Accumulate Or Create (Or, Saying Bye-Bye to The Buy-Buy-Buy)

photography by dan james
photography by dan james

Though you could argue that all creation begins in the imagination, virtually all artists need some kind of equipment and media to bring these ideas to life.

We need a way to give our creativity a tangible form that others can experience and engage with.

The amount and variety of equipment and materials we need does depend on the kind of artist we are, plus our chosen art form.

But for all of us, we can choose to have anything from a stripped to the bare bones minimum, to stocking up so much we’re constantly overwhelmed beneath its impending avalanche, and never actually get to choosing any one material, or tool, or project and beginning.

As a photographer, I’ve been noticing the phases I go through with buying and using equipment.

Just a couple of months ago I used just one camera the entire month, and shot around 10 rolls of film, the most rolls I’ve ever shot consecutively with a single camera.

That experience of simplifying my options, then immersing myself in the functions and character of just that one camera meant I got to know it and its capabilities very well.

If I had only been using it once a month, or less, I don’t think I would have come to know and appreciate the camera anything like as much as I did.

After that cycle though, I found I oscillated back the other way.

Despite being fairly minimalist and focused in most areas of life, when it comes to new (old) cameras I have a major weakness.

Since I got my first film camera some 28 months ago, I’ve had something close to 50 different film cameras. Some haven’t worked, but probably 45 have, and I have shot at least a couple of rolls of film in each.

In that number, there have been very few I haven’t liked using, and been able to get some pleasing results with. Which makes the temptation for more very tantalising.

This thirst, then acquisition, has not been purely about hoarding furiously in preparation to open my own camera museum however. (Plus of those 50, at least 30 or more have been since sold on or donated.)

Every camera I’ve used has taught me something about photography, and becoming a better photographer.

The experience has also taught me what I most enjoy about particular cameras, and so my tastes have been honed, and I’m far more selective now about what I’m buying, and what serves me best.

As we’ve talked about before, for me the experience of using these beautiful old vintage machines is a huge part of the reason I so enjoy them.

For me, this pattern of acquiring then using different cameras might be best described as an accumulate/ create cycle.

I’ll have a period where I research and accumulate new cameras that fit the gaps in my collection and my experience of what I’ve used before, followed by a period of immersion in using one or more of these new cameras, to try to make beautiful things, which is the end point of using any camera. As well as enjoying the experience, of course.

How might this accumulate/ create cycle apply to other artists?

How does it apply to you?

The danger, as we talked about earlier, is that you get perpetually locked in the accumulate phase.

Researching, choosing, and purchasing endless new materials, because you’re certain this latest camera/ paintbrush/ pen/ guitar/ sketchbook will finally allow you to create the incredible work you’ve been waiting to create your whole life.

Instead of buy-use-use-use buy-use-use-use, your pattern is stuck at buy-buy-buy-buy-buy-buy

At which point your creativity might well have said its own bye-byes…

We need to be very vigilant about this balance – acquisition then the all important creation – ever honing our abilities to create, and finding the best tools and materials to do that, without drowning ourselves in too many and never using any of them.

Without getting caught in that deadly acquisition loop.

How does this work for you?

Do you have oscillating phases of acquisition then immersion?

Do you just try new tools and materials every now and again?

Or have you found those that allow you to make your best work, and stick to what you find true and tested, project after project?

Please come and join the conversation to let us know.


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