sources of inspiration for your photography

Where do you find inspiration?

Photographers often find inspiration by studying the work of other photographers. I certainly do. For both professionals and amateurs there are amazing resources like the contest sections at PDNonline. With something like 3 million photos uploaded to Flickr every day there’s certainly no lack of photographic diversity and inspiration there. The internet is an incredible resource for finding images and technical information. Looking at photographs isn’t the only way to find inspiration, though.

I began photo assisting straight out of high school and, as a result, never attended college. Lacking a formal art education I’ve had to educate myself through visiting museums, the public library and meeting artists and other creative people through the course of my work. A large part of my personal inspiration comes from looking at what creative people have done and are doing in mediums other than photography. Painting, sculpture, literature, music and film all inform the way I look at the world.

Here’s what I’ve tried to pick up from other mediums:

Sculpture: I envy sculptors because they work with three dimensions, molding all dimensions into their desired vision. You’ve often heard the phrase “painting with light” but I prefer to approach photography as “sculpting with light”, in pursuit of capturing that three dimensional quality.

Painting: All of the art books told me I should appreciate the great impressionist painters. Well, I didn’t get it. Even a visit to the Art Institute in Chicago wasn’t providing any great revelations. Then I walked away from a collection of Monet’s paintings and looked back over my shoulder, viewing them from about 50 feet away. At that distance they became luminous and drew me back in. Then, for whatever reason, I “got it”. As a result I really like photographs that both provide a quick read and then have something for the viewer willing to stick around for a bit, the same effect Monet‘s paintings revealed.

Literature: Being totally honest, I don‘t make a lot of time for reading fiction. But ask me about Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and a very strong mental image comes to mind of the Joad family trucking through the dust bowl during the Great Depression. I’ve also been “On the Road” with Jack Kerouac and am glad to have made it out alive. Literature provides the ultimate form of images, unrestricted mental images that aren’t limited by time, place or technical ability.

Music: Musician Tom Waits is an acquired taste. His vocals are rough and raw and his music is considered a collection of discordant noises by some. Waits’ signature is that his music often takes a good look at the downtrodden and often overlooked. For me, as a photographer, that’s a good lesson: seeking to present viewers with what they may otherwise overlook.

Filmmakers: Some of the strongest visual images I can recollect come from films. From the iconic black and white scenes in Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent classic “Metropolis” to the tension of Jim Jarmusch’s static camera in “Stranger Than Paradise”. It’s all storytelling with 24 still images per second.

Whether I’m always conscious of them or not, these are some of the things that influence the way I see the world and also the way that I photograph it. Where do you find inspiration?

- Jim T.