Inspired By_Challenged By

More and more “how to” photography blogs are coming online everyday. And hallelujah for that. Seriously. Technical education in photography is more accessible today than ever before. New shooters are being born from nearly nothing overnight (a Flickr account and a $400 camera anyone?). Growth and development is accelerated by new technology, watching videos, reading the insights of art buyers and photo editors, and on and on. Hell, even education in the business-of-photography is infinitely more available today than ever before. God bless the series of tubes. I truly love the new sense of accessibility for anyone willing put in a little legwork. Again, hallelujah.

But before any critics get started with me, hashing out all the counterpoints to the above is not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is not about the merits of all the great, traditional photography-related stuff that’s available online. It’s about the unmistakable absence of an important factor in all those “how to” blogs. That factor is the lack of discussion of artistic inspiration and the challenges faced by such a profession that depends on it. How do we, as artists, harness and hone our creative vision? It is innate? Is it learned? What are our struggles? In what forms do they present themselves to us?

[Cue the crickets]

The relative lack of such discussion in the photo blogosphere should be of no surprise, really. It’s clearly the toughest part of the art equation to describe and discuss, as so adroitly illustrated here by my choppy, fragmented introduction. All the more reason to continue with the mission.

That said–and armed only with my own ignorance and a willingness to go somewhat naked–I’m going to embark on a personal challenge to begin sharing the roots of my own experiences and challenges in a constant search for inspiration. I’ll call this forthcoming series, for lack of a better idea, Inspired By_Challenged By. In truth, I wanted to call it something even more corny like Inspired Confessions, but I realized that was just a defense mechanism trying to get me to downplay the reality of what I’m trying to get at. Earlier tonight in the drafting process, I even had the horrible working title of something all-inclusive like What Makes Us Tick. I quickly realized that such a title was kind of bullshit and/or presumptive. How could I claim any knowledge of YOUR inspirations, motivations, or challenges?

In the end I’ve decided on calling the series simply Inspired By_Challenged By out of go ol’ plain honesty. It is what it is. Over the next short days/weeks/months, I’ll aim to occasionally share things that, for one reason or another, get my brain bubbling or, conversely, get my panties in a knot. Whether it’s a photo, a moment, a realization, a book, a song, a magazine, an artist; or something more chewy like a personal struggle, a stumble, or some downright strife. Anything will be fair game, especially thoughts or ruminations thereof.

[Ironically, my first confession/challenge is already upon me: Why do I feel the need to name this blog series? Or even make it a series at all? Why can’t I just type away each day here on this blog when I’m inspired or challenged?

Honest answer: I like order. Order amidst chaos. I sometimes, however, aim to be too systematic in my approach to creativity. Too formulaic.

I’m working to change that…]

41 Responses to Inspired By_Challenged By

  1. Anonymous April 7, 2008 at 12:11 am #

    Dare I confess that I want to know both what creatively inspires AND what stumps THE Chase Jarvis.

    I do, I do. I confess.

    Looking forward to this series…

    (Thanks for your honesty!)

  2. Anonymous April 7, 2008 at 12:16 am #

    I’m inspired by the Ninjas!

  3. Jarrad Kevin April 7, 2008 at 1:09 am #

    Great Idea. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

  4. Wesley Nulens April 7, 2008 at 2:15 am #

    This is so true, sharing knowledge makes everyone grow! I hope I can be some kind of inspiration to you some day…


  5. blondewahine April 7, 2008 at 2:33 am #
    Please go to my blog spot to complete an academic survey. I am a student at the University of Hawaii working towards a women’s studies minor. I am doing a research project with a survey element. Please help me. Aloha.

  6. Rich April 7, 2008 at 2:54 am #


    I’m inspired by your inspiration. All kidding aside, I think what you’re talking about is more important than the latest gear info or knowing how to get a subject to face just the right way into the kind of light you want.

    I realized a while ago that what “makes me tick” is largely still a mystery to me and bears some thinking about.

    When other photographers lament that a lot of big names freely discuss their techniques and/or business practices, I have to shake my head a little bit. The more educated we all become, the better off we’ll all be.


