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    by Jorge Luis Borges, Sean Kernan
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Teaching and Lecturing
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Thursday
Apr072011

ASMP Strictly Business 3 wrap-up

I  gave a set of presentations at each of the 3 conferences ASMP held for professional photographers held around the country this Winter. My talks were about Creativity, and we did a lot of on-your-feet exercises to get the creative process working. I really wanted to use the facetime for doing rather than talking, so I wrapped up with an email to participants. And here it is.

First let me say what a great time I had with all of you. I am stimulated all over again.

Of course, I realize that asking creative people to do creative things is like rolling stones down hill. Much harder to get us to order our archiving or make cold calls. Those are two of my Achilles heels and they are as bad as anyone’s.

That said, though, while I urge you all to return to creative work as part of your job, it occurs to me that there’s an advantage to having that work be something other than photography, at least for a while.

Here’s the reason: I think of creativity as a large room—perhaps even the room we were born in—one with many doors. We chose the photography door years ago, and did so because it worked particularly well for us. But that door can get clogged over time with misunderstood ideas, things that we didn’t quite hear right, false starts, and even some things that worked out perfectly. So what was unencumbered fun turns into the work of pushing on this stuck door.

The thing is that there are other doors—the writing door, the music door, the drawing door, the poetry door, to name just a few—and because we have no investment in them, we can simply push on them and they swing open. And then we are back in that creative space and we can just romp around and get our batteries recharged. Then we can just walk over to the photography door and quite easily open it from the inside.

So that is why I suggest that you might want to do a bit of creative work in some area other than photography, something you have no investment in. It is not about actually becoming an actor or a singer or a poet but about experiencing the pleasures and discomforts of creativity. Then, when you dig back into photography it can regain that unanchored quality that it held for you in the first place.

I realized some time ago that, the kind of thing we did can be a bit hard to explain up front, but it quickly seems obvious after doing it. I take that to mean that it really doesn’t function verbally but gets to some kind of natural knowledge that is in us.

Another point is that once you get things moving again, it will need some practice to really claim it and expand it. There are a number of ways to go at it, and I have set some out below. You will think of others, and it matters less which you do than that you do something…steadily.

If you want to challenge yourself  photographically, I have found that what works for me is to go to someplace that is strange, new, a place that I can’t really manage or control. This is why I was so happy to stumble across the Kampala Boxing Club. I have made several trips there simply because I love the way it pulls the rug out from under me.  You can pictures on my website, if you’re interested, and also the bare beginnings of a video here.

 Going on from this point:

Here is a list of a few assignments and investigations that you might want to try going forward. I have done a lot of these in classes over time, and they are quite wonderful to do together. They are all designed to lead you, not to some completed goal but to movement. If you just move, you get someplace, and if you stay aware of what you’re doing you’ll be able to claim the movement and the results.

 1. Make a notebook, using it particularly to jot down images you can’t stop to take, and also things that catch your attention but are not necessarily photographic.

2. Translate. That is, take one of your best photos, or one of someone else’s, and redo it in some transformative way, saying the same thing but differently.

3. Write down the story that emerges from someone else’s photo. Treat it as the beginning of a short story or movie, and extend it through time beyond the image that the other photograph shows. Use your imagination.

4. Take a picture you like, and then make a picture that rhymes with it visually. Don’t use the same subject matter, but look for similarity of contrast, shapes, color. Put them side by side and see how they enhance each other. Then do another, and so on.

5. Here’s one from the artist Larry Rivers; Do something. Then do something to that. Then do something to that.

6. Photograph the same thing—person, theme, subject—again and again. Make a project and return to it over and over, extending your first impulse. Let the work reveal your vision, instead of trying to impose your vision. Let the process tell you where to go, with your pictures as footprints.

7. Learn to enjoy the plateaus as much as the peaks, and to enjoy them for what they are. The work is done on the plateaus and manifests on the peaks. They are the same thing, and we live on both.

8. Make a working schedule that is regular and rhythmical, and don’t wait for inspiration. Take writers as your example. Inspiration arises out of doing, rather than causing the doing.

9. Write a description of a place you’ve never been. (Italo Calvino wrote a whole book called Invisible Cities, in which Marco Polo describes imaginary cities to Kublai Khan).

9.  Go to a part of town you don’t know. Walk into a strange bar. Order an unfamiliar drink. Pull out some paper, and without speaking or asking any questions, write a short biography of someone at the bar. Don’t write it well. Just follow the process. See where it goes. 

Above all, stay awake!

Thanks again for all the fun,

 Sean

 

 

 

 

 

 

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    ASMP Strictly Business 3 wrap-up - Journal - Sean Kernan: creativity...and photography
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    ASMP Strictly Business 3 wrap-up - Journal - Sean Kernan: creativity...and photography
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    ASMP Strictly Business 3 wrap-up - Journal - Sean Kernan: creativity...and photography
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    ASMP Strictly Business 3 wrap-up - Journal - Sean Kernan: creativity...and photography
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    ASMP Strictly Business 3 wrap-up - Journal - Sean Kernan: creativity...and photography
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    ASMP Strictly Business 3 wrap-up - Journal - Sean Kernan: creativity...and photography

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