Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Get Out Your Toys And Play.

Years ago, well, decades actually, I had the great good fortune to be permanently seated the opposite side of a crude cubicle wall from an inspiring person. Her name was Louise and she had the most strange (I thought at the time) way of dealing with the creative doldrums. 
It was simple. 
She used to say:

 "Get out your toys and play

Ah the doldrums, that flat patch of sea situated between your eyes, where whisps of Sargasso weed languidly drift by with the detritus of life.

Look, there's a bottle floating by with a message in it . . .
Quick, what does it say?
Come on open it . .
That bottle looks decades old, look, it's no longer clear, the glass has become blasted and frosted with a superb patina.
It's amazing how that cork has stayed intact.
Have you got a corkscrew?
Now, what does it say?
Gosh the papers a bit crumbly . . .
Well, what does it say?
"I can't be arsed!"

Yep, such is the case with the creative doldrums. 
It's a languid laissez-faire that creeps up on you and before you know it, weeks have drifted by while you lie in the sun like a beached whale waiting for something to happen. 
We've all been there. 
If you say you haven't, I don't believe you - it is a part and parcel of the creative process and affects everyone.
But there must be a way out.
Well, I think in part it is a sea of our own making.
And the root cause? 
Well, don't get me wrong, but I reckon you're trying to be too serious

With everything creative, there's that nagging thought - can we be taken seriously? 
Is our photography/painting/writing/music/whatever, of such a calibre that we are unafraid to present it to the world at large? 
Does it have credibility? 
Will people laugh at us/dismiss us/talk about us?
In other words, all this creative stuff I am putting myself into, will it make a mark on the world?

I don't know what made me think about Louise and her mantra, but the more I think about it, the more I think she had a point.
Creativity should be FUN.
Remember when you were young and hours could turn into days with the addition of some felt tip pens, or some balsa wood or Lego or just anything that distilled you, till all there was were the things in front of you and some creative endevour? 
Do you remember how that felt? 
I do. 
I had a jade Staedtler felt tip when I was very young. It had the colour of peacock feathers and produced the most beautiful lines in the whole world. I loved it. It occupied me for hours till it eventually dried up and I couldn't find another. 
Oh well, that was that creative world gone!
Next project? 
A gas mask bag for my Action Man, made out of plasticised leatherette; the sewing possibly the worst ever committed - I would certainly never get a job in a sweat shop - but there was something about it. 
I still have it. 
It's a stupid thing, but has a clarion call of "I did this!" to it. 
It was fun and hard to make. 
It took time, but it was all mine
Our lives are probably littered with such detritus - of no importance to anyone but us.
And that my friends, is where Louise comes in.

"Get out your toys and play!"

Her call, whilst enduring the flat hinterland of a Graphic Design Degree; where projects that should have been done and dusted in a couple of days, stretched into chunks of boredom that lasted weeks, whilst the creative urge was squashed, examined, discarded, reinstated, tweaked, tickled up and finalised to greet the world with a massive yawn. 
Ah yes, the wonders of a creative education at the time - I wonder if it has changed?

Y'see I think part of the drive behind adult creativity is that need to make your pee mark on the lampost of life - that drive to be recognised by other dogs. 
To say, This Is Mine!
Sadly though, for most of us, I think it becomes something other than the original urge to be creative in the first place
I don't know, but it is like a weird psychological thing of having to justify oneself

You know that line from Mark Knopfler?:

That ain't working
That's the way to do it
You play the geetar
On the MTV

Because you are being creative, it somehow isn't 'work' is it?
It's just you playing, but in reality it isn't proper play really, it's a knowing sort of play
The fun sometimes seems to have been left behind and it has become an artful way of making your creative output look somehow vindicated and serious, because you aren't allowed to play any more.

That ain't working.

The doldrums I think stem from this. 
You want your output to look good and right. 
You want it to look like a beacon of justification to a world who just thinks you are playing.

That ain't working.

You become so caught up in wanting everything to be just so, that the whole goal of creativity gets lost in a mist of seriousness and trying to produce something that matches your fine-tuned sense of what a world wants from the justified artist.

