How often do you make something that surprises you?
As the great photographer Jerry Uelsmann once said, and I paraphrase – if he has any goal, it is to surprise himself.
I think that is one of the most profound statements an artist can adopt. It is so difficult to surprise ourselves. After all, we are ourselves. To do something so out of our usual comfort zone that even we are surprised by what we do or the outcome of what we do is my mission.
I found that recently I wasn’t very surprised by myself. And by recently, I mean the past handful of years. I took risks, but they were calculated. I took risks that weren’t really all that dangerous. So, were they risks at all if I have to categorize them as baby risks? Probably not.
When I started photography I would have done anything – misshapen bodies, weird contortions, grotesque imagery. I think that as my taste for imagery grew, so did my images. But, they became more normal.
I’m beginning to shed that.
I’m beginning to stand out.
I’m doing it in small steps. I’m working my way back to the macabre. But I’m going there, little by little, day by day.
(Well, not my spine. My elk spine.)
Essentially, it comes down to this. I want to be willing to look into a strangers eyes and not break eye contact. I want to be able to stand proudly with my art, as dark as it may be or become, and be willing to stand by it. I want to represent my art by not backing down, but presenting my vision and not caring if it is weird or makes me an outsider.
I’m working on it.
How often do you create something that surprises you?
Vicki Kurasz - You amaze me. The things your brain comes up with, your personality, and the ending cracked me up. Keep it all coming! 🙂
Sara Harley - It has been a few months since I surprised myself, which means it has been too long. I have actually been struggling with this concept for a while now, feeling a lot of angst without really knowing why. It was just this morning (before reading your post) that I decided to shake things up. I had joined instagram in January, but found I was posting things just for people to “like”…not for myself or my creative process. So I made a few decisions this morning to change my process and the way I spend my time. I want to share my creations, but not through the standard instagram or facebook paths. Your post has perfect timing for me, and a message that I am starting on the right path for me.
Amy - So proud of you! At your level of success it must be much harder to take creative risks, but you should! That is one of my main goals with my career, never to fear whether my work will be loved and to create whatever I want despite what people think. I find that although I appreciate the support of others, I’m most satisfied when I love the image and connect with it myself (these usually end up being the least popular of my images now that I think of it… Not sure what you mean by surprising myself. Could you clarify on that? I planned the pictures so I’m not surprised lol I look forward to watching you grow
Vali - i did something surprising lately. it has been a long time since I did. it reminded me of when I started 40 years ago and was squashed into thinking a) i wasn’t an artist and b) i wasn’t an artist. c) be normal. your video to day…o…thank you. perfect.
I”m not sure where “risk” is for me now, but I do know “vulnerable” so that is the edge for me to stand at..and “look into its eyes.”
Julie - I don’t surprise myself nearly as much as I used to surprise myself. Your blog really resonated with me. Right now, I need to spend some time discovering the now me, while revisiting the before me. And, beyond the thought process, I need to journal these awakenings as not to forget. I wish I had a pensieve to sort and contain my thoughts as I’ve found that my mind becomes bogged down with trivia and experiences throughout the years. I’m reminded of this weekend course I took many years ago, Landmark Forum. During that weekend one of the presenters shared this (my interpretation of what was said): When we are young we don’t have walls and fences built up around our hearts and minds; we act bizarre, we do whatever –dancing, screaming, making silly faces; then, someone tells us, ‘no’, we shouldn’t do such things. If we do those things someone might think ill of us. Slowly those fences and walls start to take shape, and before we know it, there’s a well constructed perimeter placed around our heart and mind. Right, shouldn’t we concern ourselves with how others’ perceive us? We don’t have to be so vulnerable when those fences or walls are strategically placed. It’s time to become surprised!
elizabeth reynolds - Brook-
I’m sure you hear this all the time…but your blog and email
help me immensely take action to (albeit slowly) crack out of a
cement chrysalis I’ve been stuck in most of my life.
My dream is to create images and little by little I see my path open to myself. You’re an intricate part of this for me. Thank you for unwittingly being part of my personal healing team.
My personal growth team.
jeanne - sadly I”m at the beginning of the learning here and to say I would be surprised at my work would be I”d be surprised if I got it to look like I wanted it to. I shall keep working at it!
Gallagher Green - My first thought when I saw this photo was “That is the creepiest thing she has made in a long time!” and I like it! The second thing I thought was “The elk spine is back!” LOL. Is the spine still held together naturally, or is it now glued?
I love the idea of creating to “Shock myself”, I have been feeling a little non-creative in the photography area lately, so hopefully this will help!
Wonderful video, thanks. 🙂
Jon Miller - I would say the last time I create something that surprised me was 3 days ago, I did a shoot expecting a certain result and got something better than expected.. Needless to say I was quite happy about the results. This does not happen often but when it does it makes all the reading and calculating and drawings worth it.
Ruth Bilowus Butler - I created something surprising several years ago, but I didn’t think too much of it until I unearthed it awhile back.
That happens with a lot of my images… I need to get away from them for awhile and I appreciate them as if they were created by someone else.
Always loved Jerry Uelsmann’s work and his partner wife(?) Maggie Taylor. I took photography from Les Krims attending Buffalo State when Cindy Sherman was there and the Hall Walls group evolved.
I’m on video 77 of your creative live series which is filling in a lot of creative and technical gaps for me. I so appreciate the convenience of learning and being inspired from home. Thank you!
paulla - A couple of years ago I started making selfportraits, I called them selfies with a different approach. Simple things, simple editing. Mainly bw. I came across your work and I thought, oh my, I should stop this. But I didn’t. Since then I’ve surprised myself so many times. Some are nice, some are not, but there’s this need to continue to surprise myself and do better, learn other things.
You are a true inspiration. Keep on doing, teaching. We really need people like you in this world. Thank you!
Neviekur - I’m nobody in this world of visual creation and my abilities are very limited, so my opinion is not very important, but I understand and share this reflection.
People are often obsessed with finding their own style. Do not worry, we all end up having our own style. Because we all have reduced tastes, preferences and very limitations. We are not omniscient or almighty. Sooner or later we end up repeating ourselves, turning our tastes into tics and obsessions that become familiar. That is what we usually call our own style. Finding it gives us a sense of identity (I am unique and singular: I have my own style) but it also becomes a golden cage. Being totally identical to ourselves, we are already unable to surprise ourselves. What was once an unusual find has become familiar and trivial. That’s why maybe people who do not get to know themselves completely, who have some unexplored inner landscapes (although sometimes they present themselves as chaos, anguish, pain or any other apparently negative feeling), are the people still able to surprise themselves and others. This is expressed in the myth of Phoenix: to be able to ignite an euphoria that incinerates us, to be reborn from our own ashes. A myth of symbolic death and creative rebirth.
The unusual and surprising is born into the frontier of the known and the unknown, the self and the non-self, the conscious and the unconscious, the light and the shadow. Monotheism of dark is as reductionist as monotheism of luminous. A complex gaze about world and about us needs both. Darkness saves us from the blindness by an excess of light, light saves us from the blindness by an excess of darkness. Beyond the manichean opposition of light and darkness, maybe it is inside of chiaroscuro, in the misty border between enthusiasm and desolation, joy and sadness, reason and imagination, reality and desire, tragedy and comedy where beats the heart of lucidity.
In order to continue surprising ourselves, perhaps we must accept that we are frontier creatures and that there is not identity more creative than the one born of our own contradictions.
Sorry for this so long comment. I hope you’ll be able to be reborn from your own ash layer and come back to surprise yourself, like a photophoenix bird of textures and brushes. Lol