Experience and insight is what makes each of our perspectives unique. No two of us can lead the same life. Even though on the surface, it may seem as if some of us are on very similar paths, we all experience it a little bit differently. Every person will have a different set of successes and failures, joys and hardships, achievements and ambitions—the list goes on. Our experiences are even more unique than our fingerprints.
And I think these experiences can—and perhaps even should—be applied to the art that we create. Experiential art, or art created through the lens of our experience, is the truest way I can imagine to create unique things. It’s nearly impossible to photograph something that has never been photographed before, but no one has photographed these things through your eyes. That’s the key thing to remember here. The thoughts, feelings and memories associated with the things that you photograph are what gives you an individualistic frame of reference that no other person is going to have because no other person has lived your life.
To put this in simpler terms, let’s look at real world examples. Imagine yourself out on a photographic outing, and you want to take a picture of a tree. Millions, probably billions of trees have already been photographed. If the tree you are photographing is particularly notable for some reason—because it’s gigantic or has unique features—then you’re probably not even the first person to have taken a picture of that particular tree.
If you want to make something unique, then you’ll need to dig deep and think about your experiences with trees. Perhaps experiences with this tree, or with others. Can you remember what book you were reading one afternoon as you sat beneath your favorite shade tree? Perhaps you climbed trees a lot as a kid, or you built your own treehouse. Maybe you carved your girlfriend or boyfriend’s name in a tree as a teenager. Someone else may fondly remember spending time out in the woods on the weekend splitting logs for the fireplace. Perhaps you have bad memories of trees, like storm damage—a tree falling on your car or home. The deeper you dig, the more you are likely to find. Interestingly enough, experience is an almost limitless well of creative thoughts to draw from.
Think of these things—your memories and experiences—and then see how you can apply them to the tree in front of you. Do these things make you notice details you’d not seen before, or examine the tree from unusual perspectives in order to create a photograph as if from within a treehouse? I can’t answer these questions for you—and the questions will be different each time you approach new subject material. The answers are within yourself. Approach photography as an experiential art, with your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences in mind, and you’ll start to see how these unique things can shape imagery into something different from the norm.