Whilst I can sometimes pinpoint exactly what sparked a particular idea with regard to my photographic practice, often it seems like an idea just pops into my head. However, I’m gradually realising that my mind is storing inspirations, thoughts and ideas quietly for a while and percolating them into something that doesn’t make it to the front of my mind until a little while later. I’m now starting to identify the sources of some of my recent creative ideas, which is quite a fascinating process!

I was reading Will Gompertz’s book Think Like an Artist (2015) where he identifies a number of traits he believes are shared by many great artists. He has a chapter on how ideas are born, where he puts forward the theory (or actually, steals it from Albert Rothenberg…) that all creativity is the result of “homospatial thinking”, meaning the combination of two or more existing ideas (Gompertz 2015: 80). What is generally identified as “originality” is really the ‘stealing’ and combining of existing elements – it is the combination that is the new thing.

This made me think about where the component parts of some of my creative thinking might have been nicked from. I’ve recently realised that sometimes I revisit parts of my own photographic past, albeit unconsciously. However most of my sources of inspiration are external, and I’m increasingly appreciating how little things can feed into my thought process.

Some of it is through looking at the work of other people, though not all of it is overt research and I’ve realised two particular pieces of art hung at home have imprinted themselves in my photographic mind with regard to the assignment I am currently working on.

Ethereal Grasmere by Lizzie Shepherd

This lake reflection view by Lizzie Shepherd, a friend who also just happens to be an accomplished landscape photographer, is opposite the bed. For years I’ve seen it last thing before the light goes out and first thing when I wake up in the morning. Only after experimenting with sound wave shapes in my A2 work-in-progress recently did I appreciate the resemblance to a sound wave.

This sparse black and white image is by a local photographer Janet Burdon. I’d seen it at exhibitions, talks and online in recent years, but I recently saw it again at an exhibition launch that I was doing the event photography for, and decided that I needed a copy of it, without really understanding why.

Twenty Seven Birds by Janet Burdon

After hanging it at home I eventually remembered that I’d been reading about memory theory in Memory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Foster (2009), and that classical philosophers used the metaphor of an aviary to explain how a person’s memory works – the birds represent memories (Foster 2009: 4). I think this was the reason why the photograph suddenly resonated with me. For a little while I considered incorporating avian imagery into my A2 portraits, but ultimately the aspect of this that I took over into my current experimentation is the use of negative space.

Gilbert neg space portrait

By way of a kind of circular footnote, I didn’t actually buy the print from Janet but bartered it in return for taking some publicity headshots, and so had the occasion to visit her at home. She has on display a print of the image below which I commented on as resembling a sound wave… it’s titled Serenity and I felt that it looked like a sound wave tailing off into silence. I really like it. It might be the next one of hers that I get a copy of…

Serenity by Janet Burdon

So between the Lizzie Shepherd and this, I had subconsciously filed away ‘sound wave’ as a visual element for some weeks before I landed on the idea of incorporating them into my assignment… and the negative space that I’ve recently introduced into the work-in-progress seems to be at least in part inspired by these two Janet Burdon images.

Relating all of this to my BoW theme itself – memory and how it works – it’s insightful how my mind has…

  • … ‘remembered’ things I hadn’t realised I was overly remembering at the time
  • … processed these remembered elements into some kind of creative inspiration, without me consciously realising
  • … and eventually pieced together these two steps, after the event!


Foster, J. (2009) Memory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Gompertz, W. (2015) Think Like an Artist. London: Penguin