At the Core of Personal Creativity

Societies are self-serving and self-perpetuating structures. There is constant pressure to conform and to fit into predetermined slots. It can be difficult to find one’s path for personal growth and creative expression within the confines of societal norms and pressures.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Of course there is logic for shared values, rules of law, and other fundamental guiding principles that define a specific society. Without them humankind would be little more than our most base instincts, the destructive power of which has been seen amply throughout history.

There seems to an overabundance of people who take it upon themselves to tell you what you ‘must’ do. Often this advice is little more than you being encouraged to mimic and parrot the actions of other people. This occurs for many aspects of life, and seems to be very prevalent with things photographic.

To think that anyone is infallible and worthy of blind emulation is not a productive road to follow. All that does is promote banality and undermines individual growth and creativity.

That’s not to say that one cannot learn from others. Exposing ourselves to outside thoughts, and viewing the works of others can help broaden our perspectives, as do our individual experiences. Enhanced perspectives of the world around us, however obtained, can fuel creative expression and accelerate personal growth. The key is not to copy what we have learned, but rather apply it in our own, unique way.

Human beings go through many life phases. As infants we are full of wonder and exploration. Everything is new and is in need of discovery. We are consumed by a voracious appetite to learn and experience.

After feasting upon knowledge and new experiences in our youth, we sometimes reach places where we think we have all of the answers. The expanse of our ignorance is directly defined by the limited knowledge that we have acquired. Quite simply, we aren’t the slightest bit aware of how much more there is to learn, nor how little we actually know.

If we are able get past this point of inertia and push ourselves to keep learning, something magical happens. As our knowledge grows, so too does our appreciation of the incredible depth and width of our own ignorance. Once that reality is accepted and understood, we have the opportunity to become infants again, and experience the world anew. We are hungry again to go beyond our self-improved limits.

What does any of this have to do with photography?

To me, it is one of the core elements of our personal creativity as photographers, and as human beings. Regardless of the knowledge path that each of us may choose, if we stay green and growing, we will continue to evolve our creative capacity. We also need to have absolute trust in our creative instincts. That is worth infinitely more than any accolades or criticisms our work may garner, or any income that it may generate.

When we have a camera in hand, composing an image, all that matters is that we are consumed in the act of creation. Whether someone else likes what we have created or not really doesn’t matter. When we create we are demonstrating that we are truly alive. We are ultimately standing alone, but making a contribution to humankind.
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6 thoughts on “At the Core of Personal Creativity”

  1. I love the last image of the rocks on rocks! “…all that matters is that we are consumed in the act of creation…” — YES! I found that even when I could not afford any film for my camera I still enjoyed the act of looking through the lens and framing pictures that I could not keep but as memories.

  2. Hi Tom,,

    I used to ran photography coaching for awhile and I agree with you — it’s nice to probe the reason/s why a person made a creative decision to capture the scene this way or that. It’s like painting a scene where the interpretation is not just about “correct” technique but rather a reflection of one’s convictions, state of mind, emotions, coming to the surface of the subconscious. It’s like probing into an ocean of the unknown because the interpretation has a backstory that’s different from one’s own.


  3. Hi Tom,

    I smiled when I got to your “parroting” portion because it’s so very true. I think we all pass through a phase where we, whether consciously or subconsciously, copy or parrot the work of someone we admire. I know of some people who have had to endure listening to what their “gurus” have to say about their work; some walk away from the experience or photography altogether, disillusioned that perhaps it was not for them. That said, it’s also true what you said that we can learn so much from looking at others’ work, distilling some aspects and incorporating them in our own style. Developing and finding one’s own style is a never-ending journey I guess because there’s so much to learn, so much to appreciate, there’s so much that’s happening — and I’m not even talking about the forward movement of technology. One thing certain and unchanging I found out in all these years is that one should go with what resonates with him/herself. It feeds one’s creativity, also one’s soul so that even if what one is doing is not the trend, he/she can go against the flow and practice what he/she thinks is creatively his/her self. I guess at this point, photography ceases to be just about technique and has truly entered the realm of artistry.


    1. Hi Oggie,

      Thank you for adding your thoughts to the discussion! I agree that “there’s so much to learn, so much to appreciate, there’s so much that’s happening”. Sometimes it is difficult not to be overwhelmed by all of the potential stimuli around us. I agree that photography does enter into the realm of artistry and is a form of creative expression.

      I find that providing feedback on someone else’s work is a difficult thing to do, as one needs to be careful not to cross over into subjective evaluations. Whether I happen to like someone else’s photographs or not is a moot point. The most important thing to understand is their motivation to create the image…what intrigued them about the subject that caused them to capture the image…and what they were trying to communicate with the image. Unless we take the time to understand these factors we are only responding based on a subjective evaluation without a foundation.

      When I’ve done some photography coaching I’ve found it is usually much more helpful to ask them questions about their images, rather than to subjectively judge the photographs. Hmmm…I think I may have stumbled on the subject for a new article!


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