Everyone is waiting for the stars to line up. They have a project or a scope of work in mind but they seem to need some sort of cathartic sign from the heavens to actually wake up and say, "today I start making portraits that I like and showing them to an audience I have chosen."
The problem is that no one seems to want to grow their work organically. Step by step. They seem intent on going right from the purchase of a cool video camera to the creation of a feature film without going through any interim steps. They seem to feel that a good still camera and a couple of months of technical instruction via YouTube or Creative Live will make them into a full fledged artist and they want to come out of the gate with a one person show at a name gallery. It's the same in every field, kids go to chef school and want to come out the front door of their school and walk into the kitchen door of a Michelin three star restaurant and take over as the executive chef. At some point everyone realizes that this isn't the way a long career really works and since the true processes seem risky and time consuming they resist ever starting so that they never run the risk of falling in a big and unglamorous way.
Photography may seem easy to a clueless accountant who ignorantly distills everything down to its technical skeleton and presumes that all images are commodities. The thickest ones try to find a template which would insure them that one size of experience will cover every photographic contingency equally. And it's so laughable. The grown ups in the room realize that nothing is as simple as it seems and that while the technical (step one, step two, step three) stuff is as simple to learn as math they don't get that non-linear and non-quantifying approaches to craft and art are as powerful as their opposite numbers in the realm of hard science. We don't all respond to the same subject matter in the same way anymore than every movie director directs in the same style. The differences between one brand of computer and another are not in the technical components anymore but in the design sphere and in the gracefulness of the interface and each company's ability to make products that people both enjoy owning and using and which are also the most efficient tools to learn and to bring to bear on tasks. This is why Apple dwarfs Dell now. Why the iPhone spanks the Samsung offerings and why people would much rather drive certain brands of cars, given the economic choice.
But no matter how good a concept or story or vision or design is the value of it is relatively meaningless (frustratingly so) unless the artist, designer or writer brings it into the real world and shares it. I have thought long and hard about this and it's always been my contention that every art form and every endeavor exists as a continuum. If nothing has been started there is no continuum, only conjecture and desire. By actually starting on a project, product or story there is a power that flows into the artist. Every step forward reinforces this power to create. And here is the important part that I know to be true, the more I practice and shoot and write and explore the better I get. The process itself informs the final product. You have to produce and produce to improve and to grind and polish the vision so that you, the artist, can finally get what you want instead of settling for a shadow of what your vision could be.
If you've always wanted to produce a portfolio of fine art prints then as soon as you decide on your subject matter you need to head out the door and start shooting. You may reject the first 10 or 100 or 1,000 images that you shoot but by the 2,000th image you'll probably have tried all the stuff that wasn't going to work and you'll have narrowed down into a groove of stuff that is working. By your 10,000th image you'll probably have figured out just how you like beautiful women or landscapes or videos about coffee to look and you'll be refining more and more with every image you shoot and every second of video you commit to. And then you'll start having some nice choices to put into that portfolio. A portfolio that becomes tangible and real when you start showing it to the audience you always wanted.
Real life is littered with people who wanted to do something really cool but put off doing it "until they knew they were ready." The problem is that there's always just one more thing you could justify doing, learning or buying until you feel that you are ready. If I were to counsel someone on the creative process I would ask them what they love to look at and what they want to create. Then I would tell them to go start now. To use the camera in their hands, or the one they borrowed to get started because the process will inform them at every step of the way to a much greater and much more personal degree than any class, workshop or equipment review will.
I love to photograph people. But clients don't always want to have photographs done in the styles I want to pursue. I could sit around and wait until the right clients present the right subject in the right setting and ask for exactly the style I want to shoot. If I wait for that I'll be 80 years old have nothing to show and nothing to cherish in the body of my work. When the work doesn't come to me I go to the work. I ask people (strangers, friends, acquaintances, real people) to come and collaborate with me in the studio. I try to get them excited about the prospect of having their portrait made in my style and we shoot and share and the process helps me continue to grow. The work I do for myself is the work I like to show to clients because it moves their future requests forward too. But mostly, just like swimming, the arts require constant practice and being immersed totally in one's art requires much more courage than accepting the security of a job the output of which you don't truly enjoy and don't really control.
While engineers are necessary and bright and help create things they are not heroic. Neither are accountants or administrators. They've chosen a different path. A path of problem solving for someone else overlaid with the vague promise of financial security and the security of repetition. I think the creative people who are totally dedicated to their art (music, design, writing) are the true cultural heroes of our time because they show us a vision of our culture as it is, as it might become and as it could be in its highest and best expression. They generally make their contributions without safety nets and without the general appreciation of mass culture or the worker bee layers of corporate culture. But at the highest levels of corporate endeavor there is an understanding that art, design, vision, creativity and coloring outside the lines works in concert with the hard science problem solvers to create products that thrill and brands that return wealth to stock holders. The hard science can't exist without a person in the mix who looks from the mountain tops with a big vision of what we could do and how we might leverage it into our daily lives.
It all seems like play from the outside but from the inside true art and creative creation is a deadly serious undertaking. We will value the reality of movies far longer than we will value the outmoded technical delivery models of movies from the past. The content and style always have more lasting value than the technical details, even though they are unavoidably intertwined. That's why we value books from three hundred years ago but not the presses that created them.
But the only way to enter the creative arena is to push the door open and walk inside. Everyday. That's where the real courage comes in.
(Photos included as illustrations only. They may not be at all related to the writing other than they are styles I like).
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