The Cranks for Creativity: Why and How?

Rain over a forrest in black and white

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
| Friedrich Nietzsche

Why and how? Many people start a new year with their individual resolutions. This is an old tradition to change undesired traits or behaviors, to start and continue good habits and to set and accomplish certain objectives. Although many people fail to keep them long, they often repeat the tradition every next year. A year in our life seems to be a good measurable unit and New Year’s Eve is a significant marker in our western world’s calendar with the chance to become a turning point. What are your resolutions?

I may have a suggestion for you. With the conditions we currently have in early 2021, it may make sense to focus more on the “why” of your photography and less on the “how”. Why’s that?

About the “how”: As photographers, we have a tendency to look at our craft in a technical way, because photography is a technologically inspired medium. By emphasizing the how, we are able to develop and improve our craft. There are so many tutorials to be found online that it is easy to find new skills we haven’t yet mastered. These days, current trends seem to be applying intentional camera movement (ICM) or going more abstract and even into the macro photography world. Tempted by the quality of work from others that we see through international photography competitions, magazines and through the diffusion of visual work on social media, many photographers reproduce the beauty of others. Inspired by new trends and new crafts, they reproduce, because it is easy. The “how” enables us to do something, to discover whole new worlds, techniques, skills and creative processes. The tutorials and guides are out there. It is palpable.

However, there is a fallacy in this process. On their path, photographers discover that even if they reproduce the beauty of the same landscape, frustration arises. Even with a beautiful result of that new learned process, the outcome feels soul-less, almost empty. The best possible outcome of “how” is just a “good” photograph. Frustration emerges, because individuals recognize that it needs more. All these methods serve a context and they only work in certain contexts, not in others. Individuals realize that they executed a motivation they never had. A non-existing objective. They create a solution to a non-existing problem. It lacks purpose.

About the “why”: The “why” is about the objective of the work. It is symbiotic to the how. They both form a relationship about thinking and making. None should exist without the other. The problem is that the “why” is invisible and intangible. And individuals tend to follow the path of executing the tangible. It is easier to just do and stop thinking. However, execution never exists without strategy, does it?

Now, things are getting interesting. Photographers argue that they act and execute steered by an inner emotion or trigger. They react. Expressive photography mirrors the idea of the uniqueness of the artist who captured and created the photograph. It is a transition process to make the intangible emotion a tangible photograph. This however assumes that there is something inside that triggers the whole creative process. Some may say that this is a hidden source of personal style. If this is true and if this exist, then there should be no need to think any further and spend any thoughts about the “why”, right? No, I don’t think so.

Personal style can never be the starting point nor the objective. It is however the result of our thought processes that let emotions emerge. The photographs will neither have a substantial message nor a “soul”, if we don’t allow ourselves to go through meaningful experiences, to think and reflect, letting ourselves be inspired by other forms of creation, by philosophy, or by fiction and science fiction. It is basically the life we live and the questions we ask that fill our work with soul.

In consequence, the creative process needs a continuous dialogue of the artists with themselves and the work, and not a pure focus on the technical craft. Therefore, the best education is offering answers to the many “why” questions along the creative process that are in between the initial trigger to make the work and the final outcome. Craft needs purpose.

What’s your why?


Related other articles from my blog:
– About Stillness
– About Success in Photography and Life
– Creating a Personal Style or Finding Identity?
– The Unassuming Traveller