Your Creations Are Original. Really.

I’m still thinking about the false premise “I’m not creative.” For those who believe creativity means doing something unique, so new and different that it feels like we’ve never seen or heard it before, a fear that they are unable to make something truly original keeps them from owning their own creativity.

Plenty of creative people (Julia Cameron, Anne Lamott, and Elizabeth Gilbert, to name a few) argue that just by being you, anything from your mind and your hands will have some essence of originality. If you are true to yourself as you create, the thing made will show at least a little of who you are. Your fingerprints, whether metaphorical or literal, are all over your work.

The best argument I’ve seen for this in a long time is a series of intriguing ads by Canon Australia. Their video series (THE LAB) includes clever experiments related to creativity. With photography in particular, it’s easy to feel that the images aren’t original because the camera appears to do all the work. Theses videos prove otherwise.

The most powerful experiment is THE LAB: BLANK. Six photographers are sent, one at a time, into an empty studio to take photos. Everyone’s solution to this problem — what to photograph in an empty space — is different, and even when two photographers focus on the same detail (the apparently blank white space isn’t actually bare), the images they capture are different.

Other videos in the series are also worth watching. They show how the simplest props can be used to create unusual work by limiting options, that taking time to think before you act can enhance your creative experience, and that what you believe about your subject will be reflected in your work.

It’s a big time cliché because it’s true: we all see the world a little differently. If we take the time to communicate honestly what we are seeing and feeling, our work will be original, whether it’s a photo, an essay, or a painting.

Take the time to look. Then show us your world.

That’s all there is to it.

Fun With Food: The Photography of Terry Border

By adding wire limbs to food and other items, Border turns inanimate objects into characters to tell visual stories. For example, a hot dog in Border’s world plays with sailboats in a bowl of baked beans.

I have a friend who makes her meatloaf into strange shapes, like feet and faces, and every time I make stuffed zucchini, I think about turning it into a Viking long ship, but the photography of Terry Border is fun with food (and other stuff) taken to a whole new level.

caramel apples

By adding wire limbs to food and other items, Border turns inanimate objects into characters to tell visual stories. A hot dog plays with sailboats in a bowl of baked beans. A Christmas tree, invited to “relax this holiday season” sits in an armchair reading, its tinsel hanging on the coat rack next to it. An orange sells lemonade at a stand across from a lemon selling orange juice. The photos are quirky, whimsical, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny.

Photo by Terry Border
Photo by Terry Border

Border’s work first came to my notice through this blog post at Le Bonnet Voyageur (The Traveling Winter Hat), which includes a gallery of a few of Border’s charming photos. Be sure to go to Border’s website for even more fun (although be ready for some adult content, like bananas in bed and zombie peanuts gorging themselves on another peanut). WARNING: You will be looking and laughing for a long time…

Photo by Terry Border
Photo by Terry Border

Which of Border’s photos is your favorite?

Found Art: Heart Symbols in Rock and Cloud

When I’m out in the wild, I look for patterns and shapes. For some reason, the one I come across the most is the stylized heart common on Valentine’s Day cards. Here are a few I’ve seen over the years.

Double heart found near Brainard Lake; photo by Kit Dunsmore

(OK, I confess. These were in the parking lot.)

Another found heart, this one on a trail in Wyoming.

Rock heart; photo by Kit Dunsmore

According to the rock expert with me at the time, the striations are glacial in origin.

And last but perhaps most amazing, a negative-space heart in the clouds, seen while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park:

Little Matterhorn, Rocky Mountain National Park; photo by Dana Geary

Do you see things in rocks and clouds? What have you found?

Flashback: A Day In the Rockies… With Cameras

It’s that time of year: my parents are visiting us in Colorado. The following is a post from their visit in 2010, but I can guarantee we are out somewhere with cameras recording the beauties of the American West.

Rocky Mountain National Park

We were fortunate enough to spend last Friday up in the mountains showing my parents the splendor of the Rockies in summer. The mountains cooperated beautifully: sunny but cool weather, light breezes, abundant wildlife, and buckets of wildflowers. And we were armed to take advantage of it: everyone had a camera.

Kurt, Mom, and Dad shooting the landscape

In fact, as a professional photographer, Dad had two.   Mom records images she is considering using in her ceramic work. Kurt is just getting back into photography, and had a great time learning how to use the camera we just bought.

Kurt with the new camera

With so many art photographers on the job, I was more relaxed than usual. I still took plenty of pictures (over 200) of the natural scenes that intrigued me. But I also made an effort to get pictures of people, even myself.

