Here is how I find inspiration for my photography and life:
1. Inspiration is simple
First of all, I think you can find inspiration anywhere. You can find inspiration in a child walking for the first time. You can find inspiration from a tree bearing fruit. You can find inspiration from music, from sculpture, from typography, from photography, from poetry, or from the conversation with a few close friends.
I think the biggest problem we have with inspiration is thinking that it needs to be something super epic and divine. Rather, I think inspiration should be simple, mellow, and humble.
2. Breathe in
I understand the word ‘inspiration’ as breathing. Breathing in inspiration from the entire world.
Living here in Hanoi (with the bad pollution) there is no fresh air. So for me, inspiration is breathing in clean air.
What is clean air? Wholesome sources of inspiration. I find a lot of inspiration in the sublime verses of Horace, through the teachings of Jesus, through the badass Stoic philosophy of Seneca, to the empowering lyrics of Big Sean and Kanye West.
3. What do children do?
I think I find the most inspiration from beginners. From children. When their minds are pure; clean, without dogma, rules, or outside pressures.
When we are beginners, the possibilities are infinite. This is when we are the most creative. Because we combine all our outside influences, and create our own artistic vision.
When we are children, we have no fears of being judged negatively. When we are children with a blank sheet of paper and a red crayon, we don’t color inside the lines. Rather, we create our own drawings, without borders; without limits.
I remember when I first started to photograph, I had the most fun. I photographed whatever I wanted, without worrying whether it would be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ photo. Instead, I just photographed what made my heart sing. I made photos that brought me personal happiness.
When I started photography, there was no social media. I think honestly, social media has empowered many photographers— but have made a lot of photographers depressed. Before social media, I shared my photos with fewer people, but I didn’t ‘quantify’ my progress in photography in terms of followers, likes, or comments.
4. Age backwards
I think every child is born an artist. Like Picasso said— the secret is how to stay a child as you get older.
As I’m getting older, I’m trying to age backwards— like Benjamin Button. I want to become more ignorant and more child-like when I get older. I want to reverse aging; and become like a child again. This is how I can tap into my inner-genius as a child.
5. Find inspiration in unlikely places
I have currently been finding a lot of inspiration in unlikely places. In typography (studying Roman font, Roman numerals, and the Gutenberg Press), in the teachings of Jesus and St. Paul (for morals), from hip hop music, and through Cindy — the ultimate muse in my life.
I think the secret to always being inspired is to know that inspiration is everywhere. And to be inspired all the time, we just need to pay attention. That means spending less time being distracted.
I know that I have found more inspiration in the world, when I spend less time on my smartphone, spend less time thinking about money, thinking less about how many followers I have on social media, or giving a fuck of what other people think of me.
Distraction is the ultimate enemy of inspiration, motivation, and creativity.
We all know what distracts us. So each day, try to be a little less distracted. This is the first step to being a more child-like artist.
6. Find inspiration in poetry
I have thought a lot about poetry lately — the only artists who have had a lasting legacy are poets. There are no painters who are remembered from antiquity (2,000 years ago). The only few painters who are remembered are some painters from the Renaissance (500 years ago). And the only art works that have existed are sculpture — because marble doesn’t decay as easily as paper or paint.
I think today’s closest thing to modern poetry is hip hop music. And it doesn’t need to be ignorant hip hop like most of the stuff you hear on the radio. My favorite rapper/poets include:
- Kendrick Lamar
- Lupe Fiasco
- Big Sean
- Jay Electronica
I think they rap like poets— except they do it over bass and treble.
So if you want more inspiration in practical ways, study poetry. Study the Zen-like Haiku poetry of Basho. Study the poetry of Horace, Ovid, and Livy.
Read Homer’s Illiad, which is a great epic story/poem which has stirred my heart and creativity. I recommend the modern Penguin Classics translation (it is actually readable).
7. Study philosophy
I read ‘The Art of Poetry’ by Horace, who wrote a letter to his friend, giving practical tips on how to be a better poet.
One of Horace’s pieces of advice is: look at philosophy for inspiration for poetry. Horace drew a lot of his philosophical musings and fused it into his poetry— by studying Socrates, and Epicurean philosophy. A lot of his philosophy sounds very Stoic as well.
8. More boredom, more inspiration
I think boredom is the root of all creativity and inspiration.
When we are bored, we actually look around, in order to entertain ourselves.
I know when I am eating dinner with Cindy, and she goes to the bathroom, the instinct is to take out my smartphone and distract myself. Now, I try to look around the restaurant— and I find inspiration from the interior design, which I would have not noticed if I didn’t allow myself to get bored.
I was the most creative as a kid when I was bored. I had to make myself games for myself. I had to draw, in order to entertain myself. I had very few toys as a kid, which helped me create my own toys.
I think the worst thing you can do to a child (in terms of killing their inner-creativity, and their inspiration) is to give them an internet-connected device. And to be honest, the same applies to us adults.
9. Study the masters of photography
If you want more inspiration in photography, it is a good idea to study the masters of photography. I find inspiration in their images, which helps spur my inner-creativity. I find inspiration from their images, and I strive to make better images.
Often, I see things in real life which I have (already) seen in photos. What I try to do is to ‘remix’ that scene— and make my version of the photo a little different.
10. Life without inspiration is death
If we think of ‘inspiration’ means to breathe in — we will die without inspiration.
We will die without breathing.
So constantly breathe. Deep breaths in and out. Find wholesome sources of inspiration— from the ancient philosophers (Seneca/Publilius Syrus), prophets like Jesus, from Renaissance painters (Leonardo da Vinci/Raphael), and even modern hip hop artists like Kanye West and producers like Rick Rubin.
Just open your eyes. Inspiration is everywhere.
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