Abandoning my "technical" approach to photography and video and embracing my "beginner self." It seems to work.

Lauren Lane in Harvey at Zach Theatre.

I know people who can tell you exactly how your word processor is programmed and coded but can't string together a coherent, creative sentence. I've met people who know every rule of grammar and every permutation of spelling who've never produced even a rudimentary piece of writing because the process rules dominate their thought processes. And I know some damn good writers who would perish without proofreaders. And there, in a nutshell, is the hierarchy.

The idea and the ability to express the idea carries the most value. Why? Because it can be applied to a universal product (the mercenary tangent). Because the new idea approaches culture with a new way of thinking about something. Because the idea and its express alone can push you to feel emotion and trigger your own strings of creative thought. New ideas, well expressed, create an intellectual resonance that ripples outward. Mastery of technology is self contained.  At its bottom line a creative idea, once given birth can be brought to further fruition by a technology master but without the idea the tools are rendered either idle or endlessly relegated to churning out "more of the same."

I realized yesterday that I was approaching videography in the same way I approached photography and I was afraid I might get the same results. When I started out I was captivated with just being able to make a good photograph and I pointed my camera at whatever interested me without the filters of "that won't work because....." or "you can only do this kind of shot with this tool..."  At the beginning, when I was a beginner, I was open to anything I could see or imagine. But with every layer of control and new technical knowledge I gathered I also gathered almost a permission to stop seeing clearly because my search was now for images that could be "optimally" taken with the tools I had at hand.  I let my ideas of the tools' limitations create boundaries for the way I took images. When I learned how to make images sharp every image from that point on had to be sharp.

When I learned how to light every subsequent image had to be lit. The technical knowledge I kept acquiring also led me into the voluminous catalogs of gear and I become obsessed with finding the "perfect tool" for every contingency. This cost money which caused me to work harder. But I couldn't work harder on exploring new visions, I had to work harder on jobs that returned money which I would then plow into the gear which would help me work harder.

And, sadly, when I look back at the work I produced the images done in the age of my greatest technical mastery are a diluted and sad shade of work I did earlier in blessed ignorance. Why do we show our earlier work? Because the content is more immediate and more pure. The impact of the work (in spite or because of its imperfections) is more visceral and sincere.

There's a mythology that real artists go through a virtuous cycle. They start with beginner ideas, then they move to master their tools and, at some point, like a beautiful butterfly emerging from its cocoon, the artist achieves true mastery and the tools become transparent. The use of the tools by such a master is almost unconscious. And, unfettered, the artist emerges with a fuller and more holistic approach that magically binds together the awe of the beginner with the technical mastery of the craftsman. In this was, according to the myths, an artist is born.

But based on what I've seen and experienced it is all so much bullshit now. The tools we use and the "canvases" we paint upon are constantly changing and whatever mastery there is becomes clouded with automation and new shortcuts. Looking back on the last ten years I would count technical mastery to be the least important aspect of being a "great" photographer while I would say, emphatically, that being able to connect to the innocent mind of a beginner and be able to look with wonder at the world is far more important. And, to be crass, far more sellable a gift.

But how do we reattach that creativity to our present selves? It's so hard and so simple. We need to step away from our need to control every process and just let stuff happen. We need to be able to find the point wherein the idea always trumps the camera we use. We need to explore the fun side.

After decades of severe and focused control I've started using my cameras on automatic settings. I used auto ISO to record a play yesterday and I put the camera into the face detection mode and made it responsible for keeping focus on the face of The Little Mermaid while I worked on composition and enjoying the spectacle in front of me. I'm out to give up thinking as much as possible about the endless details of production.

I don't believe that control and creativity go hand in hand. I think they are natural opponents. We need both to do our work but we should never lose sight of the idea that one is the treasure we search for while the other is merely a willing servant. Without the idea we are just documenters and some day our tasks will be taken over by robots. They too know every page of the gear catalog. The idea, the style and the power of concepts are what make life for an artist worth living. And those attributes are what make the work worth sharing.

My intention in all my work is to try and better channel the playful kid I hope is still alive inside of me. It's time to let him out, he could use the fresh air.... At the same time I am convinced that the engineer who's been running the show could do with an extended vacation.

Finally, I watch actors a lot. I've documented over 300 plays in the last decade or so. Good actors bring with them their own ideas about their characters in each play. They have no gear to dally about with. They are ultimately exposed. And it's what is inside them, their creativity and spirit that compels us to sit quietly in front of them as they do their work.  Just a thought.