Of course, if your creative output doesn't quite match up to this 'serious' artiness, then (quite quickly) things can dry up.

It's an arse of a situation. 
I've been there plenty of times, not just photographically, but musically. 
If you'd asked me back in my 20's whether I was a photographer or a musician, I would have said the latter without blinking an eye. 
But things change. 
The total obsession with making music eventually turned from something that was fun to something that was deadly serious, and when that seriousness was treated by a disdainful world with shrugged shoulders and a hearty 'So What? So fuck!' then my creative urge stopped - it was like falling off a cliff edge. 
I barely played a guitar for 25 years.

"Get out your toys and play!"

Louise's wonderful clarion cry to cut out the bullshit and get back to creating for the joy of creativity - wow. The more I read it the more I think it is a joyous, life-enhancing cry against the psueds and arses who litter the worlds of creativity, demanding seriousness, dryness, concentration, dedication, justification!

That lot have spoilt it for a lot of people - they've turned the basic human creative urge into something that has to justify itself to its own ends. It's not about fun; it's not about the joy of taking a line for a walk or whistling a happy tune in the street - it's grim, psuedo-intellectualism.

I've seen it since I started Art College.

Anyway - you probably come along to FogBlog to read about photography and that's what I'll give you.
I've not been through that big a doldrum for a while (unlike fellow bloggers and pals Bruce, of The Online Darkroom and Marcus, of Marcus Peddle who have battled it recently) but I have thought at times, Is There Any Point To This?
And the big answer is no.
So why continue?
Well, it is hard to say, but I think my answer to you would be, it's FUN
I have no creative expectations whatsoever
Who the hell gives any consideration to a grizzled old snapper on the East coast of Scotland who likes wandering around and hearing the sound of a shutter whilst trying to look at the world in a different and more beautiful way?
I really don't care. 

I just do it for my enjoyment. 
At one time I might have had ideas above my station, but nowadays, nah - that's all bollocks. There's no 'Work' (that dread pseudo-intellectual word) or any of that shite here. This is me, a Leica M2, a 35mm Summaron, some Tri-X, hyperfocal guesswork, exposure guesswork, Pyrocat-HD, a bus, and a dreich City trying to improve its image with the world.
It was FUN
I didn't give a shit about the bus CCTV, my fellow passengers or the ticket person. 
I took out my camera and snapped. I played; got dirty knees and a snotty nose, and loved it.

"Get out your toys and play!"

A Bus 1

A Bus 2

A Bus 3

A Bus 4

A Bus 5

A Bus 6

A Bus 7

A Bus 8

And that's it folks.
Cut the bull.
Cut the expectations.
Pick up your toy of choice and go and get dirty.

TTFN - please remember that the clocks have gone back now and you are still one hour ahead of the rest of mankind.


  1. Great attitude to cultivate, Phil. We should get t-shirts printed saying, "I don't GIVE a shit". :)
    Have you noticed how you seem to prefer photographing through a filter rather than pointing the camera directly at the world? The shots on this post are filtered through the dirty bus window. Your reflection shots are of the world mirrored in the glass. It's like you find the real world a bit scary? Discuss!

  2. bad typos in previous comment - here it is again! >>

    Thank you Bruce - I've got the screen-printers booked - if only the young cultivated their armour, they'd feel a lot better. Sort of "Well that's just your opinion - so feck off".

    As for me, I really don't care what people think anymore - at one time yes, but now well . . . and you know what until till you pointed it out, a lot, not all, of my published photos are distanced like that. Is it possibly a defence mechanism, worked out by my psyche and channeling itself through the camera?
    Fear of the rejection of my lovingly crafted bits of paper?
    The old fat boy goes his way and does his own thing, but holds the world at arm's length, that way it can't really get to you?

    So, that'll be £125 plus VAT - will I see you next week? . . say pencil you in for 15 minutes at 1PM Thursday?

  3. I think it's probably just an effort to get away from anything that's too representational of the world as that can be a bit bland. We all tend to do that in one way or another whether it's through abstraction or whatever. Anything that stops the world looking just like the world looks is on the right track I reckon. Photography should be a unique way of viewing the world. Someone once said that if an artist might want to paint it then there's no point in taking a photograph of it.

