Innovators are vital in our changing world, but we must not confuse them as examples to copy. Lists should come with this warning ‘Beware of bandwagon ahead!’
Here is my list to encourage new-year innovation and avoid copy-cat imitation.
1. Respond to change
The best contemporary art responds to its times and speaks beyond them. That’s why photojournalism is such a worthy art form. We consider the times we live in and make work in light of the past, inspired by those who have come before. How is the story evolving and where is it heading?
2. Move on
We change with the times. Our work reflects what we understand (or don’t) about this remarkable universe. We may be tempted to play safe with familiar stories. Be brave and move on. If you are not interested in the subject, why is anyone else going to be?
3. Read for depth
We could easily copy the aesthetic look of celebrated photographers, but our work will appear superficially thin. The best work has depth. Reading the stories behind the ‘ones to watch’ helps us understand the photographer’s motivation and thinking. C.S. Lewis said ‘My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.’ The more you read, the better your work becomes.
4. People love people
People’s stories are endlessly interesting, and that will never change. The novelty must come from the current-ness of a subject. Who are these people and what are they doing now?
5. Local goes global
Diane Arbus once said ‘the more specific you are, the more general it’ll be’. The everyday movement on Instagram confirms the importance of the local in understanding the global. What is ordinary to us is remarkable to the outsider: we just need to discipline ourselves to see it. I spent a year documenting my own country and was amazed and surprised by it: it felt like falling in love with my homeland all over again. Be novel, be local.
6. Get new stuff
If I could get some nanobots with cameras I would start documenting inside my blood vessels. Scientific technology drives innovation in art. We don’t always need the latest thing either. Last year I returned to using film to force myself to look harder at what I was shooting. The art of photography is about challenging ourselves to find a fresh perspective. Buying new stuff can help us to achieve that aim.
7. Less efficient, more excellent
Washing machines are efficient, light bulbs are efficient, but people are not machines. Freelancers are conditioned by the corporate world to think in terms of shifts and targets. What is the point of your efficiency? Replace efficient with excellent: it’s a more forgiving master.
Final thought …
Aiming to be on a ‘one to watch list’ is like chasing the wind. People on these lists are often surprised to be there because they have worked on the same thing for years but now it has become relevant.
Innovators focus on the task at hand, even when no one is looking.