Storytelling & Ideas
So we're talking about storytelling and ideas first, because in my opinion we cannot literally in any circumstance start talking about imagery or creativity without talking about story. Now, I wanna make something clear, and that is that we all come from different backgrounds. We all have a different motivation for creating, we wanna create different images, so I know even just right now in this room we have people creating very different things, from macro to landscape to shooting humans to doing cinemagraphs and everything in between, so it's really important to me that I define storytelling in a way that isn't restrictive to what you do. If you are a landscape photographer, you are also a storytelling photographer. If you're a macro photographer, you are a storytelling photographer. And the reason why I make this distinction is because we will talk a lot about character and traditional story elements that you might more easily find in the type of work that I do, which is very storyt...
elling, cinematic imagery. But if you don't do that, remember that this is still applicable because character doesn't have to be a person, okay. Location can be abstract. I don't want you to think of these elements that we often talk about in story as something that's concrete. So, for you maybe a mountain is a character, and you still need to treat that thing in that image like it is a character. Give it the attributes that it needs, portray an emotion that it needs to have, think of it in the same way and I promise you will get through story in a really beneficial way. But, it's often not thought of like that. But first, I just wanna tell you a little bit of my personal history and why I have come to teach this class, why I started image making in the first place, and I wanna take you back almost nine years ago when I first started photography, when I had nothing. I had a camera that somebody gave me, I had a lens that somebody gave me, I had a tripod from Goodwill, and it didn't even have a little, what's that thing, the tripod plate that goes on it, so I had to rubber band my camera onto the tripod, like, I didn't have much, okay, just hand-me-down stuff. And I had a tiny little apartment, I didn't have lights, I didn't have models, I didn't know photography, and I didn't really care to at the time, either. I was very interested in instant gratification. I had just come from a film background, I was in college for film, everything took forever, and I just wanted something now. I was like, I wanna go make something and I want that thing to be done by the end of the day, and I wanna move on to the next idea. So that's how I started creating, and in doing so I realized that photography is a thing. Like, there were people out there making photographs and I didn't even consider that. And they had so many things. They had double monitors to edit on, and they had lights, and they had studios, and they had models, and I started to become intimidated by this, by people telling me, well you know, if you're gonna be a photographer you should have this, and you should have this new light, and you should definitely have two monitors because how are you gonna edit your images at 200% if you don't have two monitors? And things like that, that were so overwhelming to me as an emerging artist, that I just wanted to shut down. So I made a choice right away and I said, you know what, this is all too much for me. I've got ideas, I have simple equipment, and I'm gonna make that work. So I started shooting simple things. Myself against white walls, I started photographing skin and any natural elements that I could bring into my space, but nothing else. And the reason why I make this point is because we all have this level playing field of having nothing, if that's what we choose, or if that's our circumstance. You might have the most money in the world watching this, you might have no money watching this, and I want you to know that that is fine. It does not matter what you have. And the reason why I say that having nothing provided me with the most growth possible is because I didn't have anything to be beholden to. So, I didn't have lights that I felt guilty about not using, I didn't have a studio that I had to pay for, I didn't even have models who expected anything. And with nothing I was able to grow my vision, what I could imagine in that space, how I wanted to express myself. And in that way, art is selfish, and it should be selfish. It's great to create and then put it out there and help other people, it's great to create for other people as well, but if you're not creating for yourself with what you have at the bare minimum, then what are you creating for? The reason why this is so important to me is because our growth comes from that place of nothingness, of confronting yourself in a very real way and saying, what is my idea if nobody's gonna help me? If I don't have a location, if I don't have a model, if I don't have a prop, what will I do in this blank room? Which is sort of like blank canvas syndrome, where there's nothing in front of you but white, and what will you put on there? No one's gonna help you, you have to put yourself onto that blank canvas, and it's so hard. But it's also so amazing. So we're gonna talk through that throughout this course, and how can we use nothing to create the best possible piece of art out of that. Now, everyone is always saying you have a story, you have a story, you have a story. And yes, of course I believe that you have a story, I believe that everybody has a story, but I also believe that you don't have a story to tell until you believe that you do. And it's such a simple switch in your mind. And I wanna really be sensitive about this topic, because I have met a lot of people who genuinely feel that they have nothing to offer. Who feel that their life isn't worth putting into a photograph, who feel that they can't affect anybody, who feel that they're not good enough to create, and I want to tell you that that is not true, that there is always somebody out there who will benefit from what you have to say in the way that only you can say it, and this might sound like fluff, and it might sound like me just being hippy like I tend to do sometimes, but it's not that, it's not that at all. One thing that I've struggled with in the past is this idea of story, and how do we cultivate story if we feel like we're boring, or if we feel like we're not good enough? And I've always felt like that in my life, I've always felt so boring. Like, I grew up so normal. Just happy. I got married, I have a great relationship, it's so boring. And at some point, I started, I started going to conferences, I started to listen to TED talks, I started to hear people speak and so many people come from a place of tragedy, and I started to feel like, well if I have anything meaningful to say it has to come from this dark place and I have to share my story of rebirth and transformation and I don't have that, so what could I possibly have to offer if I haven't been through much of anything? And that's when I realized that story does not necessarily come from hardship, it does not necessarily come from joy, it does not necessarily come from any one place. It comes from just being alive, and having an opinion and being strong enough to put that opinion out there. