I’m currently staying with Cindy’s family in the suburbs, in Garden Grove, Orange County, California. There are no sidewalks here. There is nowhere to shoot “street photography” in the traditional sense. The entire place is full of strip malls, cars, and starbucks.
In the states, we see suburbs as the place with the least amount of “interestingness.” Many of us feel alienated and frustrated living in these nice houses, far from the city and other people.
But how do we stay inspired when we live in the suburbs, stay inspired to take photos, and be creative? Here are some things that have worked for me:
1. Interpret it as a challenge
For me, it is damn hard to find interesting things to photograph in the suburbs. But rather than seeing it as a point of frustration, I see it as a fun challenge.
For example, anyone can make an interesting photograph in India or Tokyo. But not everyone can make an interesting photograph in a mall in Orange County.
So I have taken it upon myself to try to take interesting photos in the most uninteresting places. I always have my camera with me, and I try to take interesting photos at family events, at the mall, at Costco, or when filling up gas.
How can you find beauty in the mundane?
2. Go to where the people are
If you are a fisherman, you need to go where the fish are.
If you are a photographer (let’s say a ‘street photographer’) you want to photograph where people are.
No matter how boring of a place you live in, there are always places where people congregate. That can be a bar, a pub, restaurants, cafe’s, downtown areas, the mall, the park, the beach, or events like county fairs.
Whenever I am surrounded by other people, I feel more inspired and creative. I find interesting faces, and because I am drawn to shooting portraits, I find interesting subjects to photograph.
3. Realize you don’t always need to feel “inspired”
I feel inspiration is overrated. A lot of people say you need to always be inspired, but honestly— inspiration is a fleeting feeling that comes and goes. As a creative, I think it is better to have a sense of wonderment, gratitude, and appreciation.
Therefore when you are out in the suburbs, I always find appreciation in the small things. I find appreciation of air conditioning at a mall. I find appreciation for cafe’s. I find appreciation for sunsets behind telephone poles.
I don’t always take photos everyday in the suburbs, but I don’t feel a sense of discontent. I know that even if I lived in Tokyo or New York City, I would sooner or later get used to where I live, and find it less interesting as time goes on.
I still do make it a practice to photograph as often as I can, because it helps keep my trigger-finger trained. I also end up taking a lot of photos that I don’t think are great, but that is okay. Because it allows me to better appreciate the subtle beauty around me.
4. Shoot urban landscapes
I’m quite inspired by the “New Topographic” photographers who shot landscapes around the states (mostly in the suburbs).
If you think about it, suburbs are a recent phenomenon and incredibly strange. In what other part of history did we have all these picture-perfect houses, that are all exactly the same, with these huge SUV cars, and strip malls?
I find that by photographing the urban landscape, we examine society.
So see if you can make interesting urban landscapes of strip malls, parking lots, cars, fast-food restaurants, or signs.
5. Photograph your loved ones
I’m currently typing this at Cindy’s family’s home in Garden Grove. To be frank, I don’t like to stay inside the house a lot. I prefer to be out in public, and out on the streets.
But one of the wonderful things about being at home is that you are surrounded by loved ones. So don’t think you always need to photograph things outside. Think inside. Photograph your kids, your partner, your loved ones, your family members, or your animals.
Try to make the best damn photos of your family— as artistic and creative as you can. Loved ones are also often the best models, because they are comfortable with you photographing them. Not only that, but they trust you, and you know them well.
So try to take deep photos of your loved ones. Not the cheesy photos of them smiling at you.
Photograph them when they’re ecstatic, depressed, moody, or unsure. Capture a wide gamut of emotions in your loved ones, and make a series of out of it. Print them into a photo album, and share them with your close ones. You don’t need to gain any sort of fame with these photos— only to share love, gratitude, and joy with those close to you.
I think happiness isn’t about having all the external expectations that you want in life; happiness is about finding joy in the things you already have, and the life you already have.
I always tell myself I would be happier if I lived in “city X”, owned “camera Y”, or drove car “Z”. But it isn’t true.
I’ve been the happiest when I realize that where I live is perfect. That my home is perfect. That my loved ones are perfect. That my camera, smartphone, and laptop is perfect. That there are endless possibilities to photograph, and there is nobody to blame for my lack of creativity but myself.
Take your photography into your own hands, and make the best of what you have. That is true creativity.