Ben's Photo Blog

Photos from my various adventures

Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

The Creative Impulse

Posted by Ben on September 8, 2009

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This is another picture that comes from my walk the other evening around campus as the sun was going down.  The cornfields out past the duckpond and the cage are in the perfect spot to get hit by the setting sun.  In particular, this is from the cross country trail as it runs alongside the cage, looking out towards the Smithfield plantation house.  It seems like there was a row or two of corn missing between the row in the foreground and the one in the background.

There are a lot of things I like about this shot, and a couple that I don’t.  The sky goes both ways.  I think the gradient of color from the top left to the bottom right of the sky is really neat.  However, it might have looked better if the bottom right hadn’t been washed out and there was just a nice deep blue sky as a backdrop for the picture.  I was experimenting with my polarizing filter, which may have been the culprit.  Aside from the sky, I am very pleased with the colors in this picture, especially the bright green on the leaf bending towards the camera on the right side.  The highlights from the sun seem to balance out the shadows nicely.  One of the things I’ve been trying to work on recently with my photos is framing, and I liked the idea of using the two corn stalks to this effect for this shot.  The effect I get from it is like looking through a window in the nearest row of corn to see the ones usually hidden behind it.  These two stalks also give the picture a little bit of symmetry, with each having the leaf half-way up that is pointing towards the middle and bent in half.  There is another kind of symmetry in this shot, which jumped out at me when I was going through photos, but one which I find myself struggling to put into words.  The same two leaves seem to form what I think of as a “rotational symmetry.”  If you were to look down on these two stalks from above, these two bent leaves would be pointing in different directions, almost as if they lay along a circle drawn between the two stalks.

My section of Colloquium Magnum this semester is centered around watching and discussing various TED talk videos online.  If you are not familiar with these, I’d highly recommend checking out http://www.ted.com/ and watching a few videos.  Both of the videos that we discussed tonight dealt with creativity.  The first with how best to inspire it in the workplace, and the second with how the public school system seems to be “killing” our creativity.  Together, these videos made me question what kind of role creativity plays (and has played) in my life.  Thinking back to my years in the public school system, the last time I took a class in the “traditional arts” was an art course I took as an elective in sixth grade.  From there, almost all of my elective courses were geared towards technology, a field that seemed to be the direction to take at the time.  Not to say that anyone discouraged me from taking art or music, but technology seemed like the next big thing that everyone wanted to be a part of.

I don’t regret for a moment the path I chose for myself, though it doesn’t seem like there was really a conscious choice on my part, and I’m very satisfied with where I’ve ended up.  Looking back though, it strikes me that I went the majority of six full years without any real or regular creative outlet.  Arguably, there is definitely creativity involved with computer science in creating an algorithm to solve a particular problem or in modifying an existing algorithm to perform some seemingly unrelated task.  For the most part, my high school writing career was focused on the analytical, in a way trying to decipher the creativity of others in an often formulaic, five-paragraph essay style.  And with my afternoons taken up by cross-country, baseball, and homework, there was little time left for other pursuits.

The freedoms of college, however, have opened many new opportunities to me.  Higher level math courses require a great deal of creativity and ingenuity, a far cry from looking up a derivative from a table in a calculus class.  Sure, you need to know the theorems that form the framework of the topic, but solutions and proofs often necessitate unusual combinations of them to reach a goal.  I’ve also found a host of new ways to express myself.  Take salsa dancing.  It’s something I never would have considered even trying during high school, yet one of my best friends here at school somehow managed to drag me (protesting I’m sure) to a lesson one night.  Over the past year or so, it has become a release for me, both in a physical and a creative sense.  On one hand, dancing salsa for three hours straight is a great workout, but it also forces me to think about what I’m doing, trying to find new and interesting ways to put moves and combos together to make sure my partner is having a good time.

Over the past few months, I’ve also been using this blog as another creative outlet for myself.  I feared, when I started, that updating and posting new pictures would eventually become a chore that I would have to make myself do.  Quite the opposite has happened.  Rather than being limited by a desire to do this, recently my main limitation is the amount of time in which I’ve had to do it.  In fact, I find blogging to be an extremely cathartic activity, both the action of going through my picture archive and then analyzing the one I choose.  I always have been, and still to some extent am a very quiet person, but I find myself better able to express my thoughts in this format.  I’m not sure if that’s because I have more time to put my thoughts together cohesively or maybe because writing a blog is like having a one way conversation with people I might not even know.

One of the things that really stuck with me from that video was the idea that as we go through school, we become afraid to be wrong.  Taking a chance or making a guess is suddenly no longer worth the risk that goes with it.  This is definitely a feeling I have had, both in the classroom and outside, hesitating to answer a question or even ask one just because I’m not completely sure of myself.  It seems like in a situation like that, it’s better to be ignorant than to risk being wrong.  I have to say, it’s an interesting concept that resonates with me on several different levels.  When considered in connection with creativity, we quickly arrive at the dilemma of figuring out the right and wrong ways to do something without ever doing it the wrong way.  If we are convinced that doing something wrong will always result in criticism or punishment, why even bother taking a chance to try to find a “better” way of doing it.  Is it possible to find the boundary between correct and incorrect without ever stepping over it?

I think this is definitely one of the things that drew me to photography, and digital photography specifically.  Sure, you can read about proper techniques and how to achieve certain effects, but that’s still no guarantee that your first attempt will be correct.  It might take a few pictures to realize that shooting directly into the sun might not be the best idea, or that using something as simple as two stalks of corn to frame a shot can make it look better.  And even once you discover the way things work, when you are able to find great shots and compose them well, you still might have a bike ride through your shot while you’ve got the shutter open.  However, unlike in a classroom where an incorrect answer might make fellow students chuckle under their breath at you, no one ever has to see your bad pictures unless you want them to.  There is absolutely no penalty to taking a bad photo (unless you’re using film), and for me at least, this has encouraged me to go out and try new things, make mistakes, and discover new techniques for myself.

Anyway, it’s late, and I’m running out of steam for tonight.  I think that creativity in itself is a very fascinating subject, one that I will probably return to in the future.  I’ve also felt the need to write something like this for a while now, our discussion in class tonight just spurred me on to actually write it.  If you’re still reading this, thanks for sticking with me through another rather verbose post.

-Ben

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