This fall I’ve made a few too many “pretty” images. Well executed, yet creatively lacking.

For the past few years I have been striving to make more creative and personally expressive images, those that say as much (and ideally more) about me, my thoughts and way of seeing than the subject or scene itself. While pulling together images recently for a presentation I was working on I noticed that the season in which I had the fewest creative photos was fall. I didn’t give it much thought at the time. Then, a colleague and fellow photographer mentioned that in some ways fall is the most difficult season for him to make more creative images. I knew exactly what he meant and was interested to find I was not alone. But, why is that? What is it about fall that makes us struggle with making creative photos?

Making creative images that go beyond a literal, objective recording of the scene requires looking deeper and seeing beyond the obvious. As Albert Szent-Gyorgyi is quoted as saying, “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” I think more than any season fall presents an overabundance of photographic opportunities, all of them so beautiful that it becomes very difficult to ignore. They’re almost like a siren song, they can’t be denied. The scenes are low-hanging fruit, there for the plucking. However, in falling prey to capturing the easy and obvious shot I forgo looking deeper and fail to make images of greater meaning and personal expression. I think it’s precisely for this reason that winter is the season from which I have created many of my most favorite and creative images. Winter is often stark and not particularly beautiful, finding interesting and creative images requires effort and time, there is little low-hanging fruit to distract and tempt me.

As with all temptation the answer, of course, is discipline. I must remind myself of the reasons why I make photos and what is important to me. Making images that are literal recreations of the scene as observed are what I hope to avoid. It sounds easy, but knowing that that beautiful scene would make an excellent calendar image or magazine cover it becomes much harder to pass up. Even simpler than that, those types of scenes almost beg to be captured as a memento of their beauty. Many would say (and have said to me) why not do both? Some do, I choose not to. But, that’s a discussion for another time. In the meantime I will strive to make the most honest images I can and not be tempted by the obvious. For me, creative images should not be made in the absence of obvious scenes, but rather in spite of them.


2 thoughts on “Temptation”

  1. “Why not do both?” My guess is because it’s almost impossible to do both because in order to go after the more difficult work that is more than just eye candy you have to forego the other. I don’t know just how to say this. Your idea of discipline gets at it, but it’s more than just that. The work can’t be diluted without also diluting the worker. Ugh. I still can’t say it, but I get what you’re saying.

    How about this: the eye candy trains you to be lazy. You’ve done all that low hanging fruit stuff and are at the point where you can teach others how to capture that and more. In your own work, in what Donald Hall called Life Work, you have to push to the higher levels or else there’s just no point in going on.


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