Creativity & Instant Epiphanies

Creativity in all it's forms is a mystery and a wonder. Although making photographs is my primary creative love and passion, in my previous artistic life I was a writer. I was an actor. I've dabble--with varying degrees of success--with music (the apex of which was playing tin whistle in an Irish rock band on the stage of Chicago's Vic Theater for St. Patrick's Day). And I truly feel that my enjoyment of cooking flows from all the creative possibilities that food provides.

I've learned that creativity cannot be pigeon-holed into one discipline or endeavor. It flows through all aspects of our life. It doesn't come to us in tightly defined boxes ("first, I'll be creative in writing, then when that's over, I'll be creative in photography, and when that's completed I'll be creative in cooking"). Instead of vying for our attention, all aspects of our creative life not only play well together, they enhance each other.

Recently, while combing through my hard drive for a particular file, I came across a  biographical piece I wrote for a writing website I used to administer several years ago. As I read it, the hairs on my arms stood on end and my lips curled in a smile. Instant epiphany. My philosophy of writing sounded so familiar. In fact, it sounded nearly identical to my photographer's artist's statement. I realized that my fascination for the overlooked moments in life didn't just start with making pictures of them: I was also very interested in writing about them. There is something so very comforting in this realization from an artist's standpoint: I have a focus, a direction. And it's been there for a long, long time.

I participated in a workshop a while back where we were given an assignment: think about creativity. Specifically, answer these three questions about creativity:

  • In your own words, define creativity.
  • Where does it come from?
  • How does it work?

I found this exercise deceptive in it's simplicity. At first, I figured it would be just some quick answers: a few ham-handed words and done. But the more I mulled over these three questions, the more expansive my answers became. I found that as I wrote, my thoughts came faster and faster, bumping into each other before my sluggish hands could get them out. My answers took on a life of their own. I was in the moment. I was in the "flow." And when I came back to my sense, here's what I had:

In your own words, define creativity.

Creativity is the ability to access the inaccessible portions of our consciousness and to synthesize seemingly unrelated concepts/constructs/ideas into something new and cohesive, causing our new creation to have a meaning which is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Where does it come from?

Creativity originates in that elusive center of sentience. It comes from one’s awareness of the world (existence) and one’s place within it (individuality). Once this awareness is manifest, creativity is born of the fundamental drive to fashion meaning and order out of the myriad dissociative moments and events that make up that world every day. It springs from the desire to not only shape the world, but also to change it in a unique and meaningful way. It is no wonder that when humans invent myths and religions, one of the most important duties of the deity is that of creation.

How does it work?

Creativity works by allowing us to see in a way that exists outside of reality. If we think about it, being a creative means dancing upon that spider web of a line between sanity and madness. For instance, taken at its very basic nature, inventing stories is tantamount to imagining a world that doesn’t exist...and then saying it does. In some circles, one might be called “crazy” for saying such a thing.

But how do we see in such a way? How does creativity allow us dance upon that web? In all it’s mystery, creativity works by granting us access to the part of our being/essence/mind/spirit (insert your metaphysical construct of choice here) which is normally inaccessible: the part of us that holds the ability to conceive beyond mundane perception.

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So there it is. Your results may vary.

Storm Hydrant

For me, an impending storm + a lonely fire hydrant + a barren, suburban landscape = a photograph I can be very proud of.

When elements come together like this, it makes the hair on my arms and neck stand up--making such moments magical.

Storm Hydrant

Storm Hydrant

The Potential Pitfalls of Literalism

Honestly, when a scene like this presents itself to me, it would be a crime NOT to photograph it! I just love when they come gift-wrapped like this!

The Potential Pitfalls of Literalism

The Potential Pitfalls of Literalism

Forest Fence

I was wrapping up a photo walk and began heading to my car. On the way there, I happened to notice this scene on the other side of a little water way. I knew I couldn't pass it up so I made the photo. As it turned out, it was one of the ones I particularly liked from that afternoon.

Forest Fence

Forest Fence

Garden Salvation

While driving through Chicago's South-West Suburbs (Darien, to be exact)  my wife and I saw a Landscape Supply company on the side of the road. We pulled over (naturally!) and parked right in front of this scene. I couldn't help but grab the camera...and grab this photograph.

Garden Salvation

Garden Salvation

This Guy!

I was at a local lawn and garden store buying some potting soil when this fellow jumped into my shopping cart. He said, "who wears a red hat and has a thumb? This guyyyyy!" I knew I had to take him home so he could live in our gnome garden...where he's fitting in just perfectly.

This Guy

This Guy

Rock Path

Some days, you photograph the house. Other days, it's the path. This day was one of those "other days."

I tried photographing this scene from a variety of angles with a variety of lenses. I finally settled on emphasizing the cool rock path...and what better way to emphasize something in the foreground than going ultra-wide. In this case, it was fisheye-wide.

