Burn The Box

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Whether you’ve been doing photography (or some other creative endeavor) for about five minutes, or for something closer to five decades, it helps to think about your craft, your approach to your subject matter, and eventually, even your thinking about your thinking. It’s easy to find yourself blocked from time to time, unsure of what (or even whether) to photograph next because it feels like the well’s run dry. It’s easier still sometimes to find yourself wanting to do something different just for the simple reason that you’ve been doing your “thing” for so long.

If this were a certain type of blog, and if I were a certain breed of blogger, I could tell you to just “think outside the box” and be done with it. End of post, end of story. Pat self on back, have beer, and think of the next blindingly obvious bit of pablum to foist upon my unsuspecting readers. There’s just one small issue: the problem with “Thinking Outside the Box” is that our “boxes” aren’t a bunch of discrete little things stacked on shelves. They tend to be more like those nesting Russian dolls, one box inside another inside another. We think we’re thinking outside the box, only to find that we’ve traded our usual box for a larger, or smaller, one.

Worse still, we might even find we’ve traded our box for someone else’s. We follow someone’s formula, or try to learn from their example, only to find that all of a sudden, we’re boxed in by a process of thought or creativity that doesn’t feel right because it isn’t ours. Individuality is just that — it’s as individual as you are, but it happens by default and not by effort. The easiest way to get out of a box or a rut is to be aware of your boxes – your processes, methods, ruts, even your prejudices – especially when they box you in, but don’t obsess over them. Acknowledge them, play with them, but don’t allow them to become an impediment to doing, or being, what you really want.

Sometimes, just casting light on our process is the thing that allows us to change it or trade it for another. This isn’t something passive; you’re going to have to be aware at the various stages of your creative process, breaking down each step, and being aware of the what, how, and especially why of each one. When you start to unpack all of those steps — both as you’re taking the photo, and when you’re evaluating your finished results — you can begin to identify the ways you might be boxing yourself in, and perhaps even gain some insight as to why you’re doing it. Having done that, you can start taking the necessary steps to change what you feel needs changing.

Postscript: Tell me: What do you do when you find your work’s beginning to get stale? How do you change your thinking or your practice to refresh what you’re doing, and how well has it worked for you?

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