IS THERE A THING CALLED INSPIRATION?

7 – 14 March 2014/ Gulf Photo Plus, Al Serkal Avenue and Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai

This week proved to challenge my idea of inspiration.

Finding inspiration in desolate places

Finding inspiration in desolate places

I was so blessed and utterly spoiled to be able to go to one of the world’s most prolific gathering of photographers for a week of workshops on everything photography by Gulf Photo Plus.  The week kicked off with Gregory Heisler’s magnificent ‘50 portrait’ exhibition and book signing.  I was blown away by his precise and surgical use of light and the way he achieved a certain honest expression from his subjects, specifically referring to a portrait of Jasser Arafat (Time Magazine 2002 cover titled “All Boxed In”) in which he used an old 4X5 camera to grab his attention.  For more on this portrait check out the video on how this was achieved.

Gregory Heisler's portrait of Jasser Arafat for 2002 Time Magazine Cover

Gregory Heisler’s portrait of Jasser Arafat for 2002 Time Magazine Cover

Very few things could grab a man like Arafat’s attention and Heisler knew, instinctively what he needed to do to take the shot, which was to use an intimidating or interesting camera.  Heisler said that when he sat down to compose himself for the photo Arafat said “I have not seen a camera like this, since I was a little boy”. (Heisler, G.  2013.  Gergory Heisler 50 Portraits: Stories and techniques from a photographer’s photographer.  Amphoto books. p 151)

PhotoFriday kicked off at Dubai Knowledge Village with a series of talks by some of the photographers who would be presenting workshops during the week.  I went to see talks by Zack Arias (If you aren’t shooting for yourself, you aren’t shooting), Joel Grimes (Think like an artist…), Sara Lando (The language of photography) and David Alan Harvey (Finding your voice).  Zack spoke about finding inspiration in your own environment and shooting street photography and I learned that I needed to take a small camera and shoot more, without being scared.  Joel Grimes stressed the fact that you should think of yourself as an artist, to get out of this thing that you are not good enough and start shooting and to do more work, because I am unique.  Sara Lando (my favourite) talked about speaking the language of photography, creating a code with meaning and signs and building relationships with characters.  She was referencing semiotics in her work and what I loved about her talk was how she said that perfection is a trap.  She says that we need to embrace our imperfections because it creates fear to create work at all and I am very guilty of this fear of not doing something right.  David Alan Harvey, the legend that shot more than 40 National Geographic cover stories spoke about his travels and creating personal work.  He also spoke about being small as a photographer on location and I thought how ironic that statement is.  I have the greatest respect for his work and I am fascinated by the way he is so utterly fearless and the way that he sees emotion in a frame before it even happens.  He also incorporates a great deal of history in his work and said to learn everything about the subject before setting foot in the country.

David Alen Harvey on his series of images for Magnum in Rio

David Alen Harvey on his series of images for Magnum in Rio

On Saturday I went to the wonderful Joe McNally’s workshop on using small lights (mainly flash) and this was a purely technical and I learned things that I never learned in photography school.  The most important thing was basically a lesson on how to predict the light and deciding which metering you will use, manual or TTL and how to set various groups of flashes and how to adjust certain setting to achieve various different looks. I was amazed with what you can do with your flashlight (some things that I didn’t know) and I was also privileged enough to be photographed by the man himself – I hope to get the image!

Joe McNally's workshop on using small lights

Joe McNally’s workshop on using small lights

Sunday I went to Sara Lando’s self-portraiture workshop and she spoke and demonstrated her self-portraiture process.  Here I learnt that we need more time to shoot on our own but the process itself was amazing and extremely introspective.  I found it particularly hard to do and it was a very emotional thing for me as I am camera-shy and someone who struggles to let my guard down when in front of the camera.  I wanted to do this workshop for this reason and it helped me to realize certain things about myself that I didn’t know.  I also really love the way that she uses mixed media in her work and I will most definitely explore and incorporate some of these aspects in my work, especially video work.  Check out this film of her photographically illustrated short story.

Screenshot of Sara Lando's Photographically illustrated book

Screenshot of Sara Lando’s Photographically illustrated book

Selfportrait with Sara Lando by Karien Mulder

Self portrait with Sara Lando by Karien Mulder

Brooke Shaden’s Fine Art Photography workshop was amazing, to say the least.  She is one of the kindest and creative people I have ever met and her energy really brought a very diverse group together.  I made so many friends (who are all very talented) over her two-day workshop and we all learned invaluable things from her.  She spoke about location, theme, editing, mood, believability, selling your work and much more.  I created an image, based on a dream I had one night and I titled it “Limbo” (see below).  It is a portrait based on this dream of my mother, denying and struggling with an addiction, which has now taken over her life.  She is being pulled to darkness to one end (denial) and being pulled to a broken, unstable ground (the addiction) by the other end.  This surrealistic portrait was created, by shooting all the elements on location to make it more believable.

Limbo - Karien Mulder

Limbo – Karien Mulder

The last night I went to the shootout in which two photographers (Zack Arias and Sara Lando) competed in creating the most crowd-favored image in 20 minutes.  They got a couple of props, and assistants and had to create an image in front of a massive crowd and not only that, they had to do it in front of all the amazing photographers that was there for the week!  Sara Lando won with her image of her husband that she printed out and re-photographed under water to fit the theme of “water”.  Zack also created an interesting image but Sara won this one fair and square.

Sara Lando wins GPP2014 Shootout with her underwater image of her husband

Sara Lando wins GPP2014 Shootout with her underwater image of her husband

So to get back to the question of inspiration:  This week taught me one thing and that is that inspiration only comes with creating more what you are seemingly capable of.  Making more images is what makes us take more risks and it frees us from that thing we call “inspiration”.  So with that I will set out to do just that.  What does it mean to you and how do you get inspired?

8 replies »

  1. Hi Karien, you know, I’m a portrait type of guy, so I was really interested when you mentioned the self-portrait class. Then when I saw it flash by on the ShootOut, it really stood out. So I’m glad you pat it up here so that I can take another look! That was a great self-portrait. What an expression and what a nice moment captured.

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