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I was ever going to change someone's life, I would've said absolutely not, and I would've laughed at you and I would've genuinely believed that that would never happen. But now, it has happened, and I'm not saying that in any sort of a braggy way. I'm saying it because I want you to know that I was that person that thought that I would never affect anybody in my life. And now it has happened, and that's amazing to me. And it could happen to anybody. So please, if you feel like you don't have a story to tell, just make that switch right now in your head. Just change your mind and see what happens, see how things start to change in your life because of that. There's this song that I love, and here's a little bit of my, like, folky hippyness coming out 'cause I don't listen to a lot of music, but I love this band called A Fine Frenzy, and they have this really great quote and I've paraphrased it for our purposes here, but generally it says, we could love you, but we would only crush you. You've gotta find where you belong. And I love that statement so much, because it's so true of the way that we work as artists. We could create anything and put it out there and somebody, even if it's just one person, will love it. There's seven billion people on this earth, somebody's bound to, right, or at least feel something or enjoy it in some way. But here's the thing about creating, is that it's so easy to become complacent. It is so easy to make something, put it out there, get some good feedback, and think this is it, I have done something that people like, so this is my thing, and I'm gonna keep doing that thing. And this is what happened to me. I started creating, I started getting good feedback, and then I just did that same thing. For like a couple of years I would just make the same type of thing over and over and over again, and if I'm being totally honest I'm still doing that to some degree. I am still riding that wave of, oh I hope you like it, I hope you like it. But here's the thing, somebody will like it. At any given point in time, whatever I put out, somebody will like it. Now, don't get me wrong, a lot of people will hate it. Trust me, I've experienced my fair share. But somebody's going to like it, and eventually that crushes you, going back to this quote. Eventually they're gonna pull you under, and they're gonna make you feel like a machine, like you have to keep doing this thing that everybody loves, and it's not true. You can change who you are right now, you can change what you create right now if you want to. And it's important to know that that is possible. So you have to find where your voice naturally lies, what you wanna say, what is your authentic voice. Find that thing and pursue that without worry of who's looking or who loves it or who hates it. I mean, if I went back through and counted up all of the comments of people saying how much they hate what I do, I'm sure that I would just be like hiding under a rug right now, never wanting to come out. I don't know who hides under rugs, but I would do that. And my point is that it is crushing, the negativity, the positivity, and we have to get past that to create. So, I have this idea that art should be difficult. And we were just talking about this, me and April, one of our in-studio audience members, about how art should be difficult. And we think it shouldn't be, and this is the problem in my opinion with people who want to become artists. And not everybody, obviously, but there are so many times when we start the process of creating and we think, okay, I'm gonna sit down, I'm going to make my idea, I'm gonna sketch it out, it's gonna be great. And then an hour goes past and there's nothing on your paper and you're like, I'm not even an artist. This sucks. I'm not doing a good enough job, this is too difficult, whatever. And then you move on. Maybe you don't become an artist. And the unfortunate thing is that this starts when we're very, very young. We try to make something, we don't have a very long attention span, we give up, nobody tells us that it's supposed to be hard, and then that's it. And then from a young age you think I can't draw because it was hard, and I just, I'm not good at it. Well, yeah, because you didn't try hard enough. And I'm very wary of saying those words you didn't try hard enough, because that's not always true. Obviously that's not always true. But, in my experience when I watch somebody genuinely work so hard at something, year after year, they're getting better, and they're succeeding in what they're trying to do. But we give up so fast, and I want to just stop that now. So if you're following along with this class and you're trying to find ideas and you're just like, it's not coming. I spent three days. Three days? Come on now, we've gotta try harder than that. It could take years, it might take a day, it might take a minute for you to find an idea. Good if it does, and good if it doesn't, because it is only through art being difficult that we learn what we're meant to express. It takes a long time to get to that place of knowing what you're meant to be talking about in your art and I feel like I am only just now reaching a place where I get it. And really, just the surface of it. And that's not to say that what I've created in the past isn't beautiful to me, and it wasn't fulfilling. It was, and it was amazing, but I'm at a very new place right now and I'm not gonna talk in-depth about it, 'cause I don't wanna freak anyone out, but I'm in a very different place now, and I can't wait to explore that, and I can't wait to fail at it, too. Why not? I mean, I hope I fail a bunch of times before some times good comes of it. I'm sharing this little baby photo with you because this is me and my sister, she's the one with that really awesome bowl cut, I don't know how that happened. My mom is a hairdresser, you would think that things would've gone better, but there she is with her bowl cut. And the reason why I'm showing this is to make this point about competition. I grew up with a sister who was good at everything. She got way better grades than I did, she was just so smart at everything, she was lightning fast, she was just quick, we would go into a flea market and like (snaps fingers) five years old she'd be haggling with people, markin' prices down, like, I just couldn't do any of the things that she could do. She was social, she was smart, she was just so intelligent, and I grew up feeling like I wasn't good enough, and I remember she was, something like 11 or and she started going to these nude drawing classes and she was practicing with charcoals and stuff, and I just remember being like, that is