Ten Things About ‘Creativity’

Canyon Floor, Zion National Park, UT. Winter is my favorite time for exploring the southwest.

Canyon Floor, Zion National Park, UT. Winter is my favorite time for exploring the southwest.

Occasionally we find ourselves in an argument of whether or not ‘creativity’ can be taught, or does it have to be born within us? We read all about creativity and how important it is. We award little statuettes to really “creative” people. Creativity is blessed, cursed, chased, obsessed over, ignored, beaten down and vindicated.

It is a word so over used that we mention Stravinsky and Lady GaGa in the same breathless discussion of creativity. Schools want to nurture it (which of coursd is pure bullshit). Companies seek it (also bull-bullshit). Poets have it in spades (bull… oh never mind).

But have you ever tried to simply define it? Being ‘creative’ can also be cruel, savage, inhumane and anarchistic. Creativity can mean simply doing something different… so what? If I take the garbage out with my left hand instead of my right hand, as I do every day, is that “creative”? A photographer takes pix of dog-doo on bright backgrounds – is that ‘creative’ just because no one else has done it?

I rarely think about creativity, as I long ago realized something about creativity that made me wary. Creativity claims to be your buddy, your pal… your roommate along the path to making cool shit. But creativity rarely keeps up his end of the bargain. He leaves the place a mess, hits on your girlfriend, steals your money and drinks your beer.

And then one day, ol ‘creativity’ waltzes out the door destined to befriend that kid down the street, or the woman downstairs. He hasn’t even paid for his half of the electricity. You are left with an empty feeling, a loss of ‘mojo’ that develops into a long, long despair.

Bastard.

So here are a few things I know about creativity. And believe me, after being in the ‘creative’ business for nearly my entire working life, I know this guy. Here’s the skinny…

Ten things I Know About Creativity:

1. Creativity is not something you bestow on yourself, but something that others bestow upon you. Creativity to the creative person is simply the way they work. Calling yourself ‘creative’ may not make it is so, and in fact, I find it runs pretty much the opposite. Every time I see the title “creative photographer” I want to mutter under my breath, “says who”?

2. Creativity is not a method or a system or a learned behavior. It is inherent in all of us, but few of us let it be what it is. Whether out of fear or laziness, self pity or arrogance, ignorance or infinite exploration, we eschew creativity and choose the safer, well worn paths. Ignorance of creativity is a very smart way to get along in some circles. Congress for instance.

3. Creativity cannot be taught. It doesn’t have to be. It only needs to be unleashed. Getting out of its way is the most difficult of challenges. We are not conditioned to allow creativity to go unchecked. From our earliest age we must walk in a straight line, color inside the lines, sit at our desks, study what some older person deems is important to us. Creativity and school is like a fish with a bicycle.

4. Why do we automatically consider creativity good? Over the years many madmen have done a pretty good job at creating some of the most heinous acts ever perpetrated on other humans. Murderous monsters are creative in the ways they trap their prey… while eluding capture. Creativity can be horrific when applied to horrific things. Creativity has no soul other than the one wielding it. Creativity is not good or bad, it is simply its own person, and he does what he wants. We allow him to run free or channel his wanderings and misadventures. Our call, not his.

5. Creativity can be within specific genres and may not necessarily spill across the entire spectrum of a persons life. One may be incredibly talented in music, but not very good at drawing. A sculptor may be able to see and reveal an incredible masterpiece, while a concert level pianist may not be able to see anything but a piece of rock. This is not good or bad creativity… it just is creativity in different spaces of humanity.

6. Creativity is shown simply and honestly… and not in a good or bad notion. One may be very very creative and turn out pure shit in the eyes of the world. A 3 year old with a canvas and 56 paints could have the time of their lives… being creative and exploding color across the field in ways NO ONE has ever seen.

So what?

Creativity does not necessarily create masterpieces. Sometimes creativity creates shit. And then he stands there smugly demanding that we LOVE what he did… it was so, you know, creative.

7. Work that is derivative can be creative, if the act of derivation ends with something that we think is worthy. It can also end on a bad note if we think it is not as good as the original. We see creativity usually on the backside, not the front. We see the results not the action, and we rarely see the prelude. Sure “Batman” was pretty creative back when Marvel was cranking them out and we were spending a quarter to keep up with the story. But these days, they are simply worn out ‘toons with two hundred million dollar budgets. Boring, predictable and lame.

8. Creativity is a tool. Creativity is an honorarium. Creativity is a joke. Creativity is divine. If Lady Gaga is creative, then what would we call Eliot Carter? Stravinsky? Coltrane? If P-Diddy is creative, what do we call the hordes of rappers that came before and after that sound the same… identical even, to his work? If Copland was creative, how do we explain it to someone who has never heard his music? How about explaining music to someone who has never heard music before… ever?

Now that would be creative.

