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It Has To Start Somewhere: How The Ideas Come About

It’s Certainly Not Out Of Thin Air

I’ve been wondering for some time how to explain to people how we come up with the ideas behind our photo projects. It goes way beyond “Oh hey, we have these costumes, let’s do a set.”

There’s quite a bit that comes out of practical exercise and research. Everything we have done before comes with learning opportunities that can be applied to future work. Those particular items I knew would be easy to explain. But there was one part I was aware of though for a while I was unsure if I could describe it in a way people would understand. Through an unexpected conversation I stumbled upon something that totally helped me understand a bit more about myself and be able to quantify that one aspect.

The Practical Applications

Color Theory and the Use of Color

One place I want us to certainly stand out is in our use of color. If you’ve paid attention to our work one place I apply this is in the editing process. When appropriate in context of what we’re doing I try to get the colors to ‘pop’ without being ghastly or over stimulating. Given most of the medium we pull inspiration from quite often this makes sense.

But that’s not the only place where we really put thought into color. One example of this is discussing the use of makeup in our shoots. Since Mermaid Child is our makeup expert we talk quite often on color schemes to use from eyes to nails. Going through this process lends a certain subtle coherence which I think helps us quite a bit.

There’s a few other places where thinking about color helps a lot. But we couldn’t do this without some foundation. Paying attention to color theory has helped me out quite a bit. There’s a lot regarding color theory out there you can read about. Some of it I have looked into though now with technology there’s a lot easier ways to apply this study. I use the absolute hell out of Adobe Color to help me figure out color schemes for whatever application I need. If you don’t want to dive into all the theory then at least play with this app and try to figure out how to use it in your work. You’ll be glad you did.

Bending Light to Your Will

This is one aspect I have really being paying a lot of attention to lately. Understanding light and how to shape it can really add some drama and impact to your photos. Given that there’s now quite a few affordable light modifier manufacturers out there there’s lot of opportunity to explore light. But first you should start out simple. Choose one easily available modifier like a shoot through umbrella or a softbox. Figure out how distance and placement changes things. If you don’t have the ability to shoot to figure this out then there are quite a few videos out there on YouTube that goes over single light setups. I’d recommend watching a few different ones so you get a broader perspective on how people are applying this.

From there you can start to explore things like different modifiers and multiple light setups. But understanding the basics is a must before you go down this path.

Seeing how people use and shape light has been very interesting for me. It’s given me a lot of good ideas on how to apply that in our work. Not that we try to full on emulate what they did. It’s more of “Hey, I remember this person did this… what if we adjust it a little?” The use of light has gone even further by studying and experimenting with light painting.

There’s so much that can be done with light to really make things your own. And it’s certainly one place we spend a lot of time thinking about.

Understanding What Has Come Before You

I’ve gotten quite a bit of inspiration by going back and looking at the work of past photographers especially those who worked in areas that are adjacent to ours like fashion photography. People like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Philippe Pottier. When you consider that they did all of their work on film they really had to think through a lot of things before they clicked the shutter.

When I look at all the elements they had to pull together to create an image it’s interesting for me to try to dissect how they got there. While I’ll never fully understand their artistic stance it’s a good exercise to try to pull it apart and think through why they made the choices they did.

The RNG Element and Paying Attention

Ever since I stopped pursuing certain things I have a lot more mental bandwidth available to me. To be honest it’s made me feel a lot better as a person since it’s brought about so much mental clarity in general. So that brings about a lot more potentially for opportunity.

Oddly enough of of my favorite activities to work on with this is with location scouting. I’ll just go drive somewhere to check out the potential. And I won’t even have the radio on. Now given that I live in Austin I have to deal with our population growth. But since I’ve been here as long as I have whenever I drive I just think “Y’all are fuckin’ dipshits and you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.” So the act of going somewhere is pretty mechanical. In a weird way it gives me space for ideation. As I’m driving I’ll just see some location and be all “Oh hey, that would be a cool place to shoot.” Not that we may ever actually use it but it gives some inspiration on how to represent space. Other ideas for inspiration have also come about while I’m driving.

