Photography is an art form whose creative efforts begin with our imagination.


Igniting Imagination is a weekly series dedicated to exploring the factors that influence our creative efforts. It is the first step of a creative process that starts with imagination and creative visualization - it starts with the photographer.



Sample  Installments


#8:  Perception: Key or Potato


   Every link in the photographic chain, from the photographer first coming onto a scene to the viewer of a completed image, is influenced by subjective observation. In Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland a book with no pictures sends a dreaming Alice into a room filled with locked doors. A gold key located on a solid glass table fits the smallest of the doors hidden behind a curtain. While still large, Alice opens the door and peers through what is essentially a camera at a lovely garden that she can see but otherwise cannot enter. "...and even if my head would go through," thought poor Alice, "it would be very little use without my shoulders." With that declarative Alice is anything but poor as she has intuited the richness of the photographic experience.

    We have come to understand that a photographic image is not the same as direct perception thanks to the complications that arise from a whole spectrum of factors ranging from our culture, education, and personal experiences. Mental imaging, whether by the photographer or viewer, is subject to this phenomenon. Ebenezer Scrooge perceived the ghost of his partner Jacob Marley not as a disembodied spirit that was very much present standing in front of him but rather as "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more gravy than grave about you, whatever you are!"

    Whether you are creating or viewing images you must understand how they appeal imaginatively to you. Are they golden keys or undone potatoes? Only you can say but the answer says much about how you will perceive that which you visualize during image creation or view in finished form. 




#62:  Airplanes

    A budding photographer asked me the other day why I put so much emphasis on the role imagination takes in photography. He indicated that, as he liked to shoot nature, all he had to do was walk outside and Nature provided him all the material he needed to start taking pictures. He did not need to imagine anything as it was all right there for the taking.

     “Airplanes” I simply answered. Taking a cue from his puzzled expression I explained further by paraphrasing Mr. Spock. “For everything there is a beginning.” As children we often imagined what it would be like if we could fly like birds. Our ancestors did the same and many seized their imaginations and strove to turn them into reality - making something from nothing - which ultimately led to the invention of the airplane.

    Everything around us, from shoelaces to computers got its start as something imagined. Whether we are aware of it or not we do the same thing in photography. It is just another outcome of our desire to create which had its start with imagination. Imagination is something totally different from reality (or at least how we are used to perceiving it) and generally this is not a bad thing. This is because our imaginations allow us to give birth to a new reality – something we create (be it airplanes or images). Before something comes into existence in the physical world, it is already there in our inner world, in the form of imagination. If we are in tune with our imagination, we see the dawn of inspiration and within inspiration lays the desire to create.

    The act of photography is the act of creating a new reality based upon our own interpretations. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not our creative efforts all have their beginnings with imagination. This is why it is so important to stay in touch with our ever-working imaginations. The more we are in tune with it the more it inspires us, fuels our passion, and drives our creativity – a true wealth without measure.

     Now speaking of airplanes, what if…?


#125:  Contemplation

   To say that we get excited and emotionally charged when we come upon a scene that almost demands that we start working the camera is probably a gross understatement. When confronted with such situations we inevitably want to dive right in and start composing, metering, and focusing. It is almost like we quit thinking about what we are doing and simply react to the situation letting our instincts lead us through the production of an image. On many levels this is really not such a bad thing. There are many situations that call for this sort of image making because if we stop and really think about what we want to do the moment is gone forever.

    On the other end of that creative spectrum is what I have come to be considered contemplative photography. We now more readily accept the premise that photography is as much, if not more, an interpretive rather than a documentarian art. Our perception of reality is changing as well. Our creative efforts are founded in the way we react to outside stimulus and contemplative photography is a method that allows the opportunity to reinterpret reality. After all what is reality? To paraphrase a passage from Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”:


“ - reality would seem to be something very erratic and undependable – now to be bound in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper, now in a daffodil in the sun. It overwhelms one walking home beneath the starts and makes the silent world more real than the world of speech. Sometimes, too, it seems to dwell in shapes too far away for us to discern what their nature is. But whatever reality touches, it fixes and makes permanent.


    Taking the time at the beginning of the creative process to reflect on your responses and emotions provides the opportunity to see and photograph the world in new and fresh ways. Contemplation is a method that will allow you to reveal richness and beauty that is normally hidden from view. It brings you closer with the visual world allowing you to capture the beauty of shadows, the elegance of lines, the clash of colors, or the soft blending of tones that would be missed by the average passer-by.













#172:  Fooling Your Subconscious

     There is no doubt about it, when it comes to making decisions, the human brain can be quite irrational. We can thank our subconscious for some of this as it is highly influenced by past memories, assumptions, and just down right wrong thinking. It is our subconscious that strongly influences our awareness and, in turn, our creativity.

     When it comes to photography we all make mistakes. Some we are aware of and can use them to help us learn and improve. Others occur on a subconscious level so that we are not even aware that we made them or that our thinking was influenced because of it. Understanding some of the forces that can influence our thinking process is the first step in learning to avoid them. It is not easy but if you can you will find you’re your creativity and imagination will blossom into new areas you never thought possible. Here is one of those forces.

     As photographers we tend to gravitate to subjects and locations we like. It is an act so natural to us that the action is self-propagating to the point where we can begin to limit our photographic energies to pursue the same subjects, scenes, and locations to the exclusion of other photographic opportunities. The result is a narrowing of our ability to visualize on a broader arena and we end up with creative tunnel vision. We tend to further reinforce this predilection by surrounding ourselves with others who share the same passions and beliefs.  

     The rapid growth in what is now called iphoneography is a classic example of this phenomenon. Blogging sites, websites, camera groups, and workshops have sprouted like mushrooms after a rain storm and are comprised of diehard followers who have ended up excluding other types of photography in favor of this new form. While there is nothing wrong with embracing new art forms the danger is in the exclusion it can create.

     This phenomenon is called confirmation bias and is a form of frequency illusion. This is an example of frequency illusion. While working in the woods you come across a spot lit chipmunk sitting on a stump. It is such a strong scene that your memory forms an impression of it. Now as you travel around the woods you are suddenly aware there are chipmunks all over the place. It is a passive experience where our brains seek out information that is familiar to us but we believe there’s been an actual increase in the number of chipmunks in the area. Frequency illusion influences the way we see as well as influencing what we see. A friend of mind here in Lake Tahoe has become so fixated with rock formations along the shoreline that they do not even see the field of wildflowers growing around them.

     Confirmation bias is a more active form of the same experience. It happens when we proactively seek out information that confirms our existing likes, preferences, and beliefs. The danger happens when they become so intertwined with how we approach our world and our photography that we tend to avoid trying new things, going to new locations, or photographing other subject types because they can cause harm to what is established and familiar.

     In short, don’t become too attached to your assumptions as they can trick your subconscious which effects the way you view your world. After all it was only some 400 years ago we still thought the earth was the center of the universe.







© 2002-2016, Mark Lissick/Wildlight Nature Photography

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