In the end, all we have is Imagination. Let me explain. When I use the word “Imagination” (and I use it a lot), I don’t mean it the way in the way it’s commonly used. I don’t mean “fantasy” or “make-believe”. I mean the inner world each of us inhabit. That world is very real, and it gives meaning to everything. It’s the home of analogies and metaphors, of all of our perceptions, of the Images we each carry within us that help us make sense of the world. We interpret every experience through Imagination. When we fully engage in learning something new, the only thing that keeps the words from lying dead on the page is Imagination. It brings concepts to life and helps us to form the connections that exist in the billions of little pieces of information that we’re exposed to on a daily basis. It’s how we solve problems, how we interpret the past, and how we project ourselves into the future.
We live in a world that has largely abandoned Imagination in favor of a form of scientific rationalism that has got us all in trouble. What would happen if we all put our politics aside and collectively used Imagination to tackle the biggest problems we face? It would be a different world indeed.
We artists suffer immensely from our inability to easily tap Imagination and translate it into meaningful work. I meet so many photographers who struggle profoundly with the question of their personal vision. “How do I know what it is?” “How can I figure it out?” “How will I know when I find it?” I hear these questions all the time. Let’s start with a basic idea and turn it into a simple and fun photographic exercise.
Our culture depends heavily on defining and labeling things. “Understanding” means breaking something down into its various pieces and processes. We all know that making a photograph or a piece of art is just the opposite of that, so let’s put ourselves in that mindset.
The Imagination Exercise
The next time you go out to shoot, forget about labels and definitions. Rather than trying to present something in your photo “as it is”, present it in terms of what it is like”. Whether it’s a car, building, person, or landscape, forget for a moment what it “is”. Instead, come up with a metaphor or analogy about it. Say you’re shooting in a canyon. You know what it is but, what is it like? Maybe it reminds you of the mythical underworld. Great! Grab onto all of your inner associations with that idea, find a vantage point that helps that idea, and shoot that. Maybe the building you’re shooting is so tall that it reminds you of reaching for the heavens. Use the geometry of the structure as the subject for that idea and shoot that. Maybe the person in your portrait session makes you think of your great grandmother when she was in the old country. Make your portrait about that. What you’ll end up with is a photograph about an idea instead of a photograph about a thing.
This video below, which was posted earlier on f64 Academy, will walk you through the post-processing of one of these images.
This is “Imaginal Thinking” and it’s one of the keys to unlocking your vision. Try it and see what you come up with. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it works out. I can’t wait to see your results!