Hong Kong Lucida

A Thinking Street Photography Blog

The Artistic Process: On Being in the Zone

Street photography can get addictive.

Sometimes it’s the challenge, because you’re setting yourself up to be unobtrusive.

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My cameras are all very small. My Minolta AF C and Olympus XA 2 look like plastic toys so people don’t take me seriously even when they spot me.

Sometimes you want to be spotted. It adds drama to the scene.

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Sometimes you’re right in their faces but they can’t be bothered … this man saw me with my camera pointing at him and went on doing what he was doing…

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I get out and walk and get “in the zone”. It’s a subjective (but common enough) experience.

For me, it happens when I’m writing or reading or when I’m teaching, when I’m fully immersed in the experience without any sense of self-consciousness.

In “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, one of my favourite essays on writing poetry, T. S. Eliot wrote (among other things) on the artistic process:

What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.

And he goes on to say:

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

Writing, reading, teaching, and street photography are ways of getting myself outside of myself. It’s a way to silence that inner voice at the back of my head so that I’m not second guessing and talking to myself all the time.

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Anyone who wants to be good at what he or she does (especially though not necessarily in the field of the arts) ought to read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

He uses the word “flow” to describe that happy state of being engaged in endeavours such as artistic creation, athletics, scientific tinkering, and so on, to map out relationships between learning, enjoyment and satisfaction.

It’s rather “pop psychology”-ish, but it’s very enabling in terms of helping me think about art creation in a wholesome way, in a way that is opposite to that image of the tortured artist celebrated by the media. Van Gogh, Diane Arbus and Sylvia Plath – the list goes on.

But surely there’s also room for artists/writers who want to be productive and remain sane… there’s Henri Cartier-Bresson, who deliberately moved away from photography to take up painting later in his life, there’s Wallace Stevens, poet and vice-president of an insurance company, who was productive as a poet all the way till his death in his seventies.

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I get out of myself and look at other people and think about what it is that occupies them…

This man, for instance, stood just like this for a really long time, looking at a building across the road.

I took some time to frame the scene properly, and turned around later and saw there were bemused people looking at me looking at him…

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Everywhere we go, we bring along a baggage of impulses, desires, anxieties, ambitions…

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Maybe one day I’ll get caught and someone would tell me to grow up and that this is not a proper use of my time…

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2 comments on “The Artistic Process: On Being in the Zone

  1. janicewasabi
    March 31, 2014

    this one, you probably will be interested 🙂

    • eddietay
      April 2, 2014

      Absolutely! Thank you for the link. I like his phrase “Life is once forever”.

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