Where are you finding inspiration for your work? There is no right or wrong answer. Have you ever given it any thought, many photographers haven't. I have asked this question to many over the years. I hear a multitude of answers, other photographers, music, current events, literature, spiritual life, nature, family, life experiences, to name a few. Inspiration can come from a myriad of places. If you're not really sure and looking to take your photography to the next level, let me share with you where I have found inspiration that has guided my work throughout my career.
I was introduced to art at a very young age, like most children, but mine may be a little different. My family had little money, crayons and colored pencils were the extent of the mediums I had to work with, often nibbled down to a point I could barely hold them between my fingers. Entertainment was something you created at home with family. Going to an amusement park or taking a family vacation was out of the question. One of the few places I could visit, walk to and affordable was my local art museum, a place open to all. This was the place I could see the world, visit a time in history, learn about how others thought and viewed the world, and a place I could contemplate about the past and the future. It allowed me to escape even for a brief moment. I visited the museum alone on most excursions, something I would never reveal to my friends out of fear of being labeled as weird. Museums aren't typically places a young teenager would voluntarily visit on a regular basis. My many visits had such a profound affect on my early life that I took several art history classes in college and have visited many art museums throughout my life. I make the effort every time I visit a city to visit their museums and galleries. Many great ones I have visited, spending hours studying the paintings, etchings, drawings, and sculptures. Musee du Louvre in Paris, Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to name a few.
Life experiences and the tools we use play a role in our work
Much of my work today has evolved from my own life experiences but there are still influences, especially my photo illustrations, that come from years of viewing and studying art. Unfortunately, when people pay to have photography created for commercial purposes there's a certain criteria that has to be met with little room to add a touch of Van Gogh in the work. I have given a lot of thought to where photography has come and where it is going. With digital technology and the ever-changing developments in the software tools we use, it is often a challenge to keep up. I find some photography today absolutely fascinating. The photographers creating this incredible work are mastering the use of this new technology while others are struggling to keep up. When this happens their work often becomes mundane and often passed up.
Photography is an interesting medium. Those who keep pace with new techniques and technology continue to create stunning work even when working the same subjects and places that have been photographed a million times. This is especially true with nature and outdoor photographers. To get noticed today, one must have the desire and motivation to learn and master the new and evolutionary improvements in our tools. Long gone are the days of shooting a picture and showing it off. Today the picture is nothing more than a building block, or foundation to build upon. Processing is where the photo comes to life, this is what separates the exceptional from the average. And yes, there are exceptions to this when extraordinary conditions or events occur.
Art history is a fascinating subject. I understand many people, including some photographers, have no interest in the subject. When I lead photography tours I sometimes ask participants to visit a museum with me. There is always one who is reluctant to go, but once I get them inside they are often the ones most inspired by the works. I am no expert in art history, but having some knowledge and understanding of the art movements and the artists of each period does spark some creative guidance from time to time. I encourage every photographer to take a look at art history. I don't think the Stone Age or Mesopotamian periods will generate much spark but maybe starting with the early and high Renaissance period. Most people will recognize many of these great names, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.
When I analyze a painting, I look at brush work (texture), how they used light and shadows, color, lines, proportion, perspective and composition. I start from afar and slowly work my way closer to the painting as I discover new things about the work. After I take in what I learn, I ask myself, What if? What if I used shadows in my work the same way these masters used shadows? What if I used color the same way? The answer may be no, simply because they are two very different mediums, but what if I experimented with the technique. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility with the ease of using dodge and burn techniques or even masking areas within the composition, selective color changes, saturation of colors, all open the door to possibilities. Maybe something interesting and unique will come from these experiments.
Food for Thought
Photographers today love to expose every tiny detail they can including those hidden in the shadows. Often many are unsuccessful trying to reveal shadow detail, contrast is lost and the work becomes flat. What if we could process our photography much like the 17th century Baroque painters, where shadows were kept dark for dramatic and emotional effect. These artists were masters at balancing their composition with light and dark. Shadows were effectively used to balance the composition. Study the works of Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Anthony van Dyck, Caravaggio, Jan Vermeer and others.
I believe Impressionism is a period worth studying for photographers. Impressionists painted their landscapes on site. They were interested in the way light affected the landscape. Bright vivid colors were more important than detail and true portrayal of the scene itself. They painted quickly before the light changed as this also changed the scene. Thick but delicate brush strokes were common in the Impressionist movement. We have all heard many of these names and probably have a favorite, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Pissaro and Van Gogh. Can we make color and texture the central focus of our photographic works? Is detail from foreground to background really all that important in landscape photography? Maybe we should explore this in our photographic works.
One of my favorite art periods and one I reference in my photo illustrations is American Realism. Many of the great names from this period are well known even to those who don't follow art history, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Grant Wood, George Bellows and William Glackens. American Realism depicted contemporary social realities and the lives and activities of ordinary people. There was never a shortage of subjects to paint during this time period as the world was in rapid change. In America, the Industrial Revolution, people leaving rural life, the Great Depression and a period between two World Wars. Artists painted with a straightforward realistic approach, often simple compositions. Edward Hopper, well known for his lonely and isolated scenes, a style that lends itself well to photography. Photographer Richard Tuschman created an interesting project where he did recreate many of Edward Hoppers paintings in photographs. Many of the works from these artists could be incorporated into a photographic style. Do any of these artists interest you? Can you find inspiration in the American Realist movement to incorporate into your work?
This brief post could easily be expanded upon but my intent was simply to provide a suggestion on where inspiration might be found for your work. I am a believer, that studying art history and the work of others can make you a better artist. I invite you to visit your local art museum or gallery. You just might find that one work of art that provides that inspiration that takes your work to the next level.
Feel free to share where you find inspiration. I welcome you to share this post with others.
These images are faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain.