Improve your creativity with this photo challenge

What a strange year, yet again, it has been. Another year of waking up to the same four walls and having our social interactions mediated through a screen. At our campus, physical gatherings have become the exception rather than the norm. Whenever I’d see my classmates, an uncertainty always shrouded our goodbye’s. A single word quickly muttered, sometimes accompanied by a smile, yet never certain what ‘next time’ actually entailed.

Recently, life has been slowly getting back to normal and I think many of us might have mixed feelings about these peculiar two years. When looking back, it was undoubtedly a challenge to continue my work as a photographer. When travel became heavily restricted and social contact was at its minimum, I was finding difficulty staying inspired.

Just a few weeks ago I had my jury where I had the opportunity to reflect on the progress I made this past year. I’ve realized that, in this period of time, my work has made a prominent shift in direction.

Why I had to experiment in order to create

I study a masters degree in photography, yet this year I barely made photographs. I simply didn’t have any reasons to pick up my camera. Instead, I did everything but photography. I started experimenting with a large variety of media such as collages, drawings, writing, film and music. With lockdown, I felt myself growing ‘bored’ and uneasy. I felt photography could not provide my creative mind with the impulses it was craving. So I decided to search for it elsewhere instead.

In hindsight, I don’t look back with regret or remorse. Words as gratitude or even happiness, might describe my feelings towards these strange times. It was from the moment we were confined to our boxes, living the same life every day, that creativity, more than ever, became my escape. The idea of ‘thinking outside the box’ became oddly tangible.

For this week’s blog post I’d like to share a photo challenge that was the instigator to a series of creative experiments. It encouraged me to venture outside my trusted medium and helped me feel re-inspired in a period where I needed it the most.

A mixed-media photo challenge to rekindle your creativity

The idea for this challenge was first created by the American photographer and multimedia artist Eva Sutton. In her assignment she asks you to experiment with different artistic expressions and to be creative outside your own medium. She challenges the agility in your creative thinking in an intuitive and playful way. Sutton named her photo assignment Synthesia, and was published in The Photographer’s Playbook: 307 Assignments and Ideas.

The first time that I heard about this book was during a workshop at my university. The main goal for this workshop was to reconnect with our classmates after months of online meetings. It didn’t matter what we did during these few days. It didn’t have to be related to our master projects or to photography even. After months of sitting at home, the most important thing now, was to create something and to simply have fun. So, we opened up The Photographer’s Playbook to random pages and let our inspiration go loose. All of us choose different assignments, but I choose Eva Sutton’s Synthesia.

The essential goal of this challenge is to create a coherent art piece using photography, video, poetry and sound. However, don’t feel discouraged by the many media used in this challenge. See it rather as an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and discover new methods of creative expression. This assignment can be adapted to any skill level, whether you’re a professional photographer or an office worker looking to improve their creativity. The only equipment you need is a smartphone and a pen and piece of paper.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

What is the challenge?

The challenge consists of 6 steps in a particular order. It doesn’t matter which technique, analog or digital, you decide to use for these transformations, as long as it feels right to you.

  1. Take a photograph
  2. Add time
  3. Make it into a video. Feel free to include other photographs, sound, text or videos as well.
  4. Make it into a sound
  5. Turn it into a poem
  6. Turn the video/sound/poem back into a photograph

4 tips to get you started

  • Make sure the photo you take, leaves room for interpretation – This photo will serve as the foundation of your art work. So make sure it is imaginative enough. See the image as the beginning of a story from which a rich and surprising narrative could unfold.
  • Be quick! – You can finish this challenge in one or two days and to be honest, I don’t recommend you taking any longer than that. Overthinking and perfection are the killers of creativity and this challenge is all about rekindling your creative spirit. So embrace the messy scribbles and the rough edits!
  • There is no wrong way to do this challenge – Everyone will interpret the instructions differently. Don’t worry about your ideas being strange or uninteresting. It is exactly this unique perspective that will make the piece fascinating and compelling. Whatever you decide to do, just go for it.
  • What is your core message? – What is the idea or feeling you want to convey with the work? Keep this in mind while creating to help you stay intentional and focused during the process.