  4. It was the late, great Fred Allen http://www.fredallen.org/quotes.html who asked of his editors "Where were you fellows when the paper was blank?"

    It's in that spirit that I would like to approach any criticism of any artistic endeavours. There are so many Idas out there. "Ida done it like that. Ida done it differently. Ida done it better." And yet, for the most part, where is the result of Ida's clear sight and brilliant, almost insouciant command of the many media in which they lay claim to brilliance.

    It's a big thumbs up to Sheepy for putting his silver gelatine where his mouth is and laying it out here on the interwebs for all to see. We're still waiting on Ida.

    And yet, there is always that suspicion that we might be exposing some hitherto hidden facet of our personalities. But that's probably so whatever we do. Raising our head above the parapet is bound to reveal more, by virtue of what we choose to show, obfuscate or attempt to hide.

    I like the ambiguity in the Sheephousian reflective images. How you can never quite tell if that thing is in front or behind. Some of the Jeremy Brett era Sherlock Holmes episodes used multiple reflections via windows, mirrors and other surfaces to great effect. Whether they were forced by Brett's ill health at times to do this I know not, but overall the technique conveyed the uncertain atmosphere to perfection.

    I'm sure that photographers have myriad reasons for keeping a small glass fronted box between them and the world... the point I take from this latest epistle is that having acquired the aforesaid box and the skills to operate it, we shouldn't get so hung up about the end result that we end up doing nothing in a permanent state of paralysis. Let the cry go out to all glass fronted box owners everywhere: "Get it out and play with it!"

    Sheepy, I salute you. At least I would if I wasn't carrying a tripod in one hand and my other hand wasn't somehow tangled up in the straps of my camera, light meter and camera bag!

  5. Hi Julian and thanks as always for your insightful and enthusiastic comments - you know I think if more people thought like you the world would be a better place. And I really mean that. You've got a very balanced view, and you make me think.
    Actually, not leaving anyone out, but all the regular commenters I get on here, all of you have something different to bring to the table - fancy starting a photographic academy?

    "Get it out and play with it!" indeed, and actually I have been playing a fair bit of late.
    With regard to the reflections and © misheard photographs (I rather like that term [even if I did just come up with it] - it implies I was photographing something on a different wavelength) anyway, I discovered this week it has been done to perfection, cooked to the nth degree and presented to the world by Mr. Lee Friedlander. I came across a lot of his reflection pictures and was gobsmacked by his eye and humour.
    Pure bloomin' genius.

    For those about to CLICK . . I salute you!

  6. "THEY MENTIONED MY NAME ON THE TELE!!" Okay, a blog, but thanks for the mention. I have been in the doldrums, feeling there is no point to wasting pixels and film. I've also been wondering if it's worth it to show my photos to anyone. It's the same old crap, week after week, et cetera. Lately I've been thinking I should show fewer photos but write something interesting about them. Like this blog, and a few others. They are rare.
    Thanks for the motivational post. I think I'll go update my website.
    Marcus "Man on the tele" Peddle

  7. Hi Marcus - you know I have been exactly where you are a number of times and you just have to work through it.
    You love taking photographs it is a part of you, and they're worth seeing too. Keep going at it - how about some series' of say noodle shops, or bikes or tombs; or noodle shops that serve people on bikes that visit these tombs . . . all these bizarre dichotomies you have over there.
    That strange place you live with all the modern stuff hard up against the ancient without any transitional stuff - it is really quite an eye-opener. At least over here we had the Victorians to transit things smoothly. With you it seems to have been very old for a very long time, and then BLAM, Hello Modernity!
    I like that you've shown me that - please keep going!

    I'm getting some tees printed with "I Know Marcus Peddle" on them . . .

  8. Thanks for the motivational reply. If you think the photos are interesting, then perhaps some other people are also interested in seeing the Not-Approved-by-the-Tourist-Board side of Korea. Perhaps I should keep that in mind when out with a camera. "Someone from abroad might not have seen this kind of thing before."
    Wearing that t-shirt will make you a target for stones and harsh words.

  9. That is completely the correct attitude - show us your world!


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