In some ways, the last year has changed the way we understand the creative process. According to the 2020 Ideas Report from WeTransfer, over 45.3% of respondents said they had more creative ideas due to changes in their working environment. The main sources of inspiration were family and friends, nature, entertainment and the media, and creative networks. Even amid unprecedented circumstances, people still found ways to spark inspiration and channel their creativity close to home.
As pandemic-related restrictions lift and more places reopen, artists will continue to discover new ways of nurturing their creative ideas. While the internet has been a tremendous source of inspiration over the last year, changing your environment and getting out of your comfort zone can also help spark innovation and kickstart the imagination. As we adapt to the “new normal” post-pandemic, here are just a few places to visit if you’re feeling creatively blocked.
A flea market
Andy Warhol was known for taking regular Sunday trips to the Annex Antiques Fair and Flea Market in Chelsea, where he bought everything from cookie jars to watches.
While the famous market closed in 2019, you can follow Warhol’s lead by exploring flea markets in your neighborhood. Maybe you go looking for beautiful antiques, or you find a one-of-a-kind object nestled in the corner of a vendor’s booth. Either way, you’re likely to find something quirky and cheap—bring it home for a still life photo session, or keep it in your prop box for future shoots.
A photo walk
You might join an existing photo walk in your city (check out Meetup or Facebook), or maybe you start one with friends and peers. Choose your meeting location and route, and be sure to include the local landmarks and some of your favorite “secret” spots. You can even take turns leading the walk, with a different person choosing a different neighborhood each time. Draw inspiration not only from your surroundings but also from the people who join you on the walk.
From Pablo Picasso, who vacationed in the Côte d’Azur, to Georgia O’Keefe, who relished the black sand of the Hawaiian islands, artists have long found inspiration on the beach. For street photographers, beaches offer countless opportunities to capture people at their most candid, while landscape photographers have long turned to the sea for romance and beauty. Whether you’re vacationing in a tucked-away beach town or walking to your local boardwalk, chances are you’ll find something to catch your eye.
A hiking trail
Parks have been a favorite of photographers since Carleton Watkins first explored Mariposa Trail in Yosemite in 1865. Plus, research suggests a link between exercise and imagination, so if you’re looking for ideas, consider a local hiking trail where you can take in the fresh air and views. If you don’t know where to start, download an app like AllTrails or Hiking Project and search your location.
Public libraries offer a treasure trove of photo books, prints, manuscripts, and more. The New York Public Library, for instance, is home to approximately 500,000 photographs; in their collections, you can find everything from early daguerreotypes to works by era-defining New York photographers from the 1970s-80s. The Library of Congress houses historic images from the Farm Security Administration and glass negatives dating back to the Civil War, to name just a few. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the history of photography.
A photo festival
Art fairs and festivals are slowly returning after a long hiatus, so check out the listings in your area. If you’re in New York, Photoville, a free annual event, is a good place to start. In Sydney, the Head On Photo Festival brings together some of the most exciting voices in contemporary photography, while the international Format Festival in the UK welcomes more than 100,000 visitors bi-annually.
Even if there isn’t a dedicated photo festival in your area, check out arts or crafts fairs for photography inspiration. Depending on where and when you go, you might be able to meet the artists or curators for more insight into the work and how it came together.
A farmers’ market
Farmers’ markets are great places to people-watch, and they also offer a wealth of colors, textures, and flavors. While you’re there, pick up some local produce or a seasonal flower bouquet. Select the freshest specimens you can find, and shoot them in natural window light when you get home.
In one study—where participants listened to silence as well as happy, sad, calm, and anxious music—researchers found that those who tuned into happy music scored better on creativity exercises measuring divergent thinking. That is, they generated more ideas overall and more innovative ideas than the rest. If there’s a music night or concert in your local park, it might be worth checking it out, especially if the music will evoke happy feelings.
The movie theater
Film and photography influence each other in surprising ways; when making Carol, for example, Todd Haynes famously drew inspiration from the still images of Saul Leiter. That road goes both ways; as a photographer, you can pull from moments in the cinema. You can see the latest hit film to get an idea for new trends, or you can go to an art house for indie and foreign films. Going to the theater will give you a more immersive experience than simply renting a movie at home.
Believe it or not, there’s research to suggest that coffee shops provide an ideal environment for creativity, from casual chatter to visual interest. In fact, background noise could help spark creative thinking. Take in the scents and sounds, and do some people-watching while enjoying a cup of tea or coffee.
Your local camera shop
Each city has unique offerings when it comes to camera shops; in Brooklyn, for instance, you can find hidden treasures at Photodom, a store specializing in all things analog. Meanwhile, in Long Beach, Relics on ‘Retro Row’ offers vintage film cameras. In Tokyo, you can find Map Camera, a giant, four-floor store known for its rare Leica collection. Do some digging into your local shops, and ask your photographer friends for tips. Once you’re there, feel free to look around and ask questions. The staffers know their stuff, and they might have ideas you overlooked.
Not on 500px yet? Sign up here to explore more impactful photography.