“My Life as An Artist”
We all go through it. Times when we are more inspired to shoot than others. Sometimes we’re just bursting with new ideas and concepts we have to shoot! Other times it seems like nothing comes to us. We pour through magazines, we search through websites. Still, there’s this empty void and we experience something similar to “writer’s block”. I go through this too, sometimes. We all have lives to live and sometimes our personal lives have a little too much stress in them to think creatively. For some, that stress is actually a catalyst to create. Some people are more driven when shit goes down in their lives. I know in the past that some painful experiences have led to some hugely motivated and productive times in my career. But for the most part, stress isn’t what I search out when I’m trying to inspire myself.
There’s a saying: You can’t write if you haven’t lived! I really agree with that with all artists. That doesn’t mean you have to have years of experience. But there is something about embracing life and taking risks that goes a long way with developing your eye and evolving as an artist. You have to be wiling to seek out experiences and sometimes not listening to that inner voice that is critical or afraid. Meeting new people, going somewhere strange and different, going to see an art opening that wouldn’t be your first choice to go see. When you go outside “the norm” and open yourself and your eye to the world of the “unknown” it can educate your sensibilities which absolutely contribute to how you see and how you’ll end up photographing what you see.
I have travelled a lot. I have taken chances and gone to Europe on a whim because a friend was over there working as an editor and told me to come over to shoot for him. I went to Australia on a 3 month visa and stayed for 2 years. Why? Well, I went there initially to build up my book with tear sheets but ended up getting a lot of paid gigs and decided to stay. I didn’t go there with the intention of making money, but just by me packing up and taking off to a strange continent afforded me the opportunity to not only develop my book further but to meet new clients and make some money. And I shot in some of the most amazing locations in the history of my entire career. All because I took a chance and went to a strange place. BTW, I didn’t know one person when I arrived.
What else inspires me? A great book will just leave me hungry for MORE. So I will then try to capture that MORE in the next shoots that I do. I remember one day buying the book Damage by Josephine Hart. It’s a story of obsessive love and for whatever reason, it struck a nerve. (This was in 1991…who knows what was going on in my head at the time…) I remember sitting down with the book and not getting up until I read it all the way through. The tyranny of the love affair between the main characters provoked me to try and capture that unrequited/obsessive energy on my shoots for months after that. I guess it had those underlying sado-masochistic energies that are in Helmut Newton or Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. My point is, a book inspired my photography! Music is another huge inspiration. I think I have probably the most eclectic taste in music that possibly exists! On my iTunes you’ll find everything from The New York Dolls to David Bowie to Beethoven to Billy Holiday. Crazy, huh? But music speaks to a part of me that taps into that creative spark I possess. I listen to music a lot when I’m shooting, editing, writing or just sitting in a room by myself.
I’ve tried The Artist’s Way before but it didn’t really grab me. I’ve taken workshops on opening up creative channels, but that didn’t stick either. For me, I finally had to recognize that I dance to a different beat. I have a driving, almost obsessive, urge in me that I think is the gateway to my creativity. When I squelch myself and any promise of future experiences, that side of me gets very angry. And the creativity shuts down. But when I embrace myself and myself in the art of photography, the flood gates are released and I can have months of creative juices flowing. So for me, bottom line, is that I center myself and don’t say NO too often to anything new.
Look, as photographers, we all get so loopy about formulas and diagrams and technical boo rah rah. We think we have to “master” this lighting or this dilemma. But what makes your photography stand out?? It’s your EYE, your own unique way of seeing things that make your photograph stand out from another. We can study the greats, like Demarchelier. We look at his work, we emulate his locations, try to see where he lit the models from, do the same, try to get models that look like his, put them in great clothes, finally get that elusive make up artist to commit to testing with us and try to produce a shoot that looks like his. But it’s not going to turn out the same. Even if you were able to procure the exact talent, studio, clothing and lighting gear he used for that shoot, YOUR shoot would turn out different. Your eye sees differently than his. Your eye sees differently from any other eye. And your eye is what you need to constantly develop.
True creativity, in my opinion, doesn’t wait for any special circumstance to create. True creative individuals simply proceed to overcome obstacles which stand in their way of self expansion. They go beyond what they are and what they feel. They push the boundaries of the ordinary in order to “break on through to the other side” (Thanks, Jim) because that is where you will find the home of the infinite possibilities. And yes! Artists are a little nuts. I know I am! My brother thinks so too. I don’t live or conform to society’s conventions. For me, I try to live my life authentically. What I mean by that is that I am honest, at the very least, to my self. I try to live in the moment and allow people, places and things to come into my world and absorb what I can from the experience. It’s not easy to live by this all the time. I have that inner voice that beats me up, that tells me I am no good and I should quit. I have learned now how to tell it “thanks for sharing, now shut up”. One thing I used to do after EVERY shoot I did in the early days: I would come home and then pick up a book or a magazine and compare my work to someone who I had put on a pedestal as being a master photographer. I would then feel horrible and want to quit. It didn’t serve me well at all, all that comparing. So I stopped. I just simply stopped. Nowadays I don’t even look at Vogue that often. In fact, I buy Vogue once a year. I buy the September Fall Fashion Issue because it really is the Bible of the upcoming year’s fashion. And now I READ Vogue instead of just flipping straight to the editorial section. I read about who’s designing for what house, who’s up and coming, what is happening in this year’s fashion trends. It’s really important to know all that stuff. REALLY important…I can’t stress that enough here. But the comparing Vogue’s photographs to my own was borderline masochistic.
What inspires you? Do you search that out and try to tap into it so you can get your creative juices flowing? Does anyone else have that inner voice that tells them to quit or am I the only insane one out here? I’d love to hear some feedback on this! Tell me…..what turns you ON and gets you OFF?? Are you putting that into your photography? I want to know!