Photography & Play

Today as I worked from home, I heard my neighbor outside playing patty cake with her young son. It was a giggle fest over there. I kept trying to focus on what I was doing (fiddling around in Excel - blah), and the silliness just escalated. It reminded me that I need to get out and play a little bit more, myself. 

It's easy to get consumed by work and forget to leave time open for play. The work mentality can even bleed into what we do with our creative pursuits, which can sap the joy right out of the process. In photography, I think this perspective often leads to an overemphasis on "how" things are done. It's easy to fall into an analytical relationship with the medium - to focus on how the equipment works, how the camera should be set, how to get the same results as a famous photographer, etc. But, focusing exclusively on the "how" can take us away from an immediate, emotional response to our craft. 

It can be helpful to turn our attention away from how we photograph, and to take a deep look at why we do it. When it comes right down to it, that's a much juicier line of inquiry. Why do I photograph? Because it makes me happy! Because what I'm looking at is gorgeous! Because I'm inspired to make images that express how lovely, tender, wonderful, and exquisitely fragile life is. Because beautiful light can bring tears to my eyes. Photography makes life richer and more immediate, in so many ways. The "why" is the most compelling part.

If you have a tendency to get a little hung up on the "how," you might experiment with letting go of that impulse a little bit. Refocus on what drew you to photography in the first place. Why does it feel good? Why do you love it? Why are you inspired to explore the world visually? Why does photography make your heart sing? Not only are these questions more fruitful in developing a personal photographic practice, they're also a whole lot more fun to consider than hyperfocal distance calculations, and the like. Toss the charts! It's time to get out there and play!

I'm reminded of a beautiful little volume called I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light by Robert Adams, in which he presents photographs of his tiny white terrier bounding around his sunlit backyard. The whole book is dedicated to this subject. A wonderful, worthwhile project, it seems to me. 

One of my students recently spent the afternoon blowing bubbles and photographing them against the dark interior of her garage. Another set up his camera in his front window during a torrential downpour and photographed himself frolicking around in the rain. I absolutely love to see artists infusing their practice with more joy and giggles! It's a great way to breathe more life into art, don't you think? It's also a great way to make life a little more vibrant and satisfying. 

Wishing you a happy, creative summer filled with opportunities for play!