I just read a great blog post by a photographer I greatly admire, Nick Onken, called Expanding Your Default. In it he talks about the place we fall back to as artists when under pressure. That place where we know we can perform to a certain level. Where we feel comfortable and confident. It’s the Bigmac spot. You know exactly what it will taste (look) like and they’ll be no surprises (no creative boundaries pushed). We all need that space because without it we have no platform from which to advance and improve. But in the same way as an athlete uses his or her fitness baseline as a platform to push it to the next level. So to do we as artists need to be aware of a our creative baseline so that every time we embark on a new creative venture we know we have to push beyond that point, work harder and improve.
I’ve been shooting a lot of new imagery for my portfolio over the past few months. The shoots have all been completely different ranging from cycling down mountains to shooting in lakes and swimming pools. Sometimes I feel like I defaulted, resorting to my Bigmac spot. That’s in part because the challenges of using new lightening techniques or shooting in demanding locations mean that I was already pushing my creative skills to the limit. But I don’t like to default. I don’t like to keep composing images in the same way, use the same lighting technique, interact with my models in the same way. I’m relying on what I know is tried and tested rather than pushing myself. And that won’t increase my creativity.
So what to do? Whenever I hit this space I need an intervention, something that can inspire me, or shift my gears and in doing so empower me to a new way of seeing. Sometimes I go and find new photographers work to look at or more often the work of designers and illustrators. I love cartoonists like Justin Bilicki. Whatever it is it’s a process and its rejuvenating. Its part of the magical journey of being an artist and a professional. We can always improve and refine our vision and that is the most important thing – being aware of the process, the journey and being willing to continually evolve.