A friend recently told me that their job would soon be changing from full-time to part-time. Being a freelancer who always has an extensive ‘to do’ list, on which the fun things are endlessly being crowded up by work activities that spill over into what could have been leisure time, my immediate thought was Yes, please! That would be great! All that extra time to do the fun things I that I never get round to!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if work was confined to just 4 days a week (or less?!), with 3 days for ‘me’ time! However, it turned out that rather than looking forward to the change, this friend was actually worried about getting bored; what would they do with the extra time?
This set me wondering about nature of boredom, and its relationship to creativity. I can honestly say I am too busy to be bored. As fast as I tick something off that list, more things are added to the bottom. The more essential, mundane tasks gravitate to the top whilst less urgent ideas tend to sink to the bottom. What is most definitely not lacking, though, is things to add to the list.
I think that once you open yourself up to the idea that you have time to do stuff, ideas of what you might do start popping up. A friend who was due to retire expressed similar concerns; what would she do with herself all day every day without work? Now, a couple of years later her social schedule is so busy she is rarely at home.
Sometimes we need a little mental space away from the demands of everyday life in order to come up with ideas. When I was working in an extremely pressured environment I felt that my creativity was stifled. I could do the essentials, but please don’t ask me to think!
As a freelancer, I recognise that I sometimes get myself into this situation and then it’s time to take a step back, to come up with a plan that will allow me to feel on top of things again so the suppressed creativity can rise to the surface again. In the meantime, I will keep adding things to my list…
At the end of last year, the media picked up on a study at Fairfield University which seemed to indicate that by taking photographs as a record of things you see, you impair your ability to actually remember them. The experiment was conducted during a museum tour, with some participants asked to take photos and others just to look. They also noted that if participants paid more attention to the object, by zooming in and photographing smaller details, the impairment effect was overcome.
This seems to fit in pretty neatly with my own experience and expectations. If we walk around snap, snap, snapping away, with paying attention, it is not surprising that we remember very little. In fact, perhaps our memory takes the opportunity to switch off, as we know we can look at the pictures later. This approach allows us to daydream, coast and really avoid being present to whatever is in front of us. Why pay attention? The camera will take notes for you! When I see those people who seem to view their entire holiday through the lens of a camera, taking pictures or video, I have to wonder if their attention is on the subject or on the technicalities of recording it.
It is only when we truly engage with our subject that we see it clearly. For me this invariably means up-close and personal, but it doesn’t have to. I love to explore the little details of texture and light, shadows and form. I like to slow right down, to spend time exploring my subject visually before I get my camera out of the bag. Sometimes I decide against using the camera at all; despite the advances of modern technology in those little boxes of tricks, they can’t always record the sheer magnificence of the scene perceived by the human eye. This is why I rarely take pictures of sunsets, preferring to sit and watch the subtly changing light than to dwell on camera settings and framing. In fact some of my most memorable images are the ones that ‘got away’. Despite my generally poor memory these days, those images are firmly settled in my mind to be treasured for the future. No camera required!
It’s been suggested that continued exposure to anything inures us to the experience. In other words, familiarity breeds contempt. It might be that we don’t see the beauty of our daily walk to work because we do it every day. It could be we ignore the pictures of famine and suffering elsewhere in the world because we see so many of them nowadays.
Our modern lifestyles are overflowing with imagery, be it photography or graphic design. Have we become immune to it because we see so much? Images abound in social media; Facebook seems to be the new repository for the holiday photo album, people post pictures of their meals, shoes, latest nail polish. On Instagram I struggle to keep up with the pictures in my feed. How do those who follow hundreds of accounts manage? Loading a news article from certain newspapers on my phone takes forever (and sometimes fails) because of the sheer number of images it contains. And what about the craze for the selfie, newly added to the dictionary and seemingly the word of the moment?
Are we suffering from image overload? We see so many pictures on a daily basis but how many of them are memorable. If the camera records the moment in time, yet we consider this moment to be ‘disposable’ then why are we bothering?
So what makes an image special, makes it stand out? For me it’s about the emotion it conveys. A connection to the photographer and the scene. Something that stops me in my tracks and makes me say “Ohhhh”. What about you?
There is a lot of truth in the saying ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’. We lose interest in the familiar, the everyday, the things we see time after time and stop really seeing them at all. According to Freeman Patterson, “Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”
Sometimes it’s only when you look at something familiar with a camera to hand that you notice the little details. It can be an extremely illuminating exercise to spend time in a familiar place or with a familiar object and see just what your creativity can come up with. I find it takes me quite a while to settle down to the task at hand. I make a whole load of boring ordinary images and start to wonder why I am even bothering any more. And then something changes. Perhaps it’s a different angle, the way my subject catches the light. Or perhaps the light changes, and what seemed ordinary is suddenly fascinating. It is often the case that creativity is lurking just beyond this boredom and if only I push a little bit further…
Here are some ideas to try when you seem to be meeting the boredom brick wall:
- Try a different angle. Literally. Squat down low, loom over it, peek round the edge.
- Turn it upside down. Or look at it from behind if you can’t turn it upside down.
- Change lenses. Been using a standard length? Try getting in close with a wide-angle, or zoom in with a telephoto to change the perspective.
- Use a wider aperture. Home in on one key feature and highlight it by sending everything else into a fabulous blurry oblivion.
- If all else fails, challenge yourself to another 50 images and resolve to make each one different.