Original ideas – Are they still possible and do they matter?

How often have you killed off your own ideas out of fear that they had already been done? It’s time we talk about the concept of original ideas and if you should care about them.

They say there are no original ideas anymore

Let’s face it, in the world of photography it can be nearly impossible to think of a photographic subject or project that SOMEONE hasn’t already tapped into. It makes sense then, when people feel that in photography there are no original ideas anymore.

But let’s pump the brakes real quick. I disagree.

It all depends on your internal frame of reference on what constitutes an idea. Are you basing it on subject matter?

Processing style?

Editing choices?

Presentation?

Don’t forget about the most important aspect of your photography

You.

You are the most important aspect to your photography. Each and every one of us, if we are creating work truly from our hearts, have our own unique view of the world. We also bring our own unique life experience into play each time we raise the camera to our eye.

A great example of this is a video from photographer Jessica Kobeissi. The concept of one model photographed by 4 different photographers. To make things easier I’m linking to her YouTube video right here. I don’t claim ownership of this video, it links back to her YouTube channel, but it’s interesting so check it out.

Want to know what I think makes an original idea?

Of course you do, why else would you still be reading! So let me break it down like this.

I understand that in terms of subject matter it may be impossible to find something to photograph that hasn’t already been photographed by someone else at some point in time. I’m sorry to break it to you, but no, you are not the first person to photograph a fine art series with dancing raisins as your subjects.

Even though there may be no original subjects, there are original ideas. They are original to you because you have never photographed them yet. You had not yet had the idea to create whatever photographs you are dreaming up.

When I get an idea to shoot ironic portraits of raisins in classic Hollywood noir lighting I’m bringing my personality to the photographs I make. Am I the first person to think of making photos of daily life around me, no way, but…

It’s my personal experience and my visual narrative that makes that photo unique. The same is true for you. I like to think of these both before and after I create a photograph:

  • Have I photographed this before?
  • If so, am I trying something different this time?
  • Am I thinking about the scene differently than last time?
  • Am I in a different place personally and mentally than when I’ve photographed it last time?
  • Why am I making this photo?
  • What makes me interested in this topic?
  • Do I have an idea or story, a visual narrative, in my head as I make the work?
  • Am I enjoying myself as I create the photo? How about as I think about the finished image or the process?

The list of questions goes on and on. The more I think about them, the more things come to mind. The more I answer these questions to myself, the more I realize how much of myself gets put into my photographs.

Every idea is original to us

I know many will feel like I’m just talking in circles here. But I really do believe in the concept that if I have an idea to make something that has not occurred to me before…well, it’s an original idea to me.

And sometimes we need to remember that an original idea to ourselves is all that really matters. We get so wrapped up in comparing our ideas, our work, to that of everyone else. Not only everyone we see that is currently making work, but we compete against all of time and the history of ideas. There is bound to be a ton of overlap and similarity in the creative world.

It’s what YOU bring to your work, YOUR visual narrative, YOUR life experience. All of that is what makes that idea original to YOU.

Quit comparing yourself to others and just let those ideas flow. The more you create and act upon your ideas, the more ideas you will have, but that’s an article for another time.

In the meantime, enjoy a few photos from a trip down to the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area that I made a little while back. I’m sharing more from my archive as I have not one, but three of my own original ideas I’m working on and I am not ready just yet to share the new work I’ve been creating as I get the projects off the ground, but I’ll share when I’m ready.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t original

Photos made with a Fujifilm X100T – Processed in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC with custom edits based on my own presets I’m developing/refining for my own work. 

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