To that I’ll recognize some bit of an idea and wonder if there’s some way it can work elsewhere. It can be something like a piece of fan art, a show I’m watching, a lighting technique, a location, a costume, anything. There’s ideas that have come around due to someone buying clothes or even a random comment someone has made. I’ll put some of these ideas in our team chat. Sometimes they go nowhere… sometimes they’ll get a bit of commentary. And then there are the ones that just go BOOM. That last bit can be really interesting. Tacocat and I can be really bad about that. Something can get thrown in there… and then her and I are bouncing ideas all over the place. Then the rest of the team has to scroll through a bunch of messages and go “Just what the fuck are you two talking about?”

Thankfully I can pull back from some of that to figure out what we can realistically do. We all have school or day jobs. Plus there’s the money aspect to consider. We can only do so much.

But it doesn’t stop us from wondering what we could do.

This was the part that I wasn’t sure if I could really explain. Why exactly were we so open to these seemingly random ideas and were willing to work with them?

It turns out that quite a bit of that could be explained due to science.

The Science Behind This

A while back I was a photography workshop being held by Joe Edelman and someone asked him where he comes up with his photo ideas. He jokingly said “When people ask me that question I tell them I’m just ‘a little bent’”. He then went on to mention the discussions he and his wife have over the psychology of creatives (psychology is her field of study). That part intrigued me because I hadn’t really thought about it from a clinical perspective before. Before I really delved into researching this I could really only quantify it as “I want to do something different” at least in terms of a mental state.

There were two really good articles I found on the subject. One was an article from Psychology Today that had a ten point breakdown describing creative people. And holy fuck it pretty much described me to a T. There were quite a few of these points I knew of in a loose conceptual sort of way. But when I finally saw it all written out as it was it kinda blew my mind.

There was one particular point that struck me as really interesting especially in the way it was presented.

Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping. When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.

This tendency toward androgyny is sometimes understood in purely sexual terms, and therefore it gets confused with homosexuality. But psychological androgyny is a much wider concept referring to a person's ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses. Creative individuals are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other one, too.

If you were ever to hang out with the five of us for ten minutes you will see this point is really true for all of us. But speaking for myself to read this kind of helped clarify some things in my mind.

When we were discussing putting together the Pusheen shoot Mermaid Child and I talked a lot about how we wanted the presentation to go. I really wanted to make sure that overall we were always presenting her as a complete person. Given the kinds of outfits we were working with it could have been easy to default to a “masculine gaze”. Which quite frankly I find that shit really fucking boring. It would also reduce Mermaid Child as a person which I certainly did not want to do.

Outside of this particular instance there’s always three things I think about when it comes to my work: 1) am I showing off the work that was put into the costume in the best possible way, 2) am I respecting how the cosplayer understands the character they are trying to represent, and 3) am I respecting whoever is in front of my camera as a person?

Maybe this is one way I’m expressing my feminine side in my work. I will admit this is probably a tad bit simplistic and needs more exploration. But seeing this written out in such a way just made so much sense in the way I’ve come to understand my creative self in the last couple of years.

The second article on Scientific American discusses a study that was performed to further quantify some psychological aspects of creative people and how they interact. If you have a chance I highly recommend reading the research paper. If was very fascinating to see an attempt at a further breakdown and how certain facets relate. The way they grouped aspects such as Plasticity, Generation, and Divergence and showed how they can drive each other made complete sense to me.

It’s Beautiful Outside

I’ve written before on how we take our work in our particular art form and why we present it in a much different fashion than others might. As mentioned earlier in this article we loosely knew it as “we want to do something others are not doing.” Since those articles I’ve been wondering how to explain to people the various facets involved to show why we do things the way we do and how we get there. Some were pretty straightforward but I wasn’t entirely sure how to provide more structured context for others. Now that I’ve done further study I think we have that context.

We ended up building our creative houses with lots of windows and doors. We can see what’s out there in many different directions and how the light comes in in various ways. But we can only leave through one door at a time. Though we can return home and eventually leave through a different door. Each door opens up in a different direction. Each window shows us a different view.

Some build their creative houses with one door and one window. And that’s all they see and walk through.

You need to remodel. It’s a lot of work and you can’t fully see the impact until it’s actually done.

Once you do you’ll realize how beautiful it is outside.

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Clearing Your Head: One Year Later

Creativity Blooms