Google the term “creative block” and you’ll find countless articles trying to cure you of this terrible malady. This isn’t one of those articles.
Why not? Because I see nothing wrong with it; I don’t think it’s a malady at all.
In fact, I view it as a healthy stage in the creative process that we must embrace, not attempt to avoid.
Bull and Bear Markets of Creativity
Just as Wall Street has bull and bear markets, so too does our creativity. Sometimes we run out of juice.
In both cases, there are constructive reasons for these cycles. In the case of the stock market, a bear market deflates overvalued (i.e., cliched) ideas — sticking a pin in the dot-com and real estate bubbles, for instance — and encourages people to find new businesses to grow and new ways to make money.
In our work as photographers, creative blocks serve a similar purpose. If there weren’t a mechanism to stop us in our tracks and force us to try something new, I think we would just fall into a rut of repeating ourselves, or pursuing endless variations on a theme. We would get stale.
For me, creative blocks don’t come at regular intervals. They might happen once a month or once a year. Either way, the important thing is that I recognize them for what they are and accept them, rather than trying to fight the cycle.
This Too Shall Pass
Next time creative block hits, don’t panic. Just find something to occupy your time — even something seemingly uncreative and boring will do the trick.
Early in my career, I worked as a photographer at a hospital. Sometimes, employees would ask me to make copies of pictures of their relatives who had passed away. I agreed to do this work as a favor to my colleagues.
Often, the photos I was given were old, turn-of-the-century images that were faded, creased and stained. This was many years before digital photography and Photoshop, so I used a device called a Leica Reprovit to copy the pictures. It was a tedious routine, and yet over time, I got very good at retouching the creases and increasing the contrast of these old images.
One day, while I was in the midst of a creative block, I was doing some of this “boring” work when Felix, a hospital maintenance worker, came to me with a photo of one of his deceased family members. The picture was taken in Barbados during the 1940s; I found myself enjoying the process of bringing it back to life.
Then, when Felix returned later to pick up the photo, I suddenly noticed the dark glasses he was wearing and decided he would make an interesting portrait subject. I asked Felix to pose for me, and I loved the images that resulted.
As naturally as it had come, my creative block was gone.