9. Creativity is over rated. We have turned anything a bit different into “creativity at its finest”. If building the space shuttle and twitter are both creative, is there any difference given to the importance of the creation? Can “Cats” be considered as creative as “Othello?” Is a child like presentation of a Chopin Etude be considered as creative as a performance by a prodigy – or indeed the creator himself? If we consider creativity to be some mark on a ledger or tick on a measuring stick, then we have to be able to quantify it.

Go ahead… give it a go. Quantify creativity.

Good luck with that.

10. Creativity is not definable. Not in any way I can comprehend. And yet I know creativity when I see it, hear it, taste it. We all can agree that we know creative people, and yet we may be somewhat dismayed when we discover who each of us believe to be creative.

I rarely think of creativity as something I want to achieve. It is never how I discuss my own work. If my work is creative, others will note and if it is not, then it will be noted as well. To seek it wastes time, as it cannot be found. It only reveals itself when it is ready, and when the moment is right.

Our job is to make more opportunities for creativity to be revealed. We do that though practice, and study, and work, and effort, and critiques (good and bad) and friends who are not afraid to call you on the work, and enemies that make you defend, or retreat, or rethink. Creativity is a pain in the ass. It has no guarantee of being revealed. There is no magical criteria (10,000 hours my ass), no ‘aha’ moment, no grace to be bestowed. It can leave you waiting at the alter after promising you a thousand times that it loved you. It is heartless and loving, cruel and kind, manic and patient.

And often it is disguised as something else. Something more familiar than trendy, more ethereal than processed. Sometimes it is disguised as hard work.

Creativity means something to each of us, but it is rarely something that I think we should be chasing. Rather we should be chasing the near perfection that comes from working whatever we do to the heart of it. From shooting every day. From being relentless critics to stalwart defenders of our work. Creativity needs nothing from us, but we give our all to achieve it.

Sometimes we are awake to see creativity arrive, but we rarely know its name nor recognize its power. Most of the time we are working on our work so hard we never see it arrive, we couldn’t care less what we call it and we never remember to acknowledge it. We just keep working.

So creativity sits on our shoulders for a while.

Resting in his comfortable by-the-month apartment, putting his feet on the furniture and parking his car on our lawn

But you can be sure about one thing… creativity can be a mercurial and disloyal pal while he camps on your shoulders. He will come over for BBQ and Corona’s, flirt with your girl and hang around long enough to borrow your lawnmower and never return it when he leaves.

You see, creativity rarely moves in, buys a house and puts in a pool.

(BTW, creativity comes in all genders… mine happens to be an aging hippy who still loves film.)

 

Portraits Inspired by Jeanloup Sieff

One of the photographers we are studying in the 8 Week Portrait class is Jeanloup Sieff. This master photographer created images in almost every genre from portraits and nudes to landscape and commercial.

The idea is not to copy the work of each of the photographers we study, but to learn about what they did and find influences and inspiration. The photographers in the portrait workshop share with you their images:

Books by Jeanloup Sieff:

These photos are sweeet!

The project 52 group looked at photographing sweets and chocolate this week. Some very tasty images were shot by the gang. I figured since it is Friday, I should let you in on some of them.

Bob Knill

Bob Knill

Cathy Nance

Cathy Nance

Julie LHeureaux

Julie LHeureaux

Reed Waters

Reed Waters

Justin Caridi

Justin Caridi

Kelly Hicks

Kelly Hicks

Darla Hueske

Darla Hueske

p52 sweets2

Steve Gray

Steve Gray

Sergio Fialho

Sergio Fialho

Mark Maynard

Mark Maynard

An Open Letter to People Who Write Open Letters

Sometimes we get stuck in the mire of our own making. Thank goodness we can find a pump around to dredge us out of the muck.

Sometimes we get stuck in the mire of our own making. Thank goodness we can find a pump around to dredge us out of the muck.

Last week an open letter dispute erupted on social media. That could be said of just about any week on social media, but this time it was about a photographer and a band who wanted to use a photograph.

I found myself intrigued but after reading both letters I felt more confused and chagrined at the situation than angry. It was a minor tempest in a teapot… one of those very small kids teapots because, let’s face it, not too many people even care about such things as this.

The photographer fired off a note after being contacted by the band for the free use of an image in a book they were doing.

Enter fireworks.

The photographer’s letter was one of outrage, demanding to be paid for the use of his photograph and he makes a very cogent point. Without being paid, we can not continue to make images for bands or anyone for that matter. It is what we do, and as such it should garner more respect.

The band fired back with claims that it is too expensive to create a photobook if they are going to pay royalties to every image. As well, they figured that since they already purchased the photograph, they believed they should be able to use it.

Sigh.

Let’s look at some realities:

The band:

“Any refusal of permission would be respectfully accepted and no further questions asked.”
– Garbage in open letter to Pat Pope.

A photobook with 200 photographs in it; at $350 per license, that comes to $70,000. The band claims that is too expensive for them to spend to do a book. They are most probably right. By the time you figure printing and shipping and distribution and design and copywriting and incidentals, the books are going to be very, very expensive. And then the price has to double at the bookstores so the stores can make money. Could be a run of 7000 books could cost $40 a piece. That comes to $280,000 upfront for the band. The $40 book then has to have a retail price of $80 a piece to allow for it to be sold… breaking even for the band.

