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Curious Frame - Issue #13 - On Inspiration

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #13 - On Inspiration
By Leanne Staples • Issue #13 • View online
It’s January which is often one of the most challenging months of the year for many people. Last year is behind us and we get this sense that we need to create goals and accomplish something! Anything! Now!

It’s easy to find ourselves thinking that we need to make resolutions to be more productive. This is the year that we will finally do x, y and z. Everyone else is doing it after all. It is a big industry.

The new year and January 1st receives an added sense of responsibility to create new goals and have a sense that we are doing something to move forward and accomplish more. But why on the first day of the new year? Why not every day???

January tends to be dark and cold, (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere,) creating a bigger challenge to actually being able to find inspiration. The new year begins with a large hangover from the previous year. 

This year the hangover is even bigger for everyone than in years past as a result of the pandemic. It has changed everything and created new and/or bigger challenges for inspiration and creativity.

Hence, this issue is about inspiration and how we can find it. Inspiration is easier to follow and take advantage of than new year’s resolutions.

Readers comments:
Curious Frame exists for you the readers. It is fabulous how so many people are involved in the dialogue and with so many different opinions about what photography means to us.

All you need to do to join the dialogue is hit reply. You can even reply about earlier issues as well. Comments below are from Issue 12 - What is Documentary Photography?

One reader commented:
Portrait photography is also documentary, famous characters are portrayed and recorded for the story.
Even advertising photography can become documentary at a time when it represents times and types of consumption in society.
Wars, revolutions and social manifestations are documentary, the street is documentary.
Photo journalism is documentary
Architecture is documentary
Snap shots are documentary because they portray families, society
Photography in its essence is documentary!
Yes! Documentary photography is perhaps everything photographic. They are all documents.

And other reader wrote:
You hit me solid in your prologue…When first starting out in photography it’s like learning a new language and learning to control the camera. To make the tool work for you.
Even before college I had enough curiosity and understanding of the significant impact a visual added to a story. I also knew, thanks to a 10th grade English teacher Ms Dias, that just like music pictures had their own language. Media literacy is missing from society…Visual Media Literacy even more so.
My thoughts about your main article…I think in some cases documentary photos can become art especially when seasoned by time. 
Genres evolve as does language so don’t try to use those words to begin describing an image.
The only truthful documentary I have ever heard of is Andy Warhol’s film Empire.
Thank you for your insights and appreciation. Yes, Warhol’s films were just a still film camera recording without a script. Perhaps as objective as you can get.

Sharing is Cool! If you’ve been forwarded this email or are reading online, consider joining the dialogue by subscribing. If you are looking for past issues you can find them all in the archive at the link below.
Curious Frame Newsletter | Exploring Photographic Possibilities
On Inspiration
Looking for the Muse (Lost Time #8,) New York City, August 2020.
Looking for the Muse (Lost Time #8,) New York City, August 2020.
Someone recently asked me how I find inspiration. This is a question that I don’t often ask myself. I don’t give it much thought until I find myself bored and uninspired. 

So I’ve decided to stop and examine the idea of inspiration and see if I might be able to come up with a good answer, or perhaps more likely, answers to the question. Perhaps you will find inspiration as a result.

Creativity loves repetition until it doesn’t. Which is to say that we need to adapt and create new routines based on new inspiration. It is a continual process. There is no fait accompli. It keeps us coming back for more, for better, for new.

Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom. Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1480
So when it comes to creativity and inspiration, less is more. That can include minimalism. The use of negative space. This is something that is easy to find in the art world.
Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso are 2 of the most famous creative people in both science and art. They were inspired and also have inspired countless people. Einstein & Picasso, New York City, August 2010.
Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso are 2 of the most famous creative people in both science and art. They were inspired and also have inspired countless people. Einstein & Picasso, New York City, August 2010.
When I’m out giving street photography workshops, people often comment on how inspired they are shooting with me. They see things that they don’t normally notice. Seeing with new eyes might just be one of the answers to finding inspiration. 

When inspiration makes an appearance we don’t necessarily stop and ask how or why? It is only when we are unable to find it that we question its disappearance. All of a sudden we would give anything to find it again. My kingdom for inspiration.

A proverb is a short sentence based on a long experience. Cervantes, c.1609 the first English translation
Miguel de Cervantes, like Shakespeare is one of those writers that has inspired many many authors through his novel, Don Quixote e la Mancha(1605). And like Shakespeare, we know very little about him. Perhaps the fact that he provided inspiration for Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers (1844) and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884,) is enough.
Miguel de Cervantes, like Shakespeare is one of those writers that has inspired many many authors through his novel, Don Quixote e la Mancha(1605). And like Shakespeare, we know very little about him. Perhaps the fact that he provided inspiration for Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers (1844) and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884,) is enough.
When I had a day job it was a little more difficult to find the mental state to explore creative ideas and be inspired. But even then I was able to find inspiration if nothing else by stealing time from other aspects of my life. Let the dirty dishes pile up if that’s what’s needed. 

Doing dishes does not require inspiration. Though the Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhan Hanh wrote that if you don’t enjoy doing the dishes, you’re not doing it correctly. 

Sometimes inspiration hits while taking a shower, walking or even washing the dishes. I think of John Lennon’s lyric, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Just exchange the word life with inspiration. 

