single predominant color like the yellow in the grass. RHC