  7. Alvaro MAM April 7, 2008 at 3:24 am #

    Not many professional photographers are kind on offering this kind of view into what inspires them (not to talk about technique or other insides), they feel like the magic sauce is getting out….

    I really like you are going to probe them wrong again. I’m looking forward to all these posts, after all you inspire many people (including myself)

    Kudos for that!!

  8. Rick April 7, 2008 at 5:30 am #

    Chase, great title for new thread. I am frequently challenged by that which inspires me and vice versa. I frequent Craig Tanner’s Radiant Vista, where he attempts to navigate and describe the own personal process of inspiration. I am most definitively looking forward to your observations.

    Rick Allen

  9. matt pritchard April 7, 2008 at 6:31 am #

    Thank you for sharing with us. And thank you for reminding us all that f-stops and PocketWizards are all well and good, but the art of photography can’t move forward with creative inspiration.

    Please keep up the great work.

  10. Jan Klier April 7, 2008 at 7:38 am #

    This will be extremley helpful. Often we only see the final result. We can reverse engineer some of the techniques but never the creative mind.

    For my inspirations (on a much lower level of the David Hobby scale – see his post today) I am doing two things:

    - I maintain a portfolio of favorite photos I’ve seen from other photographers. A combination of unique technique, unique look, great lighting, etc. It’s organized by style and properly marked as 3rd party content. Similarily I use flickr favorites tags to keep track of any cool photo I’ve seen.
    - Whenever I have some spare shooting time I go to that portfolio and pick one and try to recreate it. As it often turns out, there’s more to it than a first look suggests. So being able to do a practice run allows me to know the technique next time I want to use it for real. Then I blog about the experience, and I usually do mention or link the photo that inspired me – such as Stan Musilek’s diet coke, which I played with this past weekend.
    - As I work through this I use this to build out my own portfolio of work, and focus particularly on gaps I see in it.

    I’ve seen such shadow portfolios used by some other successful photographers.

    But getting a peek at a longer list of those may be interesting.

    Photo Blog and Photo Website

  11. GeoWulf April 7, 2008 at 7:59 am #

    Sometimes I look at pictures of Chase Jarvis and say, “Hey, that guy looks a lot like the dude from CA$H CAB.”

    Then I wonder if one day I will get into a cab and Chase Jarvis will say, “Hey what inspires you?” or “What challenges you?”

  12. Chuck April 7, 2008 at 8:16 am #

    I had a really great childhood friend of mine say to me after looking at my pictures: “You know Chuck, you’re a great photographer, but I feel like I’ve seen all these pictures before.” I realized he was right. I was stuck in the “Make it look like the postcard” mentality instead of being inspired to try something a little different.

  13. Ham April 7, 2008 at 9:24 am #

    I attend a “Technical” High School that offers programs most high schools don’t. For free.

    I had been contemplating on whether to choose the photography class or the networking class and after reading this I see that I can learn photography anywhere. It makes it a little easier to choose.

    Check my blogs out. I have two on seperate accounts.

  14. Nicholas April 7, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    Over @ Rob touches on the idea of how our life experiences are part of the creative process. How our trials and tribulations translate into inspiration and an overall worldview that shape our photographs.

    He references two articles that speak to the process of truly putting yourself into your creative endeavors, whatever they may be.

    Looking forward to seeing where this goes; we should all examine our lives for what drives us to create and why we go in the direction we do.



  15. Anonymous April 7, 2008 at 9:51 am #

    This is the next logical discussion after your mention of the importance of creative vision. I’ve recently been pondering the same questions and am happy to see the conversation started.

  16. OG April 7, 2008 at 10:05 am #

    Good stuff Chase.

  17. Jake April 7, 2008 at 10:48 am #

    Honesty should be the only policy, but too often it’s not even the best policy. Thanks for opening a thread that is once again open and honest. Perhaps in the comments, each of us can somewhat anonymously share our own inspirations and challenges? Cathartic, in a way.

    (Cue the violins).


  18. R2K April 7, 2008 at 10:49 am #

    : )

  19. Rick Lohre | Photography April 7, 2008 at 11:00 am #

    Inspiration: Chase and other successful photogs who push me…
    Frustrations: Technical failures (AKA, forgetting to check your gear before a shoot…LOL)

    Keep it up Chase!

