Is creativity dead?

I was recently reading an interesting article from a photographer I follow, Olaf Sztaba, over on his fantastic blog which you can find by clicking HERE. That article was titled The Creativity Trap and I recommend you go check it out as it brings up some very interesting thoughts to kick around.

I don’t want to steal his thunder with the article so by all means, click that link above and go read his article first. Really, I insist! Don’t worry, I’ll be right here waiting when you finish it.

Ok, you’re back! It was a good article wasn’t it? It’s an interesting idea, the concept of labeling things. It feels like today everything anyone does has to be given some sort of label, from the label of a style of photography to something as simple as the word creative or creativity. I’m going to be honest here, in many cases I’m all for eliminating the need to put everything in it’s nicely packed box with a unique label. More often than not I feel like we have too many labels which ultimately have a detrimental impact on our own perception of our self worth and where we “fit in” with society in general. But let’s keep this focused on photography here shall we. (Sweet photo pun there that was 100% unintentional! I noticed it after I went back to edit the post.)

Olaf’s article got me thinking about something. If you listened to me and read his article you’ll know that he’s making a point about how labeling yourself as being creative with your photo work or saying you love the process of creativity is actually a false statement because to be creative you need to meet the criteria of the definition of creativity which is “a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created”. The way I interpreted his great article though was that the only view of something being truly creative is when it is something that has never been done before, heavy emphasis on the NEW part of that definition.

If we subscribe to the idea that in order for something to be creative, to use creativity or for someone to think of themselves as a creative, they have to produce a work that has NEVER been seen/done before, well, is there anything left? Would the fact that portraits have been made for more than 100 years mean there is no such thing as a creative portrait? Landscape photos have been made forever and by now is there really a landscape photo that doesn’t resemble someone else’s previously created landscape photos, so does that mean that there is no such thing as a creative landscape?

This really concerns me because if we only judge creativity on the basis of what has been done or seen before, we might as well hang it up and quit. With the sheer volume of photographs made in the world today, let alone over the history of photography, there is a high probability that finding something that has not been photographed or seen is next to impossible.

It’s time to mourn because Creativity is Dead. At the very least if it isn’t yet dead, it’s on life support with no brain activity and no hope of survival because that view of what makes something creative means there is a finite amount of photographs to be made ever. There can only be so many firsts and once the firsts are over so is creativity, so let’s just pull the plug and get on with the funeral for creativity.


Unless maybe creativity is something other than “a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created”. 

Maybe, just maybe, there is more to creativity than just being new.

I think we need to look at the second descriptor in that phrase. The part about being valuable. But valuable to who? Well that’s a big debate isn’t it?

It could mean valuable to a buyer of photography such as a client/advertiser looking for updated images to promote their biggest selling product. It could mean valuable to a bride and groom who want beautiful photographs to remember their special day by. It could be valuable to a local city, town or historical society that value the photographs that preserve forever an ever changing landscape.

In all of those scenarios, and many more that we can probably think of, there is nothing being done that hasn’t been done before by someone, somewhere on this planet, BUT there is work that is new and valuable to those in any of the other scenarios mentioned.

Brides and Grooms have been photographed for many years, likely millions of bridal portraits have been made, so there is nothing new happening when you create your next bridal portrait if you compare it to all of time and history. But I think you have to look at it differently. Is it the same photo that YOU as a photographer have taken repeatedly? Maybe, but also maybe not. Maybe you tried a slightly different pose, or you tried to capture the scene in a way that you previously hadn’t. Maybe that landscape full of autumn color in front of you has been captured by a million other photographers in one variation or another, but you are feeling inspired by someone else whose work you’ve seen and you decide to incorporate a little of that flavor into your own mix when you line up your composition. Maybe you decide to try to tell a story of the scene in a series of images that work together vs a single image.

Ok, so a lot of what if’s and maybe’s right? But what’s my point?

I feel like creativity is something that cannot be so easily defined. I think in part it is determined by the audience of your photography. It’s new and valuable to them, something they haven’t yet experienced. In this way, even the process of continuing to work and refine your photographic artwork, even when the end results are similar to photos you made previously, is creative to those viewers that have never seen your work before.

In part it is defined by you as a photographer, what story you are telling, what choices you make and how you are influenced in the moment to capture the photograph. All the work you put into refining your skill, your reactions, your instincts and your vision leads to one thing. Your unique take on whatever it is you are photographing. We all have a visual signature of some sort, or, as my good friends over at Shutter Time have said, a visual DNA. It’s always changing, evolving, yet there is still a thread of YOU that runs through every photograph you make. We all have our own vision, our own perspective and our own point of view…it’s just how being a human works I guess.

So who can call themselves a creative? I believe that anyone that feels the urge to create something. That need to craft photographs, make music, record a podcast or a video series for YouTube. All perfectly valid means of being a creator. I believe that if you are a person that has that need, that desire, to create….well you are a creative. It doesn’t matter if you are creating something new that has never been done before or if you are creating your 1000th photograph of a beautiful autumn scene, you my friend are a creative. Do we need the labels on everything we do, probably not all the time. But I take great pride in viewing my approach to life as being that of a Creative, simply because I have the desire and need to create.

So, is creativity dead? You’ll have to be the judge of that.

But I say no, inside all of us that carry a desire to create something, creativity is alive and well.

All photos made with Fuji X Series cameras and processed in Adobe Lightroom with Rebecca Lily Premium Color Grading System presets


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