Those words were first written the best part of 3,000 years ago, albeit in Hebrew. King Solomon’s sentiment holds true in photography. Photographers, like all artists, struggle with finding inspirations and techniques that will make their work original. They try something new and discover it has been done before. However, being creative is about building on what we already know, what we have seen and what others have already tried.
Creativity comes from mixing ideas that already exist. Take for example The Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was not just a random combining of musical styles and techniques.
The album had a coherence that worked because of the musical inventiveness of The Beatles and it’s often considered the most influential rock album of all time, despite the title track and its reprise being the record’s only rock songs.
The rest are a mishmash of other styles: music hall pastiches, ballads and experimentation. Then, like folk music, much of the music is a commentary on British culture and everyday attitudes.
In turn, that contrasts the overall psychedelic atmosphere of the album. The creative mixing of these existing ideas into a single concept made it become something new and special. Yes, it took the genius of the Fab Four to do that, but it was that jumble of disparate influences mixed in imaginative way that made it great.
Can the same can be applied to photography?
Although we might have perfected everything from abstracts to the zone system, to be truly creative we can try finding a way of expressing ourselves by working out which elements fit together to tell greater stories than I saw a beautiful sunset, here is a flower or this is my sister. Just like with music, mixing elements together in surprising ways brings originality.
A great deal more overlaps photography and music besides creativity.
Balance, harmony, brightness, contrast and telling a story all occur in both art forms. Furthermore, music and photographs are both composed.
A great deal can be learned from other arts too. Which artist do you like? I read in a biography of the great street photographer Henri Cartier Bresson that he was influenced by the surrealist artists such as René Magritte. Ever tried emulating photographically the work of an artist that you enjoy?
Creativity doesn’t come naturally. It takes time and effort. The American entertainer Eddie Cantor famously said it took him 20-years to become an overnight success. The secret is to practice, practice, practice and then practice some more. Don’t get stuck with single techniques or subjects, play around with them, and see what works well together.