  20. Cory April 7, 2008 at 12:23 pm #

    My first reaction as i was reading your post was the lack of discussion on harnessing creative vision is because unlike tech/gear/technique talk where everyone can relate to at least specific constants, creativity, A) people don’t practice it nearly enough or just skim the surface by taking someone else’s idea and putting a little twist on it B) its much more individual so the pool of people who relate is suddenly drastically smaller. Not to mention, the creative path is so dynamic most artists struggle to understand it in their own minds let alone try to discuss it or they occupy themselves with the technical side and barely bother to explore the creative side (Which is allot of work and self discovery). Im stoked about this thread and think any way to get people more focused on the creative side is gold. Looking forward to this one!

  21. Jared April 7, 2008 at 1:07 pm #

    Remember when you were a little kid and almost automatically created something (a drawing, sandcastle, etc.) without thinking? There was a freedom to do what you had in your mind without fear of what the art director or others would think. I’ve been working on getting back to that place and am excited to see where this discussion goes.

  22. Aashni April 7, 2008 at 1:59 pm #

    Wow, thats interesting!!!
    Please have a look at my blog if you get a chance…and maybe we could even link to each other…
    Thanxs :)

  23. NicePhotoMag April 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm #

    Hey Chase,

    It’s funny you bring this up. I noticed the same thing. That’s the insperation for my blog that focuses on inspiration. I call the articles (most of them anyway) Why-Tos instead of how-tos.

    Is that what you are talking about?

  24. Luis Cruz April 7, 2008 at 5:06 pm #

    I barely understand what makes me tick, so I wouldn’t dare write about this. I’m really glad you’re taking on this challenge though. I’m really looking forward to this.

  25. Ryann Renee April 7, 2008 at 6:08 pm #

    i really liked your blog. very good, well thought out. i need some help promoting mine, please check it out, leave some comments, have fun. check out my blog.

  26. Matthew Lane April 7, 2008 at 6:28 pm #

    I’m really looking forward to this. I soak up the technical stuff pretty quick but it’s my intangible creative source that I want to learn more about.

    Thanks Chase!

    Matthew Lane

  27. B-more Andy April 7, 2008 at 6:48 pm #

    This is right on time! I’m a ponderer, thinker, aspiring self-actualizer so this is right up my alley and I’m really anxious to see how this goes…and hope to be an active participant in the dialog.

    Not original thoughts but…my creativity comes from in me and (duh) yours from in you so can I learn to be creative the way that Chase is creative? Hardly. But by reading about the process I may be able to remove some creativity barriers of my own. And it sure makes me feel better about my own struggles, doubts, fears, etc. to know that a successful dude and, dare I say, online mentor/role model to millions (???) like CJ goes through some of the same stuff I do in striving for something better. For me it’s inspiration, safety in numbers, or even misery loves company…depending on the day.

    Now contrast all that esoteric, touchy feely stuff with the relative simplicity and certainty of f-stops or the latest pano techniques and it’s pretty understandable why the conversations are heavily slanted toward the technical.

    So Chase, thanks for starting this and I’m looking forward to the more to follow…

    B-more Andy

  28. David April 7, 2008 at 7:49 pm #

    Chase you have hit a HUGE pipe line here….There is very little talk about the art and creativity behind photography. I did a little test and asked people why they choose photography and the subjects they shoot. The number one answer I got was “I’m a Gadget freak”. When ever I try to post anything the even comes close to the art and inspiration or work I get your crickets.

    I think I have learned enough about the technical to start wondering about the inspirational. Sure some people can take that perfect shot, but unless they have a good idea all they have is a technically perfect picture of a boring subject.

    I have stumbled upon a few podcasts that touch on the art of photography and the ideas of a great image. One of note is The Candid Frame….Check it out. The host interviews some great photographers and takes to them about their process of making their images…Nothing technical, no camera talk, just their fealing, ideas and what make them tick

  29. Anonymous April 8, 2008 at 7:18 am #


    Chirping here for you in NYC…


    aka… the photographer whisperer….

  30. Philadelphia Wedding Photographers April 8, 2008 at 7:35 am #

    I hope to inspire people by shooting tattooed brides. It’s not as cool as flying ninjas though.