Shadow self-portrait

Overall, my family took over 1000 digital pictures that day, which is completely unbelievable when I  remember what it was like to use film. At 36 exposures a roll, 1000 photos would require 28 rolls of film. I could spend a whole week on vacation and only shoot 4 rolls.  I didn’t realize how much the expense of film photography kept me from taking pictures.  Of course, many of my digital photos aren’t worth keeping, but I get more that I like now that I take so many more to begin with.

Why I Can’t Let Go of My Obsolete Camera

Last week, I came across a picture of a crocheted camera case and it reminded me of the quilted case I made for my old Pentax SLR over a decade ago. The case I had was falling apart despite the duct tape and I couldn’t buy a new one because the camera was so old, so I made my own.

The case I made for my Pentax K1000 complete with matching strap.
The case I made for my Pentax K1000 complete with matching strap.

Looking at my old Pentax makes me feel sad. I stopped using film years ago, so this camera, which I once adored and dressed so lovingly, has been sitting unused in the closet for nearly a decade. I know I should get rid of it. It’s broken. I’m used to the convenience and instant results of digital photography. I’ll never go back to film again.

So why don’t I want to let it go?

My Pentax K1000 has shared my life and recorded important moments since my high school graduation. It’s like a member of the family. It’s moved all over the country with me, traveled in Great Britain and Europe. In the past, I wouldn’t have dreamed of going on vacation without it, and it was present at every holiday.

Back of camera with case closed.
Back of camera with case closed.
Back of camera with the case flap removed. (The riboons hold the bottom part of the cover on.)
Back of camera with the case flap removed. (The ribbons hold the bottom part of the cover on.)

But there’s more to it than that. Taking pictures with film is an art. You have to pay attention and pick your moments. You can’t shoot at random or take hundreds of photos. It costs too much in film and developing. Only things that are worthy are photographed.

Many creatives recommend carrying a camera to help you to see differently. But digital cameras don’t force me to see the way my film camera did. I take digital shots willy-nilly, knowing I can delete or crop anything that comes out badly, and I often miss the shots I should have taken. I am more likely to experiment with digital photography than I was with film, but the pressure to get it right from the start is gone and my digital photos suffer as a result.

My Pentax was my photographic eye, the one that framed my life thoughtfully and captured important moments or vivid scenes so I would have a better chance of remembering them later. It’s the eye that saw my life and my world as art.

Beat-up and obsolete, but I still love it.
Beat-up and obsolete, but I still love it.

I hate saying goodbye — to people, to places, to eras — but my reluctance here isn’t just sentimental. I don’t want to let go of the vision, of how I saw my life through my SLR.

I’ll have to wait a little longer before I try to find it a new home.

Lake Loveland

The last night my parents were here, we went to dinner in Loveland. When we came out of the restaurant, it was a gorgeous evening, so we decided to drive to a nearby park for a little walk before the sun went down. However, we got sidetracked as we were driving past Lake Loveland. We pulled off at Lakeside Park and watched the glorious sunset. It felt like the perfect end to a wonderful visit. There was even a statue for us to enjoy.

Generations, Lake Loveland, Colorado

I was taken with the colors and texture of the lake surface as the sunset went on. I took several reference shots, thinking I might make something to mimic this look.

But the sunset itself was the real treat, and I have pictures that document the entire evolution of the event, from burning to burnt out.

Sunset over Lake Loveland

This is turning into the Summer of Sunsets. I’m grateful to live in Colorado, where we are surrounded by such beauty every single day.

Fossil Creek Reservoir

We drive right by the Fossil Creek Reservoir every time we go to Denver. I had no idea what a gorgeous spot it was until I went there with my parents after dinner one night.

Fossil Creek Reservoir

The lake is down slope from a large prairie, which is full of wildlife. The bunnies were particularly bold.

Desert Cottontail

As with all of our little adventures, we took lots of pictures. Dad spent some time trying to get a good shot of the western meadowlark serenading us.

The meadowlark is the tiny dot on the pole to the right

Because of the water, the area attracts lots of birds. At the west end of the trail is a blind, where you can sit and watch the birds on the lake. Inside are tables and seats, plus lots of labeled pictures of the birds you might see.

Mom and Dad view the lake from the blind

My attempts at bird photos did not work out that night — everything was too far away. But we saw quite a few species, including a gadwall mother with her brood. The excited babies swam in circles like wind-up toys. I did manage to get some pictures of the field full of sunflowers that lies just up the slope from the lake.

Common Sunflowers

The most amazing part of our evening was the sunset, which would not quit. My picture hardly does it justice. I can’t wait to see what my father does with all the versions he took of this:

Sunset over the Rockies

Tomorrow: Another amazing sunset in Colorado