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Artists Thrive on Constraints

This is a chapter from the book A Lesser Photographer.

“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” — Orson Welles

Every new, professional-grade camera aims to remove the photographer another step from the mechanical processes of the camera to “focus on the image.”

This has the opposite effect.

Creativity is always enhanced by a constraint. This is true in filmmaking, music, painting, writing, and even photography.

How many times has one of your favorite musicians, whose best album was produced in days using half-borrowed equipment, gone on to spend a year in the studio on their next album, only to produce a mediocre (at best) result?

How many times has a talented filmmaker been given unlimited funds and technical possibilities—only to produce a Jar Jar Binks?

A lesser camera makes you think. Thought is better than automation in art. Automation leads to commoditization. Your art becomes easily replaceable or worse, forgettable.

The resurgence of film among younger photographers may well turn out to be just a fad, but the reason it makes sense to so many people is the feeling of enhanced creativity it fuels. If you load black-and-white film into your camera, your whole world becomes black and white until a new roll is loaded. That’s a very useful constraint.

If you carry a camera with a fixed lens, you must get close to your subjects. That may be the most beneficial of constraints.

Constraints become a necessity because your brain seeks the path of least resistance. Your brain craves the automation. It’s less painful. Your brain would love to produce safe, bland fluff. When we enforce a constraint, we throw a boulder into the path of least resistance and force the brain to create a path less traveled.

Your creativity is what makes your images unique. Stop stifling it for an easier “workflow.”

Comfort is where art goes to die.