The creative process / by Savannah Dodd


At an art fair last autumn, I was asked to describe my creative process. When I first heard the question I felt a tinge of panic. The last time I was asked to talk about my creative process was by the Saint Louis Artists' Guild in 2013 and, reading it again, I absolutely hate my response. As I fumbled through my reply, I became more and more animated in my answer and, by the end of it, I had two realisations: that my practice has evolved quite a bit since 2013, and that I actually enjoy talking about it.

So the aim of my second newsletter is to explain this process better than I did in the webpage on the Saint Louis Artists' Guild website.

Photography as meditation

Like the last newsletter, I struggled to begin this one and looked for inspiration in lists of photography quotes online. I succeeded when I found this quote by Elliott Erwitt: 

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

To me, photography is a largely solitary activity. It's not that I can't take pictures when I am out with other people, but that it makes me an rather unpleasant companion. I pull into myself, I stop talking, and I wander off without a backward glance. What could be written off as absentmindedness is actually focus.

When I am out photographing, I’m looking at the world differently than when I’m not photographing. I’m looking for the details, the beautiful mundane things that I normally overlook - pretty patterns of light on the cafe floor, the curl of old paint on a wooden board. I feel like my eyes are more open when I'm photographing. I am more present, more attentive to my surroundings, more aware. It’s almost meditation.

Learning how to see

Because of the solitary nature of my practice and the meditative mood required, I am careful about when I bring my camera and when I leave it behind. I've found that, even when I choose not to bring my camera, I am more aware than I was before I first picked up a camera. I stumbled upon another apt quote from Dorothea Lange:

“A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”

When I decide to leave my camera at home, I am aware of how I interact with the world and how having my camera with me impacts this interaction. Do I want to watch the world through my camera lens or without a mediator between the world and my eyes? Do I want to take what I experience and hold it, commemorate it, in an image? Or do I want to experience it, then let it pass? By choosing whether to take my camera, I am choosing how I want to approach the world around me, at least for that day.

Somehow the process of consciously making this decision makes me more aware of temporality, of the constancy of change. It makes me more willing to let moments pass, and to really see them, without grasping after them.