As I’ve discussed many times, inspiration can come from all directions. Of course normally every Tuesday, I speak specifically about how we can be inspired by the photographic works of other photographers. While I feel that is an important aspect to explore – I do believe that photographers should also be fans – it is a bit of a narrow discussion. And so I would like to take a short recess from that this week and I would like to discuss how specific events or causes can inspire us differently. In fact, I would like to discuss how it can push us to reach outside of our comfort zone.
The photos shown on this page are my own, but it’s not the photos that are the source of the inspiration – it’s the cause behind it. This weekend, for the fourth year in a row, I participated in the LIVESTRONG Challenge Philly. For those unaware of LIVESTRONG, I would encourage you to wander over to their site to learn more about it. But I don’t want to dwell on their mission or their message. I speak of this event because it is an event that specifically affected me and inspired me to reach outside of my wheelhouse. The same could be said about something like the Olympics, a car show, an arts festival in your town or whatever else could induce a personal connection. With a personal connection comes passion, and with passion comes some fantastic results. And so to illustrate that, I will use the LIVESTRONG weekend.
The event is a two-day event in Philadelphia. On day one, we host the running and walking events and ride events (up to 100 miles) on the second day. Like any other race for a cause, it is filled with inspiring stories and the message of the organization is the setting for the entire event. LIVESTRONG is about hope and it is about living each day strong. With strength and hope, we give those a fighting chance to catch Cancer early and beat the odds. LIVESTRONG is about communication, and about support from our families and friends. It is very much an all encompassing message that can also be very personal. As a photographer, I have been working these last few years to illustrate that message – in all its forms – as best as I can on film. Maybe it’s the side-wager between one team captain and the CEO of LIVESTRONG (a 3-time cancer survivor himself) that finds him on a pink ladies beach cruiser instead of his normal road bicycle. Maybe it’s the signs from our youngest supporters, or the story of the 89 year old woman who participated in memory of her husband, daughter and granddaughter. There are stories all around, and I felt the need to capture them on film. And so I was inspired to do so, even if it meant working outside my style.
An event such as this really puts me in my element in a way that is somewhat atypical. I am no stranger to street photography techniques, but I find myself working outside my comfort zone when speaking with strangers seeking that personal touch or eye-contact and smiles. Granted, such an environment is much more forgiving than shooting strangers in the big city. But it also affords you to work and gain confidence in a much safer scenario. Sports photography is also something I don’t work with much, save for LIVESTRONG every year. It took me a couple of shots to recall muscle memory and get the timing down…but it’s worth it. And most of all, my approach to a shot is very different from anything else that I shoot: Instead of looking for the good shot, I am looking for the shot that will tell the story. At such an event, my work is not unlike that of a photojournalist, and I find myself working like one as well. It’s about getting the shot and telling the story rather than compositions and artistic bokeh. It’s about appealing to a larger audience rather than trying to earn respect as an artist. For that matter, you may become a different photographer at such an event. But that’s not such a bad thing, as it still gives you experience and wisdom to expand your normal, more refined photographic passions.
I guess my point is that you can be pushed outside of your envelope with minimal disruption to your normal process because of such an event. If the event is something that you are passionate about, something that you are dedicated to, your work will fall into place naturally regardless of your experiences. While it may be a different source for inspiration, it is inspiration all the same. So find such an event that you’re serious about, and learn how to be inspired by something that has little or nothing to do with photography. You’ll find that it may be that very missing piece you were looking for all along.