Tip Tuesday//Writing as Inspiration//Mel Karlberg
Lately, my Facebook feed is full of posts about photography burnout and creative blocks, so I decided to switch it up a bit and offer some creative inspiration for today's Tip Tuesday.
If I am ever in a rut, adding writing into my daily routine busts that funk! If you don't love to write or you've been convinced you can't write well, don't run away. This process isn't about proper grammar or correct spelling or coherent organization. And it certainly doesn't need to look pretty - these are my 3 notebooks (the generic school spiral for morning pages, my 2017 book for planned prompts and reading notes, & my traveling camera notebook [purchased at Target] for brainstorms in the middle of grocery stores and sermon notes).
It's just about getting thoughts on paper to spur your brain to focus on new details and discover new outlets.
Whether it's daily journaling or a planned prompt just before I shoot, getting those words on paper adds another layer to how I see things and often opens up opportunities that I would have missed had I not transferred the ideas from thoughts to written words.
For this Tip Tuesday, I will share two different writing exercises (MORNING PAGES and PLANNED WRITING TO SHOOTING) and how they progressed into final images.
These first images are the result of daily "morning pages." When I am completing morning pages (inspired by the book, The Artist's Way), I write immediately upon waking and it is just stream of consciousness. Whatever comes to mind, I put it on paper as I write continuously for two pages. Some mornings, it's the same subject for two pages and other days, it's a few sentences on 20 different subjects.
One morning, I reflected upon my daughter's run -- she was two at the time, bouncing wherever she ran and her feet had that slight in-turn that so many kids have at that age. I wrote on about how much I would miss that toddler-hood detail and became determined to photograph her little turned-in toes. I kept trying to photograph it while she ran, but I never could capture the angle to accurately reflect the memory, so I gave up. One day, I caught this reflection in the puddle under her swing and knew my moment had arrived. She wasn't running, but the angle was exactly how she looked when she ran. The simple act of writing down this detail made me ready to connect the memory I wanted to capture with the moment I was experiencing.
Another morning, a few days before school ended, I started writing about the transition between school days and summer days. There are no prompts during morning pages, so I write about what is happening and just let the writing lead where my thoughts take it. This particular writing led to reflection about how lucky we are that the days become longer as our schedules relax, allowing bedtime to change to accommodate the later sunset. That led to spring/summer details about the color of the air, the spring storms and humid days that follow, bare feet, asphalt (as a child, I always played in the street during summer since we lived on a cul-de-sac) and, most of all, the freedom. A few days later, I was watching my kids play near this puddle and knew I wanted to capture those words in images. I specifically was hoping to get some light and movement that felt like summer and also something that symbolized that feeling of freedom.
PLANNED WRITING TO SHOOTING PROMPT
I usually document moments as they happen rather than shooting with a plan, but sometimes the rut is deep and I need to push myself with a specific prompt. It forces me to look closer for photographic opportunities immediately after the writing and the prompts almost always inspire multiple images days or months after the planned prompt. The image below resulted from a "draw it from the hat" prompt. I placed the names of 5 people and 5 colors in a bowl and drew one of each. I drew Grandma and the color yellow. My grandma has passed a few months earlier, so the memories were fresh and grief powered the writing. I reflected upon my grandma's love of flower gardening. I wrote about how she never wore gloves, not caring that she muddied up her always-manicured fingernails. I wrote about how she never seemed to mind that the sun was hotter and brighter at their lake house, about how it rarely drove us inside because there was too much digging and growing and adventuring happening. And then I walked and photographed this, the first rainbow sun flare I ever captured. Without the prompt, I would have kept walking, feeling the sun was too high and bright and the subject just not moving enough to photograph. Instead, I produced an image that bought me nostalgic comfort and joy and reminds me of my grandma every time I view it.
I am now living in my grandparent's home town and they have both passed. I find myself lonely for their wisdom and aching for their company, especially in the garden. My grandmother was the flower gardener but my grandfather preferred the vegetables. In early spring, the baby veggies were still in the greenhouse and every mornings began with checking their progress. I remembered my journal from a few year's earlier about my grandma and decided to give myself the prompt, Lessons from my Grandpa. I ended up writing this:
My grandfather was a quiet man. His examples spoke loudly, so he didn't need to speak up. I remember him raising his voice to me only 3 times (not yelling, but just increasing the volume enough to grab my attention) - 1) when I tried to throw out the cling peach juice from the can after eating the peaches, 2) when I told him that I was on a low carb diet and couldn't eat fresh corn from the garden and 3) when I tried to tell him that the mountain of patio furniture tied to his roof didn't seem safe for the Dallas to Waurika drive. // I feel most close to him when my hands are in the dirt. I sometimes linger longer than I should with the plants, pulling the dead leaves off and thinking about how much better we humans function when we purge the negative from our own lives. It's a meditation that makes me grateful to have known him but also sad that he's no longer here, especially with us living so close to their home. I want to call and ask him which tomato variety is the best choice. I want to know if he has a turkey manure connection in the area. I would love to just have him here to walk around my tiny garden and talk. // For now, I stick with waking up and checking the plants, trying to channel his wisdom to focus on what's important before the hustle of the day is upon me.
I ended up with two images, about two weeks apart, that were fueled by the Lessons from my Grandpa prompt.
I firmly believe that a photograph carries the soul of the photographer. If an image is shot without emotion or connection, there is a piece missing from the final image. Whether or not the image's intention accurately translates to viewers, the one shot with soul will always be more powerful. And, even if I'm wrong in this belief, I know I am not wrong about the following -- it will make more of a connection with the photographer. Every time the photographer views an image that is connected to something deeper, that was shot on that different level that writing and reflection spurs, the memory is stronger, the emotion is deeper, and the photographic experience is more intense and fulfilling.