Photography 1: Creativity on Call – 14.9.12

I was sitting at the Calgary airport one morning and I was watching the Air Canada jets across the tarmac. I had a couple of hours to wait before my flight to Toronto and I had already bought some things I didn’t need at a Kiosk. I don’t usually buy things spontaneously but I was in a great mood, on a high!  As I walked to the lounge at my gate, clutching a bag that was too big for my carry on, for some reason I had an inkling that I was about to have an “Aha” moment.”…. one of those moments when something that has been with you all along just jumps up and hits you in the face.

Anyway, I sat down in a nice comfy kind of brown leather chair and watched the planes come and go. An airport custodian came along and was dialoging with someone in the air terminal ‘s computer department as they tried to get the new automated blinds to work correctly. While this was going on around me, I had taken out my camera and was beginning to have “Freemanish” moments. These are moments when I really begin to see the world differently but in accordance with some of the teachings of master photographer Freeman Patterson, one of my mentors.

I was doing multiples. The power drive  of my D3s was beginning to smoke. I was going to make those planes fly! The custodian was looking at me rather oddly as I continued to zoom and move my camera around. He finally said, “Do you take raw or jpeg?”  Now that was not the question that I might have expected but, I guess, it was the only relative one that he knew to ask.

At any rate, his question kind of jolted me. I realized with the intensity of being hit with a thunderbolt that I had just connected, totally unexpectedly, the dots to one form of my own creativity.

Anxiety, reckless abandon that surfaced in my impetuous shopping and now this … The stationary plane that flies!!!

While working on my website a few months ago, I struggled with what kind of images should represent my work. What did I want to share?

I struggled and struggled with this and eventually realized that what I shoot depends. Depends on what you might ask. Well, I eventually figured out that it has something to do with the location, my emotional state, whether I am alone or with others, comfortable or uncomfortable and who knows what else.  I  became cognizant of the fact that as the minutes of my life move on, I attend to different things at different times for a multiplicity of reasons. So do we all.

So what does that have to do with my creativity?

In the case of my airport experience, the days prior to my pending departure had contained both emotional and stressful moments. The good energy was feeding my playful approach while the negative or more stress related energy was feeding the high speed click, click, click of the shutter.  I was freewheeling to new discoveries and new ways of expressing what I saw and what I felt. I was aware that life was unfolding second by second. I was in the moment, each fleeting moment.

But there are days when I am calm, thoughtful, and contained. On those days I am structured in my approach and I feel like I have a better hold on how my creativity unfolds. When I put flowers in my window and explore how light interacts with them, the magic of the light is what I systematically explore.

It’s pretty clear that something creative is happening when images like these are flowing from my computer screen. They are alternate expressions of reality that are there all the time… there all the time…, waiting to be discovered/ uncovered. Sculptors say that the work is in the stone. Some days I see only rock. Sometimes, I see beyond the rock or in my case the scene that is before me. What makes the difference? Can I be in control of that process or am I controlled by it?

I have been lucky enough to travel. That has positioned me so that I have had incredible subject matter. Sometimes, the subject matter supports my creative exploration as it is new and interesting and draws me. Sometimes, a descriptive shot fulfills my need. But I wonder why that is “enough” on some occasions but not on others. I now think that time, place, energy, emotional state… are all factors for me. I’m beginning to be able to identify the variables that impact my work and the more I recognize them and give them names the more I can intentionally call upon them as part of a creative process.

If I am down, depressed and withdrawn, maybe I can use the-knowledge that ” playing” with my camera not only uses but creates positive energy in me. Maybe I can use this link to motivate me to get out my camera or my paints or to sit at my piano and let my fingers do the walking.

If I am anxious or emotional, I now know that my creative mode is close to the surface and that I can draw it to unleash my inner turmoil with sometimes amazing results. It amazes me. And with my art that is my goal. I want to amaze myself. I want to go where I have never been before. And it doesn’t matter whether I spontaneously interpret my world or if I systematically explore it using creative strategies like zooming, panning, motion, multiple exposures or through computer based montages and panoramas.

What matters is that I continue to tune myself in to recognizing the things that act as triggers for me. This knowledge works both ways. If I feel the energy I then have to position myself so that I can utilize it. A tank full of gas is only helpful if I go somewhere! On the other hand if I want to generate creative energy I have to position myself so that the things that I now know trigger energy in me are part of my life. I have to get out there and do it! I have to go to places that set my heart on fire, stimulate my brain and tantalize my eyes.

Do I think I am being creative every time I pick up the camera? Definitely not.

Do I think I should be?  Probably not.

So then what is the point? Why worry or think about this at all?

Each of us will have his or her own answer but this is mine. I find that trying to develop “me” as a person happens through my photography. That is far more important to me than the image that is the result of my efforts.

I recently spent a day roaming the prairies of southern Alberta with a good friend and a new friend. The prairies are an expansive place and we were exploring the Medicine Wheel near Majorville. It was sunny with a soft breeze. We walked over the hills, with the smell of freshly crushed sage wafting up at ever step. The striated cliffs of the Bow River Valley spread before us. It was a special time, with special people in an amazing place.  I drank it in. I photographed it – the hills, the valleys, the waving grasses and fields of purple and yellow wildflowers. Was I focused on my ability to be creative or that I held in my hands a tool that gave me the ability to interpret my surroundings on multiple levels. Not really. I needed to absorb this sacred space. I needed to consciously and subconsciously drink it in.  I needed to experience what it was to be there with my friends. Another time I might be ready to try to interpret this place and explore it from multiple perspectives. This was not the time. I was not ready and I may never be ready and may never have the opportunity again. Is that a loss for me as I strive to be expressive in my work? Maybe, maybe not. But I think not.

Earlier this summer I was in the Canadian Arctic. On my expedition, due to human error, a polar bear was shot and then had to be put down as the injured animal was thought to be too dangerous. Adrenaline was pumping through my veins as the documentary opportunity of my photographic career presented itself. I passed. I could have watched this magnificent creature being slaughtered in the ways of the Inuit. I chose to honor her life not her death. For me I know I made the right choice. It was in keeping with my intention that I use photography as a tool in my life to help me be the best person that I can be. In this case, I had energy but I also had respect.

The moral of all of these stories is that I think I am now more aware of the sources of energy that fuel my creativity. I know how to call upon this energy because of that moment of insight at the airport. It can help me express my experiences and my visions through my camera.   I also have the responsibility to determine when and if I will utilize my new skill. I have found the time is not always right.

Photography presents opportunities. Each of us can, if we choose to, set an intention for our work and if we do we will grow as we take each small step towards fulfilling that intention.

My path challenges me to be better than I am. It provides opportunities for me to reach out to others so that I can learn. It requires me to be open to lessons as they present themselves. My wait in the Calgary airport taught me a lot about how I access my creative energy.   As I am exploring my world, I am exploring myself. I am now better able to call on my creativity as I apply my playful and humble heart to what I do.

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