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Look to your own life and world for photographic inspiration

By January 2, 2018 Photography No Comments

Most people take their inspirations from what’s new and different, looking outward, beyond their experience and familiar surroundings.


Sabine Maqe, Tiniteqilaaq, Greenland, 2000 by Jacob Aue Sobol.

This is completely natural. We’re conditioned to find stimulation in the unfamiliar. Exotic is the catchword, and it’s a word that is always used positively, almost an advertising slogan in itself. It’s standard vocabulary in, among others, the travel industry.

However, as in all things creative, it’s good to look in the opposite direction as well, beyond the exotic to the mundane. While this might seem counterintuitive, your own home, world, and life can provide much interesting material. It’s totally available and at hand, and even though you see a great deal of it, most other people have not, so there’s the benefit of exclusivity.

Yes, there are pitfalls and issues. If the result of shooting scenes from your home life ends up looking like simple family snaps like millions of others, that would not be so good. One way to overcome this is to work across the spectrum of visual skills: composition, lighting, timing, and so on—to li the imagery beyond the snapshot. Another is to make a story out of your shooting, or to assemble it around a theme of some kind. In other words, conceptualise it.

The main issue for most of us is a natural reluctance to expose our private lives to public gaze. Embarrassment leads the list here, both for ourselves and for friends and family. Just think of examples from the world of literature, of authors who bare all, even when fictionalising. It may come across as brave, foolish, or just plain thick- skinned, and inconsiderate. Making your life into art is a big step, not least because the whole thing may fall flat artistically. Tracey Emin’s bed isn’t for everyone (actually it seems to have been for quite a lot of people), nor is the classic here’s-my-strange-life-in-photographs, Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency. If you’re okay with those examples, you probably don’t need this path to encourage you. If not, there’s the option of going oblique: Just photograph traces and mementos. Still life and detail, for example, can sometimes tell as much, in a quieter way, as full-on family encounters of the exposed kind.

Michael Freeman is Michael Freeman’s guide that provides the reader with 50 “paths” they can explore to think about taking photos, looking at subjects from cliché to zen, so you will be able to hit the right point in surprise, originality, insight and execution every time.

Fifty Paths to Creative Photography, Michael FreemanFifty Paths to Creative Photography
Michael Freeman

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