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.

Photography by a 4-Year-Old: Is It Art?

My Canon PowerShot is pretty dinged up, so when my 4-year-old nephew asked if he could take a picture with it, I said sure, although I suppose I wouldn’t have been happy if he’d broken it. I didn’t have to worry at all. He was careful and wound up taking quite a few pictures. I think he liked the fake click noise the camera makes when you push the button.

When I looked at the pictures he’d taken, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. A few were odd shots of people, but most were of the environment around him. Some of them made me laugh. And some of them made me go, “Hmmmm. That looks like art!”

I’ve decided to let the public decide. Here is a selection of my nephew’s photos. I’ve left out the ones that were way out of focus or people’s faces. The only processing I’ve done is to downsize them for easy computer viewing. Otherwise they are untouched — no cropping, no lighting fixes, no color tweaks — just the world as my camera sees it while in my nephew’s hands. I think you’ll agree that it’s an intimate view.

Foot with leg.
Leg with foot.
Water dish.
Sun and shadow on boards.
Sun and shadows.
Sneaker on deck.
Sneaker on deck.
Self-portrait #1.
Portrait of an aunt.
Portrait of an aunt.
Armpit with a view.
Self-portrait #2.
Clay and wood.
Mug on table.

Purists will argue that my nephew isn’t creating art because he doesn’t have any control over what he’s doing. I’m going to argue for “art is in the eye of the beholder.” When I look at these, I see art. They show me a familiar world in a new way, and they get me thinking new thoughts. And isn’t that what art’s all about?

What do you think? Can 4-year-olds make art?

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?

Unexpected Gifts on the Road Less Traveled

photo by Kit Dunsmore
photo by Kit Dunsmore

We spent Labor Day at Grand Teton National Park with my parents. Despite the holiday, the park wasn’t all that crowded. We were able to park at the Jenny Lake Overlook and get pictures of the mountains towering over the lake without getting jostled. We even found an empty table at the picnic area at noon. While we appreciated that the number of visitors was lower than usual, my whole family prefers to get away from crowds, so when my husband Kurt suggested we drive the River Road on our way back out of the park, it seemed like a good idea.

The River Road is unpaved and runs across the valley. It gets closer to the Snake River than Teton Park Road does, so we figured this was our chance to see the river. The road is 4-wheel drive only. Kurt figured this would mean even fewer crowds. He checked at the visitor’s center to make sure it was in decent shape and they said our car had high enough clearance and would be fine.

We weren’t on the road long before we all began to wonder if we had made a mistake. Initially, the road was covered in small rocks, bigger than gravel, with random water-filled holes in it. Later, it changed to a rutted dirt track.

Kurt and Dad look at the road and wonder what we've gotten ourselves into.
Kurt and Dad look at the road and wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Even in our backroad-loving car, the ride was rough, with lots of bumping and jerking. Kurt kept apologizing to my parents for the bouncy ride, but they graciously said it was worth it.

The views we got looking back towards the mountains were spectacular, but we’d also spent the whole morning admiring and photographing the same mountain range. The afternoon light wasn’t as favorable for mountains to our west, and even jaw-dropping beauty gets old after a few hours.

Grand Teton mountain range as seen from River Road; photo by Kit Dunsmore
Grand Teton mountain range as seen from River Road; photo by Kit Dunsmore

We were definitely away from the crowds. During our four hour drive, we saw ten other cars at most, a big change from the steady stream of traffic along the main road.

We also got much closer to the river. At times, the road ran right along the cliff edge. We stopped multiple times to get out and enjoy the view of the Snake River, which twisted like satin ribbon along the valley floor below us.

Snake River, Wyoming; photo by Kit Dunsmore
Snake River, Wyoming; photo by Kit Dunsmore

After a few hours of having our fillings shaken out of our head, we all started to wonder if we would ever reach the end of the road. We got out the map and realized it was nearly fifteen miles long, not five like we’d thought. We were lucky to go 25 mph along some stretches, so it was no wonder the drive seemed eternal.

We all got in the car again and gritted our teeth. We saw rafts on the river and hawks in trees, but no sign of the T in the road that would take us back to pavement and a smooth ride.

A pick-up truck came over a hill and stopped to tell us that there were bison ahead, some off to the left and some off to the right. We thanked the driver and got excited. We were going to see some wildlife!

We came over a rise, and there they were, between us and the mountains. Two bison wading through the grass. Close enough to recognize but too far for my camera’s short lens. Brown dots on green, but definitely bison.

Can you find the bison? (They're on the bottom right.)
Can you find the bison? (They’re on the bottom right.)

We were ecstatic and took lots of photos. Kurt kept inching us down the road, which improved the view and also got us closer to the end of our arduous ride. We agreed we’d taken all the photos we wanted and went on our way.

That’s when we saw more bison, off to the right, and closer. More clicking cameras. As we came around bend, we realized the bison were very close to the road. We were going to get a much better view. Then it became clear that they weren’t near it — they were on it. We would be driving right through the herd.

Papa Bison, Mommy Bison, and Baby Bison were all in our way!
Papa Bison, Mommy Bison, and Baby Bison were all in our way!

The herd was at least one hundred animals strong and moving west to east, straight across our path. They didn’t seem to care about us much one way or the other, but the males had a way of turning to stare at us that froze my blood. We watched them sniffing the females, heard them grunting at one another, and saw one big male chase several others away from a female. There were calves in the herd, too, but clearly the males were in rut, or getting ready for it, and the females would be in heat soon.

Bison are big. And scary. photo by Kit Dunsmore
Bison are big. And scary. photo by Kit Dunsmore

One ton of bison is intimidating to get close to. One ton of bison pumped full of hormones is downright scary. Fortunately, Kurt had previous experience driving through a giraffe herd and knew when to inch forward and when to wait. It took us twenty minutes to go maybe fifty feet as the bison sauntered past us. The animals got so close we could have reached out and touched them, but we weren’t about to try it.

Bison through the car window. They got really close to the car.
Bison through the car window. They got really close to the car.

When we finally got back to the road, we stopped at the park lodge for dinner. All we could talk about was the bison we’d seen on River Road, bison we would never have seen at all if we’d stayed on the main road with the rest of the crowd. The teeth shaking and bumps were forgotten, as was the length of the drive. Our adventure had reminded us that the gifts of road less traveled outweigh the challenges.

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.

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.