“The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of ‘how to do’. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.” Moholy-Nagy
“Our duty is to experiment.” These words were declared by photographer, sculptor and graphic designer, Alexander Rodchenko. Rodchenko was an artist who experimented greatly with the medium, finding obscure angles, dizzying compositions and incorporating photographic images into graphic design during the Russian Contstructivist movement of the first half of the 20th century.
In fact, studying some of the early innovators in photography reveals how many of these visionaries were heavily experimenting with the material and with the idea of what a photograph could be. I love definitions of words because they always seem to shed light on, or unearth new meanings to words that are assumed to be understood. In the definition of experimentation, the word ‘tentative’ came up often. Part of experimenting is the unknown, and the unknown can often make us uncomfortable or hesitant.
Let us not disregard the importance and necessity of expertise and understanding through practice. We must perform a task or technique repeatedly to become adept at it, eventually moving on to becoming skillful. But the flipside of this coin is walking into the unknown, or uncharted territory. There is something magical (and terrifying!) about trying something we do not understand, cannot anticipate and therefore may not even be able to evaluate. So what are the advantages of experimentation? First, it breaks us out of our comfort zone, which is always good for creativity. Second, it can often engage what is referred to as Beginner’s Mind. In Buddhism this means a mind of openness and lack of preconceptions. This attitude can allow for ideas and/or techniques to rise that otherwise might get squashed along a known or expected path, because they don’t ‘fit in’ to the equation or were not intended.
Thirdly, consider curiosity, one of the fundamental aspects to creativity. Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Curiosity is truly a prerequisite to experimentation. It also can maintain the experimenting. What would happen if I tried this? What will happen if I break this rule? What will happen if I push this material or tool beyond the point I have before? What happens next? What will happen if I step directly into the unknown with my camera, software, paint, pencil, writing, etc.?
Perhaps nothing concrete or seemingly useful comes out of this process. But I would bet to say that something has changed – your perspective, your understanding, your expectation, your state of mind. Change and shifts in place are always welcome in the creative process. Movement away or out from the place you were before – that is creativity. Shifts in awareness, attitude, knowledge – that’s called growth. And growth is creativity’s muse. Creativity asks for growth’s hand, and as growth meanders or sprints along the path, creativity asks, ‘How far should we climb, and where’s the next peak?’