Why you should try this photo challenge

  • Creativity makes us better problem solvers – Challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. It will enable you to view problems from multiple perspectives and to think differently. Maybe you feel creatively stuck, maybe you’re facing a difficult issue at work or you just have an off day. Find a break from these stifling thoughts through the act of creative expression.
  • Creativity makes us more human When you start honing in on your creativity, you will start seeing the world from a much richer and more empathetic viewpoint. It makes us open our heart and mind to the thing that essentially connect us all. It makes us see people not as mere strangers but as humans.
  • Creativity enables us to grow – Practicing creativity is always beneficial in some way or another. Be it in our problem-solving skills, self-confidence or ability to form ideas. By sticking to what is known and acting only in the way which is expected of you, you are unnecessarily limiting yourself. Instead, dip your toe in the deep end and give it a try. Only when you try, will you see how limitless your capacity to grow actually is.

My own attempt at this challenge

1. Take a photograph

A full bright moon illuminating the night sky of Brussels.

After a day of photographing, I had given up on capturing the ‘perfect’ image. However, the moment I stepped out the streetcar onto the bridge into the cold night, I was greeted by this mesmerizing full moon. I immediately pulled out my camera and snapped this photograph.

2. Add time

I lingered on the bridge for a while and continued making photographs of the night sky. At a certain moment, clouds started covering up the moon and I heard the rumbling sound approaching from a distance. Right before it passed under my feet, I was able to capture a glimpse of the train.

3. Make it into a video

After I left the bridge, I decided to film my walk home. I shifted my attention to the streetlights, the rustling leaves and illuminated houses. On my walk I also encountered an unexpected friend.

4. Turn it into a sound

The sound piece I made for this challenge. Please use headphones for the best experience.

The sound piece is a collection of sounds I collected during my commutes overlaid with my cover of Dancing in the moonlight. While I was sitting in the train and walking through the city to get to university, I used my phone to capture the sounds I was hearing. Together with my cover (which I also recorded using my phone), I composed all the sounds together, played around a bit with the levels in Audacity (a free audio editing tool) to eventually get to the end result.

With this work – the photographs, video, sound piece and poem – I wanted to convey a sense of nostalgia and melancholy. I had just moved to Brussels, I was ready to meet new people and experience the excitement and novelty of this town. But right when I settled into my new place, lockdown got implemented again. Even though I was surrounded by sights, sounds and people, I couldn’t shake off this feeling of loneliness.
It was from this intrinsic feeling from which I created each piece of the assignment.

It’s not a part of the challenge, but I recently re-recorded my cover of this song and posted it on my Youtube channel. Feel free to check out this version if you’re interested.

5. Turn it into a poem

Doors open with a slight touch
Lights exposing every darkened eye
scrolling away time a bit too much
a sudden halt
cold air rushing against our skin
a bright white moon greeting us
good evening
a slam
muffled noises still seep within
while we lay there
dreaming

6. Turn it back into a photograph

I didn’t feel the need to make another photograph, so I never ended up finishing the challenge.
Whether you follow the challenge all the way through or not, is all up to you. For me, I was happy with how it turned out and it felt right for me to discard the final step.

How to present your art work

Once you have completed the final step, try and find a suitable way to present and share you new-made art piece. Be it a tiny exhibition in your bedroom, a video where you combine each component, a blog post or a series of Instagram stories.

I decided to make use of the space where the workshop was being held and set up my work around a corner. I wanted the viewer to see the work by its individual pieces and to move around physically to get to the next part .
In the photos and video, you get a rough idea of my setup:

Now it’s your turn

I hope this blog post has inspired you to go out there and create as well. Feel free to tag me @ginko_leaves if you decide to do this challenge 🙂

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