Can constraints be generative?

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Can constraints be generative?

Postby ramesh_adkoli » Sun Jan 23, 2022 6:23 pm

We live in a world where seemingly infinite choices of resources in any form of art pursuit seems to be the norm. Take photography for example. In terms of gear, we have latest and greatest cameras released every couple of years. And a plethora of lenses from Wide angle to Super Telephoto is available to suit one's budget. And no subject is far away, as many modes of travel and stay options make it easy for one to reach them. In summary, we are swamped with choices in our resource arsenal. How is that abundance of resources affecting our creativity? Is abundance spurring or retarding our creativity? Are we spoilt for choices? Are we lost because we have lots of choices? What if we reverse the trend and bring back the constraints of the old world? Can constraints be generative?

I guess there are no obvious answers here. It can be very subjective. Some of us might get distracted and lose focus by the abundance of resources. Some of us can get motivated and feel liberated by the abundance of resources. My experience has been that imposing constraints on my photographic endeavor has been refreshing, challenging and rewarding.

I just went to shoot an inconspicuous road side tree this morning (23 Jan 2022). The subject is an Indian Almond tree. This tree is unique in that it sheds its leaves in late Jan/early Feb. Whenever I shoot this tree (this is the second year), I am challenged with these constraints:

1. Shoot only this tree. Nothing else.
2. Only one point of view. Just look up.
3. Mostly one lighting. Back lit.
4. Mostly one kind of rendering. Silhouette.
5. Lots of obstacles. Hanging wires, electric poles are abound. Cluttered branches.

Before it hurriedly blooms, I visit this tree few times. I shoot with different gear. At the end of this sojourn, all that rusted gear and my corroded seeing get polished.

A sample from my last year's shoot of this Indian Almond Tree.
L1000890.jpg (554.11 KiB) Viewed 1642 times

An image for today's shoot
AT440_125.jpg (152.66 KiB) Viewed 1642 times

I thought I will share it here to see whether you have such experiences. Whether you find that constraints can be generative.

What if we keep imposing constraints on ourselves and force ourselves to work within those constraints? Constraints should be such that our reward comes only if we cross the boundaries of routine and enter the realm of creativity within and in spite of those constraints. That transition must take significant effort.

Some examples of constraints: Shoot in only one kind of lighting, say back lit or worse, front lit. Shoot with only one point of view, say looking straight down or looking straight up. Shoot only one subject along with the first two constraints. Go back and shoot the same subject every day for a week. Shoot with only one set of gear: one camera and one focal length. Capture the finished image; no processing outside the camera; what comes out of the camera is final except for resizing. Shoot within a defined space: indoors or outdoors; no moving/looking out of this space. And so on.

When we look around CNP, we see many photographers driven by constraints. Be it Nirlep's human-nature interactions, RD's silhouettes of trees in Art of Clutter, or Ghanshyam's exploration of a tree trunk in Living Khajuraho. Interesting point is that they may not look at it as constraints but a way for their expression. It would be great to hear their thoughts on this too.

You can impose a set of constraints (a combination of them works best) on yourselves and test yourself on how you cope with or work through those constraints. Any such effort should not be one off. It is best practiced over several sessions. You might surprise yourselves with some creative work. That is a reward. Or at the least you might learn about yourselves. That is a better reward. Who knows? Constraints could be generative!

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Re: Can constraints be generative?

Postby Ganesh H Shankar » Sun Jan 23, 2022 10:39 pm

An interesting thread and fine images Ramesh. After coming back from recent trip to Hampi I thought of going there again with just one lens. I am not sure what images I will come back with but I wanted to give it a try.

That said, I think, it also depends on our approach to photography which keeps changing every few years. Coming to constraining ourselves i think it can come in different forms and shapes:

- I constrain myself to some specific tools and then think about how best use them effectively. Here a constraint comes first and constraint influences my thoughts and subjects.

- I have a thought to express. For expressing it I constrain myself with a hope to express it uniquely. Here, thought comes first, constraint is secondary.

- I have a thought to express but I don’t constrain myself. I will consciously choose the tool which helps me better express the thought.

Though I would think the last option is rewarding, I must admit most of the time my mind is devoid of any thought!
Ganesh H. Shankar
Wishing you best light,

Fine Art Nature Photography
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Re: Can constraints be generative?

Postby Rajkumar » Mon Jan 24, 2022 5:52 am

I can relate to this. As mentioned elsewhere I use a 4X5 inch film Camera nowadays. And there are constraints galore. Starting from that I have film holders to take only 4 pictures before I go back to a dark room to load film . Overall there are about 20-25 steps from subject to print. With more than 20 hours of work involved. Plus one can see results only after sometimes 2//3 weeks only when you find time to work in Darkroom. That is the nature of the beast. Like it or leave it :D

Ganesh said it all. As above my preference is for a physical constraint to start with. The constraint is a given and there whether you think about it or not . Can't get out of it even if you want to. Like forgetting a tripod on a trip !!!!
If you want to shoot like a film photographer. Load a 2/5 Mb memory card and go out to shoot. Now every shot must absolutely count !!!
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Re: Can constraints be generative?

Postby Anders Wahlund » Tue Jan 25, 2022 2:44 am

It could be rather nice to put on an old lens for a photowalk sometimes. One focal length and manual, and the world has to be discovered through only this lens. You never know what you come home with, sometimes new ideas and sometimes nothing. :D

On this theme I once read something: There was a photograph that recommend to use a memory card, which has the slowest and lowest capacity as possible. Then you have to be more careful and think, as the old days with film rolls.
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Re: Can constraints be generative?

Postby swapnil19 » Fri Jan 28, 2022 4:07 am

Amazing images and food for thought by ramesh sir..
constant debates and improvements in digital world have been a curse in disguise to be honest.
The choices have made us focus on what we dont have rather than what we have in hands. Not to mention the never ending argument of mirroless and dslr and plethora of unnecessary focus points and eye focus in recent developments.
These days im looking more into the mobile photography, trying to view the world more with eyes than with lens and trying to make an interpretation with my cell. My recent uploads have all been with that. Just trying to keep it simple and working on less is more principle.
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Re: Can constraints be generative?

Postby krishnan v » Sun Jan 30, 2022 8:40 am

There is this canadian photographer Freeman Patterson

On a workshop he constrains folks to say 1 sq meter or so area and asks to explore it visually. So yes, constraints are "it" :-)

Worst is too much choice. That goes for everything in life !
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