John Lennon has provided so much inspiration to so many, including me. Different mediums are capable of cross-pollination. No need to just look at photos. Music is great for inspiration.
John Lennon, New York City, 1975.
John Lennon, New York City, 1975.
Now that I’ve been self-employed for a number of years and especially during the pandemic and the halt of the normal routine of tours and workshops, it has been easier than I expected to find inspiration. 

The opposite of inspiration is probably boredom. The role of chance is important in letting inspiration find you. Some people need to travel or buy new camera equipment to be inspired. 

But of course, it’s not realistic to rely on traveling all the time or buying new equipment. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they wear off pretty quickly and leave you feeling rather sober once again. 

Yes, sober. Inspiration is like an opiate. You try to chase it and the harder you try the more you realize that you cannot replicate that incredible high that inspiration can bring. 
Andy Warhol was obsessed with Campbell's soup. Not just for his art, he also was crazy about eating it. Passion can go a long way in finding inspiration.
Andy Warhol was obsessed with Campbell's soup. Not just for his art, he also was crazy about eating it. Passion can go a long way in finding inspiration.
I’ve been quoted a lot as saying ‘I like boring things.’ Well, I said it and I meant it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not bored by them. Andy Warhol, 1980. 
Artists often have a way of downplaying the things that inspire them. You would think that a famous artist would be eating fancy foods. But that just goes to show that inspiration need not be exotic.

The muse that inspires is a fickle one. While we are looking for her she remains invisible to us. When we stop looking and when we least expect it, she appears. It bares repeating. When we least expect it. So don’t overthink it.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. You need to upset the cycle of routine. 
untitled 2, New York City, November 2020.
untitled 2, New York City, November 2020.
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle c. 350 BCE. 
Experiment, take lots of photos and make mistakes. Yes, the element of chance is important. Take time to look at the work of other photographers, artists and filmmakers. 

A camera is a technical device, a tool. Inspiration is the opposite of technical. It is the opposite of intellect. So we need to gain control over our camera to be free to create and find inspiration. 

A photograph always contains some of who we are and how we see the world. So my photo and your photo taken of the same thing at the same time will be different. And the ways in which we find inspiration will also be different.
Brian Eno
Brian Eno
Brian Eno could certainly be given the title muse. As a music producer he was the man behind so many successful musicians from David Bowie to David Byrne and the list goes on.

He created something that he called Oblique Strategies. It is a deck of cards with instructions on it. On one of the cards the instruction was given in the middle of a recording session that everyone had to play an instrument that they don’t normally play. The end results turned out quite well.

But Eno wasn’t the first or the only person who did that. John Cage also had a set of instructions to follow that were random and often cryptic and disruptive in the music world. You can see some of those instructions in museums. And Yoko Ono also created instructions.
recognize, New York City, October 2020
recognize, New York City, October 2020
Writers get writer’s block and rely on prompts to get them out of a rut. As photographers, we can also use prompts. In the Further Reading section below I list a few books that can perhaps provide creative ideas that will lead to inspiration.

A friend recently mentioned that the astrology column that we both read could also be a good prompt for creating art and photography. The little messages like those in fortune cookies can provide a spark.

The clues are everywhere and like Sherlock Holmes, they might actually be right in front of our faces. You can stand in one position and take photos while turning around and capturing something from every angle.

Art always looks easy to us. We don’t see the blood, sweat and tears that went into creating it. We don’t see all of the failures that came before. The process is one that has its high points and its low points.

They exist because we become bored with what came before. This is the journey and it is one in which there is always something new to look forward to. Maybe you don’t have to look far and wide.
A Day at MoMA, New York City, June 2017.
A Day at MoMA, New York City, June 2017.
We get in the way of inspiration by the very act of consciously seeking it. It finds us when we least likely expect it. If you have ideas or methods that you use to become inspired, I’d love to hear them.

I also have a newsletter for Shoot New York City for the activity of taking photos. Here I really concentrate on thoughts on photography. That said, the first thing that I do is to upset the routine of taking photos.

I typically shoot Aperture Priority and so I’ll shoot Shutter Priority. It’s merely a matter of questioning what you do and why you do it that way. You get the idea. Just switch things up.
Photography Is - Part Seven
See Through, New York City, December 2019
See Through, New York City, December 2019
If you ask me how long it took to make a single photo, my answer would be, my entire life. You can’t decide to pull something out of context.
A photo always has a context, even when it is not obvious or conscious.
Photography involves the whole being.
Reading list:
  • Carroll, Henry. Photographers on Photography: How The Masters See, Think & Shoot, Laurence King Publishing, 2018.
  • Duckett, Brian Lloyd. 52 Assignments: Street Photography, Ammonite Press, 2018.
  • Freeman, Michael. Fifty Paths to Creative Photography, Octopus Publishing Group, 2016.
  • Lapham, Louis, Editor. Lapham’s Quarterly: Arts & Letters, 2008.
  • Moriyama, Daido. How I Take Photographs, Laurence King Publishing, 2019.
Further Viewing:
Today I leave you with 2 short videos. Perhaps they will stir up some inspiration!
Susan Meiselas on "the ethics of seeing"
Marvin Heiferman | Seeing Through Photographs
Shopping Indie:
If you’re interested, I have zines, prints & mail art that I sell.
Shop for Art, Zines & Publications - Leanne Staples
That Other Space Shop – Mail Art #2 - La vie bohémienne by Leanne Staples
You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
Did you enjoy this issue?
Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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