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Finding Inspiration from Daily Life

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Have you ever thought of finding photographic inspiration and valid subject matter in the place where you spend much of your day? Is there any aspect of your daily work that is of visual interest to you? Do you work with others in an office, store, laboratory, or some other place where you may have the opportunity to photograph those working with you? I know of medical doctors who have asked their patients if they would be willing to be photographed. In many cases, the patients are not only willing to pose, but are actually thrilled that their doctor has taken such deep interest in them.

Can you photograph in your workplace? Sometimes it takes a little tenacity to get past the barrier of a boss saying no, but maybe in time he’d give it a second thought and allow some photography. Perhaps your work takes you outdoors, where you may be able to do some photography along with your activities. Whether you work indoors or outdoors, look at the whole scene as well as the details. There may be a lot of wonderful photographic possibilities hidden within them. Consider whether there are aspects of your work that could inspire your interpretation of things you see when you’re away from the workplace, just as my math and science background inspired my interpretation of the slit canyons.

Several years ago a medical doctor attended one of my workshops. He is a Vietnam War veteran who returns to the country each year to volunteer free medical work. At one of the print review sessions he put up a set of nicely mounted landscape images, and on the counter beneath them he laid down several unmounted portraits of patients he worked with in Vietnam. I suggested to the group that we first discuss the mounted landscape work. I purposely asked to review those images first, for reasons soon to become clear.

After we reviewed the landscape work I turned to him directly and asked, “Why didn’t you mount the portraits? They mean so much more to you.” He immediately broke into tears.

Perhaps he thought that as a landscape photographer, I would be primarily—or even exclusively—interested in seeing landscapes. Perhaps he felt his hospital patient portraits would be viewed as uninteresting, extraneous images. That’s not my approach in my workshops. I try to look at all of the images that students present with an eye toward helping them improve their own vision, their own interpretation, their own goals. I’m not trying to produce clones of the type of work that I do. (First and foremost, of course, I don’t want or need the competition!)

We discussed this student’s portrait work for the next 45 minutes, during which he broke into tears several more times. Those photographs were, indeed, far more important to him. That was clear to me as he put his work up, and that’s why I suggested reviewing the landscapes first, recognizing that if we talked about the portraits first, we’d never get to the landscapes.

I recommended that he temporarily put the landscape work aside and concentrate on the patient portraits, placing them virtually on par with his medical services during his subsequent visits to Vietnam. Deep inside I suspect he knew that, but he had to hear that suggestion. So his inspiration was right in front of him in his line of work. Yours may be, too. I recommend you look into it. And if you already have but you dismissed it, look again, and look deeper.

From The Essence of Photography: Seeing and Creativity by Bruce Barnbaum—Available Now!

P.S. Check out Bruce Barnbaum’s additional titles: The Art of Photography, 2nd Edition, Tone Poems 1 and Tone Poems 2.

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