Freedom to Create

“The less there was of me, the happier I got.”
(Leonard Cohen, as quoted by Pema Chödrön)

This quote had been in my mind on and off for a while now and as I was “drafting in my mind”, a variation of my thoughts arrived on Bruce Percy’s blog a couple of days ago, titled “Ego has no place in creativity” where he states: To create great art, I think we have to become a conduit for the art, rather than think of ourselves as the source.

As a landscape & nature photographer, I want to also be a conduit for nature itself, through my work — but maybe that’s the same thing as being a conduit for the art, in the end.

At first, I found this an interesting contradiction because I think as artists, we always want to express ourselves, our vision of the world, our style, and make what we create personal — and not interchangeable. For me, that also means making it less influenced by others, and that brings me back to Cole Thompson’s Photographic Celibacy of course.

My reduction of “intake” from social media and photo sharing sites comes from the realization that I’m too easily influenced by what I see. When I look at too much photography from others, it reduces my own, personal vision and ability to truly see things “my way”. So, in an adaption of Cohen’s words, the less there is of others, the more personal my photographic expression can be.

Only if the vision is highly individual, it can transport something new and reveal different layers of reality, to “get through” to an audience whose perception of the natural world and landscapes is “saturated” by viewing popular images of popular places online, on social media and photo sharing sites.

So after all, it’s not a contradiction. Stopping to pet my own “badly behaved monkey” (ego) with “Likes” and other measures of popularity by reducing my participation in this contest and my consumption of its content gives me more freedom to create. Whether I’m successful as a conduit for nature/art is a different story, I think, but this is the first step towards it. And this way, I can at least be truly happy with what I do.

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10 thoughts on “Freedom to Create”

  1. Alex, in the spirit that I fully embrace and that you did long before me, I’ll skip the Like button above and just say here, your insights and photographic art have always been an inspiration to me. I need to get back to your catalogue and order a couple more prints :)

    • Percy’s observation …” I believe that nothing is a failure. Everything teaches. You get to where you are from all the experiences you have: bad ones as well as good ones, and so the same is true in photography.” is paramount to any artistic journey. It also answers Cole Thompson’s dilemma he found when confronted with his plagiarist pursuit and its limitations.

      Thompson’s answer is to not look at other work to avoid a perception of being influenced. I question that approach. If influences force us to train and develop techniques that can transform into style and recognizable form, then do it with full intent to explore its possibilities within our own structured style.
      Sometimes it is time well spent. Other times, not so much.

      Anything else is working with the thought that “I have arrived, and have nothing new to learn.”

      • Just to clarify, I do think the availability/saturation of online photography can have a negative impact on a photographer’s walk. It needs to be regulated with care and limitations.

  2. These are very wise words indeed. I love the idea of the artist as conduit. I admit to looking at Instagram before beginning my work day though – the beauty there seems to set a better tone than the news.

  3. For me, this brought to mind the old idea of flow, something I learned about long ago in the context of writing and later learned about in the context of just about anything. The idea that you get so into what you’re doing that “you” almost disappear and everything just flows, time slows down, you lose focus on anything but what you’re doing, you lose track of time. To some extent you become that conduit and the work flows through you. It’s a great feeling when it happens. Of course, I tend to only realize it after the fact, and it’s always something I long to find again.

  4. Really enjoy this image, Alex. I wanted to Like it, but figure best to pass on the ego stroke. :) Nicely written piece.

  5. It looks like we’re on the same wavelength lately – I just posted a poem about losing oneself which was influenced by Buddhist thought and practice. I might hesitate to ask if I’m being “successful” as a conduit for nature/art and just ask if nature/art is speaking through what I’m doing. Maybe that’s just semantics. In any case, I think your choice of image to show with this is very interesting – I really like it. Nothing fancy, nothing special, no rainbows or grand vistas, just some rocks on the ground (and they’re not even gold!). Boy, do they speak nature/art! :-)
    Also — Bruce Percy talks about the ebb and flow of creativity – even one’s degree of impressionability (when exposed to others’ work) ebbs and flows, I suppose. I’ve struggled with that from time to time but if I feel it’s an issue I just stop looking for a while. But only at other similar photographers – not at the world, of course! And not at other kinds of art, which I find are a real help and inspiration. A good gallery or museum show is such a boost!


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