  31. Neil April 8, 2008 at 8:19 am #

    Now we are onto the hard part of photography? The scary part? The part where we disagree and are both right and wrong?

    This should be interesting.

  32. Jim Goldstein April 8, 2008 at 9:26 am #

    This should be good. Just this post alone reminds me to return back to this theme from time to time on my blog. I agree not enough is out there about creative inspiration and the creative process. That being said its a tough subject to address so most people don’t.

  33. Anton T April 8, 2008 at 10:00 am #

    They absolutely are out there. Here’s three blogs/podcasts in particular that focus exclusively on the creative end of photography and why we photograph.

    Very worthwhile to check out.

    Keep up your video podcasts too Chase! Love em.

  34. Eamon April 8, 2008 at 1:09 pm #

    Some of the best and most famous photographers weren’t technical wizards or even had particularly sophisticated cameras (for their day).

    Cartier-Bresson, famously, only used black and white, didn’t crop, didn’t edit, didn’t use flash and so on. But he is considered, by many, to be one of the greats.

    In an age when everything is so perfectly shot and perfectly editted people would learn a lot about being more natural (even if it isn’t perfect).

    Life isn’t perfect. It isn’t about being perfect but about capturing something beautiful or inspiring within that imperfection.

  35. American Peyote April 9, 2008 at 6:09 am #


    That’s a very cool topic, I’m figuring out a creative workflow and working on creating posts on my blog about going from an initial concept through to the final photo, so I’m looking forward to what you’ll be writing about.

  36. Deke April 9, 2008 at 7:11 am #

    Chase …
    This is a huge topic! and very human. Human beings have struggled with these questions since long before our records of time. It probably comes from the fact that we still have so many questions surrounding our purpose on this planet.

    I had the great fortune to have studied art as a significant part of my college degree and 25 years later still find it insightful, albeit incomplete. One thing that rings clear about inspiration is an idea that I gleaned from a movie of all places: The Witches of Eastwich. In it Jane Spofford (played by Susan Sarandon), a music teacher at the junior high, exclaims to her students after an epiphany, “They’re not just notes on the page, they’re human outcries!”

    We photograph and are inspired to photograph because we have to. As a human being we pick a method of expression or it picks us and we use it to say to our neighbors, “this is me!” It may be music, sculpture, woodworking, stamp collecting, blogging, photography, painting, dancing, lawn care … it doesn’t matter. They are all human outcries to satisfy our need to persue and understand our own humanity.

    [cue crickets]

  37. P. I. Lumen April 10, 2008 at 3:01 pm #

    I think that more and more, these how-to guides are becoming more impersonal and profit-oriented, rather than focusing on creating a quality product that one can be proud of. It’s yet again quantity over quality.

  38. Joe Moffett April 22, 2008 at 9:47 am #

    I finally got hold of a set of books I’ve been drooling for since ages. It’s the time life series on photography. In the one on the “Art of Photography” there’s a quote from Ansel Adams where he says something along the lines of: If photography (the technical side of pressing a shutter and having a picture come out) where a bit more difficult, we might get better results; because then we’d have to think about the whole process more.”

    Well, seeing as Chase is baring his soul and all, I’ll say that this is where I try to get my challenge/inspiration. I try not to take a photo that doesn’t tell a story. In other words cute bunnies and beautiful flowers are out (mostly – I’ll admit to being seduced by nature occaissionaly).

    If the photo I take doesn’t have a tale to tell, I can’t find the inspiration to press the shutter. But finding that tale and telling it well, well it ain’t so easy.

    That’s when I almost wish I had a goal oriented shoot. But then, even there you’re the bard.


  39. petermcdonagh May 3, 2008 at 4:06 pm #

    Seriously looking forward to this. I’m tired of seeing, and making, emotionless pictures that are technically good. ‘Nothing worse than a sharp photo of a fuzzy idea’ a famous man once said.

  40. fartin on thunder May 19, 2008 at 7:19 pm #

    Guess you never read our blog, because we are dedicated less to swaping spit and more to dialog and argument, because we believe it’s needed. We need to have dialog, we need to push and learn new ideas. Rather then just keep patting everyone on the back.

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