amazing. And I just felt like I couldn't do it. I was like, she's so good at that, I could never be a charcoal artist, I could never draw something, I could never do that. So I grew up with this idea that I had to try so much harder at everything and it never looked as good, and doesn't that just stink? And this is what we do as adults, too. We see other people doing things and we think, gosh, they're so naturally good at that, I could never be that good. And then we stop ourselves from creating because we're like, oh, that person already did that, or this person's so much better at what I wanna be doing, when it has nothing to do with you. The fact that I'm related to my sister has nothing to do with my abilities or my skillset or anything, but I grew up thinking, well, if she got that talent then I certainly didn't get the same talent, because, of course, sisters are nothing alike ever, ever, ever. And that was always something that stuck in my mind as being a huge roadblock for me, and it wasn't until we grew up a little bit that I started to realize that we have some of the same talents, that we have some different talents. No matter what, though, her journey is just a different journey from mine. My journey is so different from hers, it has nothing to do with that. And I wanna make this point because we're all going to be in this Facebook group together, we're all going to go through this journey together of trying to make a series, trying to do something meaningful. And if your work looks different from everybody else's, great. If you feel like you're at a different point in your life, great. If you're just opening Photoshop for the first time, do it. It doesn't matter. I've been doing Photoshop for nine years. Maybe you've been doing it for one day. So don't try to compare those things at all. Move on. This is just a quick overview of my work over the years. I don't expect you to look at every single image, but just to show you a little bit of the color palette and how it's evolved and things like that. Just so that you get a sense, because I most certainly do not expect anybody to know what I do (laughs) you might be tuning in and you're like, who is this girl? Well, this is a little overview of who I am, what I've been doing over the years, and a little bit of what I hope to teach you. Now this is the most important definition to me, and that is to define passion, which I believe is interest plus commitment, and the commitment part is what I'm talking about, this is where we drop off the bandwagon, okay. So, art is difficult as we've just talked about, and it takes commitment, and I often think about this word, interest. It's so easy to have interests, it's so easy to pick something up that you think is cool and sort of like do that thing as a hobby for awhile, but it's when you really commit to that interest that it becomes a passion, and when it becomes a passion there's almost no stopping you from being able to do it, it's like breathing, you have to do it. Then I think it's important to define story. And story, I think, is an emotion with a reason behind that emotion. It took me a long time to come to this definition, because story is this huge, wide, broad spectrum of things, but if you consider that a story in a piece of art will make you feel something, and then you can figure out why you feel that way, whether it's your own story that you're making up in your head about why you feel that way, or the elements in the image that make you feel a certain way, there's always a reason behind an emotion. If there's not, it's probably not a story. It's probably, well I don't know what that would be, somethin' that makes you feel really good or really bad? That's a thing now, quote unquote. So it's a story. Reason and emotion. And these are my two favorite words in the English language, passion and story. Always have been, always will be, I love them, they are like my lifeline. So, I have this theory that a passionate story is the most irresistible thing that anybody can put out there into the world. In so many ways this is true for me. I had a really big shift in how I think about my art, how I think about my persona, my social media presence, things like that, and it was only when I realized that I didn't care about social media, I didn't care about creating, I didn't care about any of that unless I was sharing a passionate story. That was when I realized that that is gold in fine art. You're doing it because you love it, and when you share that passion with others it is irresistible. People want to orbit around you when you have so much passion that it just bleeds from you. And I think that that is what's so exciting about creating fine art, is that it's yours, it's your story, it's your passion, and when you share that, there's nothing better. So let's talk about storytelling, shall we? Storytelling. As I mentioned, this is a big, broad topic and I'm just gonna share some ways that I like to tell stories. Some ways that I find it really beneficial to not only come up with a story, but translate that story visually, and so here we go, storytelling. One is story basics. And you might've heard me talk about this before, because it's almost impossible to talk about story without acknowledging the basics that go into a story. But we can use these story basics to come up with ideas, to come up with stories to put into our images. And this is the part where you might be thinking, but I don't photograph people, so what do you mean who? Or, I don't photograph any locations, so what do you mean where? Well first of all, take and leave what you want, you don't have to use every single element here. But also, really challenge yourself to see who as maybe not a person. Grab your cat, photograph your cat, I don't know. Photograph your cactus if you don't have a cat. And if you have none of those things, then I don't know, just pick up whatever's closest to you right now and take a good look at it, and see what kind of character that can be. That just reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, think about Lumiere, right? Who would've thought that a candlestick, anyways, so. I'm on a tangent. What I wanna talk about is this image specifically and how these elements apply. So how can we use story basics to come up with an image? Now, I tend to like, and you'll see me, this happen over the course of these exercises, but I tend to like to choose one element first to focus on, because I get very overwhelmed, I think that maybe my brain is like just 1/4 of an inch smaller than most people's, and it doesn't hold all of these words very easily all at once. So, I like to focus in on one of these things. And this is like when you're a kid you learn how to say who, what, where, why, when, how, or whatever order it's supposed to go in, I can't remember now. But you learn to say that and you learn that those are story basics, but let's focus in on one. So, like, if you guys had to say, which one speaks to you the most? What would you say? Just quickly, just whatever.