Rock Path

Rock Path

Dandelion Trio No. 1 & 2

For today's image we get a double. And I get to (once again) mention just how much I love diffused, natural light: I love it! Overcast days are so much fun for photographing. Sure, the sky isn't going to be anything to write home about, but everything else...well, an overcast day acting like one huge, sky-sized soft box makes for some wonderful opportunities.

As for the images, I saw these dandelions while I was photographing an unrelated scene. I took a few moments to explore them and was delighted when these photos turned out to be highlights of the day. It just goes to show, one never knows where the next photograph will be found, so it behooves us to keep our eyes open.

The Photographer as Illusionist

I just finished reading a magical book: Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. It's one of those novels which transports one to a dream world where things feel comfortable and foreign at the same time. It was a dream from which I didn't want to wake, and sometimes I feel I still haven't. I will not go into detail about this fine book here (plenty has already been written about it) but I do want to say that it got me thinking on many, many levels.

I just finished reading a magical book: Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. It's one of those novels which transports one to a dream world where things feel comfortable and foreign at the same time. It was a dream from which I didn't want to wake, and sometimes I feel I still haven't. I will not go into detail about this fine book here (plenty has already been written about it) but I do want to say that it got me thinking on many, many levels.

This photograph seemed eminently appropriate for this post. First of all, we have the magician/illusionist. But since this was made at the cabalistic House on the Rock in Spring Green, WI it felt more than "right" for a post discussing Erin Morgenstern's book, The Night Circus."

One of those levels pertains to photography and photographers.

Throughout the book, we are challenged to consider the artifice and reality of illusion. As I tripped my shutter over the past few days, this concept rattled around in my head. Then in a moment of realization, I saw the photographer as an illusionist. We see the world around us. We interpret it through our unique filters and aesthetic. We then present it back to the world transformed yet the same. Every time we make a photograph, we create an illusion of the subject which is a wholly singular presentation of it. Certainly, no two photographs can ever be the same because no two photographs can ever be taken at precisely the same moment in time. But more importantly, no two photographs can ever be the same because they are necessarily unique constructs of the individual photographers making the images. One of my favorite things to do is go on a photo walk with other photographers. We walk the same paths. We see the same sights. But when we look at our final images it is as if we weren't even in the same zip code. What feels familiar in my photographs looks oddly foreign in my friends'.

In short, every time we make photographs we create our own illusions. We conjure them from slices of time and sprinklings of light. They are our achievements. They carry our stamp and signature.

So even though The Night Circus is not a book about photography, it is a book about the way our illusions--our creations--relate to us and the world around us. It is about the many paths we take to get to them. It is about our dreams manifest.

To learn more about The Night Circus, please check out Erin Morgenstern's website at erinmorgenstern.com.

Business Dinner

While waiting at a stop light in Chicago, I looked to my left and saw these two gentlemen sitting down to a meal at a restaurant. I was drawn in by the red paint, the stark white table cloths, their crisp suits, and the way their glasses and expressions worked in tandem. I grabbed my camera from off the seat next to me, made the exposure, then went on my way when the light changed.

Business Dinner

Business Dinner

Waiting for a Pastoral Moment

While visiting Cantigny Gardens in Wheaton, IL, I saw this scene and just knew I had to grab a photo. It felt both promising and lonely...and so for me it felt full of story.

Waiting for a Pastoral Moment

Waiting for a Pastoral Moment

"The Playground" Series

As gossamer drizzel fell and the gathered clouds diffused the light, I saw this deserted playground setting and had a feeling I would find something interesting to photograph. Happily, I found a lot more than I initially thought. The shredded tires strewn over the ground provided an amazing backdrop to the playground equipment. It was so full of texture and so...black. Even though the black of the shredded tires provided some interesting exposure issues, ultimately I wouldn't have wanted it any other way because the quality--and counterpoint--it added to the scenes was so very compelling. I decided to post these as a series rather than as individual posts. I feel they go very nicely together.

Bloom Portrait

It would seem I've been full of flowery goodness of late because here's another one.

The story: my wife and I spent a truly marvelous afternoon at Cantigny Gardens in Wheaton, IL where we were fortunate enough to experience so much of the beauty of spring. When I saw the way this magnolia bloom peeked out from behind the branch, I found the right angle, opened up the aperture, and snapped away.

Bloom Portrait

Bloom Portrait

The First Daisy of Spring

My wife and I spent a lovely afternoon meandering around the Oak Park Conservatory. While there, I naturally had my camera. I saw this daisy just sitting there all alone and proud, with the light from the glassed ceiling and walls falling on it just so perfectly. I knew I just had to get a photo...so I did.

The First Daisy of Spring

The First Daisy of Spring