Susan K Perry Ph.D.

Creating in Flow

Find Flow Through a Camera Lens

Photographers enter flow like other artists do, with their whole selves.

Posted Aug 18, 2015

Shared by mooncat via freeimages.
Source: Shared by mooncat via freeimages.

Flow happens when you lose your sense of self, and many artists, including photographers, mean that quite literally.

For instances, here's Andy Ilachinski writing at his blog about Experiential "Flow" in Photography:

"My best moments as an artist - as a human being - are those when I entirely lose a sense of self, I do not mean this to be interpreted as poetry or metaphor; I mean this literally."

Welsh photographer Cambridge Jones is known for his portraits of the famous. Here's how he describes his process:

Portraiture is an art not a science, you can be technically perfect and produce a very ordinary portrait. Conversely you can know nothing about the photographic process and create  stunning insightful portraiture. Ideally of course you have both covered....but even then I would lean towards the latter.
A portrait is not the camera catching a single "reality", it is rather the subject's reaction to the photographer. For me a great portrait session leaves any planning behind, you surf the wave of the relationship. That relationship can be temporary but it is seldom shallow...too much is at stake.
You know when you are in flow because all the technical stuff disappears and the sitter starts to become oblivious to the camera... It is a very consuming and passionate process regardless of the sex of subject or photographer. It is a physical act.
My portrait subjects tend to claim that the results reflect something genuine in them....something often missed in other photographs. That is because they have gone on a journey with me....into the flow...forgetting the process and enjoying the creative instinct.


One of the requirements of an activity that gets you into a flow state is that it's not so challenging that you give up, nor so easy that you become bored. All of that becomes more likely when you have both a deep and a broad sense of the context of your art or craft or whatever activity. In other words, it helps to know background, even if you set it aside later.

Along those lines, if photography is your passion, you may delight in a new book called Photography Visionaries by Mary Warner Marien, Professor Emerita in the Department of Fine Arts at Syracuse University, New York. The so-called "visionaries" in the book include fashion photographers, photojournalists, art and commercial photographers, and others.

Author Marien defines a visionary as "a dedicated experimenter, whose ideas and pictures enlarge the medium while expanding the scope and range of human understanding." The 75 photographers, hailing from a many nations, are ordered by birth date from 1857 to 1969. An accompanying one-page essay includes biographical details and examples of each of the visionaries' compelling images.

Some aimed to change the medium, while others worked to change society. For instance, Gordon Parks (1912-2006) is quoted as saying, "I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs."  Nan Goldin (b. 1953) compiled interviews and photos of her HIV-positive friends, saying, "I used to think I couldn't lose anyone if I photographed them enough."

The range of these images is exhilarating. Amateur photographers could learn a lot about their art's history and possibilities from this oversized book (11 1/2 x 7 3/4 inches) of 312 thick pages.

A different perspective is taken by the two-DVD set called Photo: A History from Behind the Lens. This set of 12 documentary episodes, lasting about 312 minutes, looks at the creative process while exploring the role of European and American photography pioneers.

What’s real and objective, versus what’s imagined and more subjective than you’d expect? How does a real blank page, the canvas of a painter, differ from a blank piece of photographic film (or a digital image)? Maybe you'll be surprised to learn that the art of manipulating photos began long before Photoshop. Included is a 12-page booklet with a history of cameras, articles, and a glossary.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie's Heel