Why. Now, why is my thing, why is my jam, just so you know. Because it's the heart of story. Without the why, it falls apart. And, I start with why as well, depending on the day. But maybe, so if I told you, make up a story based on why, it's really hard, isn't it? It's way easier if I say make up a story based on a location. Can you immediately start to imagine something? Some of you might say no, some might say yes, that's okay. Maybe you connect more with when, a time period or a time of day. Maybe you connect more with how, how does this story come together, how will you create this story, how? I challenge you to think about each of these aspects when you're creating a story. Now if we look at this particular image that we have here, we can go through each of these topics. So I'm going to play with you guys in the studio right now. Not really, I mean you're fine, but, alright, so who is this person? If somebody wouldn't mind just grabbing a mic and just running through some quick answers with me here. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. (laughs) Anybody. Yeah, go ahead.
Hey. Okay, who is this person?
A girl, okay. Is she young, is she old?
Okay, a young girl. Does she look like she's from modern times, older times?
She looks like a princess.
A princess, why thank you. This is a self portrait, and my goal is to be a princess at all times.
It's the dress.
Its the dress, yes it is. Okay, so that's a good start. So then, what's happening?
She's walking, what else?
She's looking at a candle.
Okay, what is she doing to the candle?
She's reaching for it.
Perfect. So that's what's happening, where is she?
In the forest.
Very good. Is it a normal forest?
A supernatural forest.
It is a super, I like that, supernatural. I was gonna say magical, but I'm gonna replace every word. Whenever I wanna say magical I'm gonna say supernatural, 'cause that's way better. Okay, now let's skip why for now, and when is this? You can answer this any way you want.
It's ambiguous. It's not a very particular time of day, it's not a very particular year, so it's timeless, we'll say. And then, I could ask you how, but we're not getting into the how yet.
You know the how, only you.
I know the how. So, why, then? Now I'm gonna ask you why. Why is she there doing this? Now I don't have an answer for you, so it's literally whatever you put into the story. What do you think is the why?
I would say, I would say because she's reaching for something because she's curious about something.
Right. What do candles represent? They're on fire, right, so there's light. So you could say that candles represent light. She is reaching for a candle, so you could say she's reaching for the light. And that would be a really easy why to insert into the story. Now, if we take a look at the next one here, we've got a totally different scenario, okay. So we've got who, and this is a very interesting one to answer these questions on. So somebody else take a mic and let's have more fun.
I'll go this time.
Okay, awesome. So, who do you think this person is?
Cinderella, I love a good fairy tale. Okay, so we've got a Cinderella-type character, or maybe Cinderella herself.
Okay. What is she doing? I love asking this question.
She is on the precipice, she might be falling, she might be stepping off, I don't really know.
Okay, good, I'm glad that you don't know, you're not supposed to know. And that's what in my opinion the most intriguing images do, they ask questions that are storytelling basics where you don't know the exact answer to the question. And that means that you can put any story that you want into this image. So, you know what, one person might say, well clearly she's falling off the edge. The other one might say, no, she's defying gravity, you know. Maybe someone would say, nope, she's coming back up. Who knows? I don't know. I should know, right. I have different ideas on different days. I want it to be ambiguous. Where is she, why is she there, when is this, how is this being put together? All questions that will have different answers. And then we have this final one, and this one is a lot of story put into one image. Who, what, where, why, when, how. And I'm not gonna go through every single example here, but just keeping in mind that every single image of mine will at least hint at these questions. Who is this person, what are they doing, so on and so forth.