Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working

Pablo Picasso once said “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.

I’ve always remembered this quote as I think there are many truths to be found in its meaning.

For me Picasso was saying that in order to create work, we have to put some effort in. The idea that we should sit around waiting for inspiration to come and find us is a sorry myth that should be thrown away, as It is through the act of trying new things and making mistakes that we encounter surprises and new avenues to explore.

If we don’t start somewhere, we never start at all.

I think the reason why I bring this up today, is that I’ve been reflecting upon my visit to japan earlier this year. Let me explain.

While I was in Kyoto, I only had five hours to make the Geisha images you see presented here. The time limit was one thing, but I also had to contend with being one of 3000 people attending the same event and many of the other visitors were photographers too.

Looking back, there were a few things that helped me get the portfolio you see here in such a short time.

The first was perseverance. I saw many photographers come and go and very few of them stayed for the entire time. By being on location and available for the entire time, I maximised my chances of getting the set of images I’d hoped for. I’m very focused in what I do and I guess you could say I’m driven. I dislike the word though as it implies a sense of forcing things. Creativity is never forced, it is explored with openness. But you only get out what you put in.

The second attribute that I think I had, was that I never try to anticipate how well something is going. I think too many people decide at some stage that the best is over and it’s time to go. There would be low points during the five hours that I felt that I wasn’t getting anything new, only to hang on for a bit longer and then be surprised because an opportunity I didn’t see coming presented itself. Over those five hours I was building up a mental picture in my mind of how the portfolio of images I was gathering would look ( I’m a film shooter so I have no preview screen to distract me. I’ve often found the best images stay with me in my mind until I get home ). Being open for anything to happen and being optimistic that it would is a must if you are to maximise your chances of improving your hit rate of good images.

The third was that during the five hours I was there, I built up a rapport with some of the Geisha. I’m very respectful of others and often only take a couple of shots and put the camera down. I like to thank them as it fosters good relations and by not holding onto the camera for too long, I minimise breaking the relationship that I’ve just built up with my subjects. I find this works very well for me as it relaxes my shooting style, it relaxes myself in knowing I can’t get everything I want, and it relaxes my subjects because they don’t find me overbearing or greedy in my pursuit of obtaining good images. I’ve also found over my time that the more relaxed I am, the less I seem to have to work at getting my subjects attention. I found over the five hours I was there that many of the Geisha would gravitate to where I was, because they didn’t feel suffocated by my presence.

The fourth is that I like to study people. I can’t help notice the way someone carries themselves, or a little habit they have. I also notice clothing and colours and where particular subjects like to hang out. Over those five hours I was there, I noticed where some of the Geisha would hang out in the court yard, or that they would prefer to stop somewhere for a few minutes before moving on. I’d position myself in these areas hoping it would improve my chances of making some good images.

Over the five hours I was there, I worked the location. I worked my subjects and I worked myself. I never gave up and I stayed to the very end. I found that some of my best images were created right at the very end of the event when almost everyone had gone home. By then I’d broken down a few barriers, and it was much easier to approach Geisha now and ask them for specific images.

I felt inspired, and looking back now, I’m so surprised I managed to create such a nice unit of images (portfolio) in such a short period of time. It was definitely worth the expense and time of going all the way to Japan for just one day.

But I’d always know that at the core of any successful project has to be focus and a willingness to participate. Picasso was right when he said “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.