I have written books that are sold in major bookstores so I can speak from experience when I say NO photobook for $80 is going to sell out quickly… if at all. If the print run was a thousand books, it could sell out in a year or so. But it would also be around $125 per book… so maybe all bets are off.

End game: The band is right.

It is too expensive to produce if the royalties are to be paid. Perhaps they should figure out a sponsorship or move on. It is a cold fact of life that many things we want to do are simply too expensive to do.

That is NOT a value judgement, it is a simple fact of business.

Or find photographers who will give you pictures for use without a royalty… which is what they were doing.

I think the band learned that because they previously purchased a license, it does not hold over to any future uses.

They also learned that a simple request, made in good faith could unleash a shit-storm that would drag their name through the mud. I guess that is a good lesson for us all. The social media mobs are unforgiving and – really – not very bright. They react the same way the immensely base Piranha do… form a gang and destroy.

The photographer:

“I’m a firm believer that musicians and artists deserve to be paid for their work. I’ll sign any petition that’s out there supporting that concept, and even when I choose to stream rather than buy, I’m one of the fans of your band that will pay for a premium service because I think you should be paid. That’s my point of view. Is it yours? When you think about artists being paid, does that include photographers? Do you think “content providers”, whatever the hell that means, deserve to be paid for their work, or is that a special category for musicians? If I want to release a music album, can I use your music in it if I give you a “proper credit”?”
— Pat Pope in open letter to band Garbage.

Wow. That is quite an angry response to a simple request.

I think it could have been handled another way. Going public without even contacting the band was, in my opinion, a little cheesy. But I am willing to cut some slack because we have all become a bit tense over big names using our shit for free. It isn’t right.

But neither is focusing your anger on the wrong perpetrators.

Being angry at the band, who simply asked, was misguided and off base. Of course they wanted to use it for free. We all want free stuff and we ask for it when we can. No harm. A simple “No, it would need to be licensed first” would have seemed more professional to me.

Nothing wrong with saying no. NO. It is easy… try it. “No.”

See. Easy.

However, the real problem makers in this whole debacle were never singled out for his ire, his rage, his being really perturbed. The perpetrators who caused this entire calamity were even pointed out by the band. They were identified and STILL no words of scathing indignation was turned toward them.

Who were they?

“We were so grateful and delighted to learn that most of the photographers were happy for their images to be seen in conjunction with the telling of our story.”
– Garbage in response to Pat Pope

If you want to be mad at someone, just read the credits in the book when it comes out. Be mad at those who complied, not with those that requested. Being mad at someone who genuinely asked for permission first is – well – it’s offputting to me.

And since so many others said YES, that could signal that the majority indeed support the free use (whether it is right or wrong is not the point here). Be mad at them, if you like.

Or maybe choose not be be mad at all. Perhaps the photographers saw fit to have their images in the book for reasons we may never know. Or should know. Or even have a right to know. It is their property to do with what they want.

My story is not your story… don’t try to write the paragraphs your way.

The real conundrum is where the line gets crossed between supporting one another and exploiting one another. It is not a fine line, it is wide and gray and sometimes hard to see. But it is there.

All in all it was great fun for the mobs… but it held little out for those of us who are wanting to get a little more serious about the dialog that needs to happen regarding usage of IP.

Until that happens… rock on, dudes (and dudettes).

 

Peter Lindbergh: Images of Women II

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PETER LINDBERGH: IMAGES OF WOMEN II

Lindbergh is one of the most popular photographers we study in the 8 Week Portrait Class. His work is simply brilliant and so many of the students have an immediate affinity to his authentic, intimate way of shooting.

His new book, Images of Women II is now available at Amazon. I bit the bullet and ordered one this morning (they are not cheap) and am now anxiously awaiting delivery… Monday they say. WooHoo.

If you are a people, portrait, fashion, or beauty photographer, this book may be the inspiration you need whenever you need it. The work is not over-produced or photoshopped illustrative. Straight up photography of some of the most beautiful women on the planet… some wearing impossibly expensive clothes.

Some not wearing clothes at all.

From Amazon:

“Internationally-revered German fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh revolutionized his metier with iconic images of the 1980s supermodels. From his beginnings, he has sought to capture the personality, character, and identity of fashion models, not just the glitter and glamour. In 1997 he presented his seminal book Images of Women comprising his work of the 1980s and 1990s. As a sequel, Lindbergh now presents Images of Women II featuring the highlights of his work created between 2005 and 2014: fashion photographs, nudes, and portraits of today’s actresses and models such as Milla Jovovich, Isabella Rossellini, Monica Bellucci, Jamie King, Emmanuelle Seigner, Tilda Swinton, Kate Moss, Elisa Sednaoui, Jessica Chastain, Hye Jung Lee–and the occasional man, such as Hollywood grand seigneur Kirk Douglas.”

Images from the book.