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As a culture we are constantly encouraged to believe that youth is a magical time – that everything is at our fingertips, easily captured, and that age will only bring a withering of possibilities and opportunities.
“Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long time.” – composer, Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber
Creativity is a huge victim of this idea – that aging destroys it rather, than helping us to flourish. Well, I don’t believe that at all. Creativity can wither with age – but it doesn’t have to. What about our huge amount of experience that we gather throughout life? Isn’t that pretty useful for creating?
Here are some ideas on the benefits of keeping creative with your photography as you age, and why you can get more creative, not less, as you get older.
When you are taking photos and being creative, you want to aim to access that wild creative place deep inside you, where pure inspiration flows. Some people call it the creative flow state. For some it’s a zone, but it could be thought of as a well of inspiration. But, that can be a hard place to get to – you’re encouraged in so many ways in life to prioritize your practical skills (getting a job, buying a house, raising children, etc.) over your creative skills. Some people can access their inspirational, creative space when they are young, but for many it takes years. But what’s great about that, is that it’s only a question of getting there, not whether or not you have it.
“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.” – author, Henry Miller
I don’t remember my youth being a place of unfettered, wild creativity. I was a pretty good photographer, but I wasn’t one of those types of artists who excelled in their twenties (think Rankin, Bob Marley, or JD Salinger). So unless you’re one of those young creative geniuses, I reckon that you could be on the same path as me – my creativity is building, and improving over the years.
But becoming more creative as you age isn’t a given, it’s a choice. As a culture we are more likely to give into the idea that we can’t be as creative with age, as when we were young.
“No, that is a great fallacy; the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” – author, Ernest Hemingway.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can use what you’ve learned, and seen throughout life to make you more cautious, or you can allow it to give you permission to ignore your fears, ignore what others tell you about aging, and just choose freedom.
Our brains are amazing at creating stability and continuity, so that we can live day-to-day, almost on auto-pilot. Neuroscientists now say that 95% of who you are (habits, behaviours, beliefs) is set by the age of 35. And 70% of the thoughts you will have today, you also had yesterday! So if you aren’t in the habit of being creative, it might seem a little hopeless.
But – and this is an awesome but – neuroscientists are now also saying that we can change our brains any time we like. So even if you haven’t lived a creative life, and are only turning to it at 40, 60 or 85 – you can quite easily change your brain’s habits. Becoming super creative is completely possible at any age. You don’t have to be stuck in the same place, doing the same things, and being the same way forever.
“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” – actress, Sophia Loren
Some kind of creative thinking, is an amazing way to keep your mind young. Because as Edward de Bono says, in order to be creative you have to use your mind in a different way than before. Anything you do that is new to your brain, creates new neural pathways, and engages those dusty grey parts that maybe you hadn’t used before.
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” – photojournalist, Don McCullin
What more do we have as humans as we age, than experiences, and a rich storehouse of memories and feelings? Let’s draw from that to inject our photos with more meaning and feeling. Let’s use that experience to connect with our subjects, to go deeper into the myriad of experiences happening all around us every day.
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” – photographer, Aaron Siskind
Unshackled from expectation – “The man who views the world at 50, the same as he did at 20, has wasted 30 years of his life.” – boxer, Muhammad Ali
I love that now I am in my forties, I care a lot less about what other people expect of me, and my photography. I can go on my own way, and do the things that really inspire me. And you know what, the more inspired I am, the better my photography turns out – so that’s a double win!
Age can bring freedom from expectation. Many people mind less about what people think as they get older. Use that. Create not for some specific goal, but just for the sheer joy of it, the wonder of discovering new subjects, the beauty of light, the amazing feeling of walking not to get somewhere, but to just see new things.
“We move what we’re learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands. We are born makers, and creativity is the ultimate act of integration – it is how we fold our experiences into our being.” – professor, PhD, author, Brené Brown
Creativity is an amazingly powerful way to smash through lethargy, and that beautiful French word, ennui (a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement). Maybe your job is boring, maybe your life is a lot of endless tasks that make you feel a bit sludgy, maybe you’ve retired and are thinking – now what?! Well, what better way to greet lethargy, than to meet it with the scintillating excitement of creating something. We are all born to be creative, it’s in our bones, the very fabric of our being. Maybe we hide it under deep layers of other stuff – but it’s still there, burning like a small ember of inspiration.
Creativity is a liberating experience. It will help you discover new parts of yourself, but also help you see the world in a new and refreshing way. Let it liberate you. Let it fill your life with awe at the beauty, craziness, and amazingness of what lies around us in this world.
You are never too old, too set in your ways, too full of habit to embrace the creative journey. Photography has brought amazing, interesting, challenging and awe-inspiring experiences into my life, which make me feel good to be alive.
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.” – Seneca
Whatever you do, don’t let age stop you.
Carpe diem! Because if not now, then when?
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