Sometimes, the ideas and inspiration just aren’t flowing. Over the years, I’ve talked about lots of strategies to help overcome this challenge, but it never hurts to come up with even more strategies. After all, devising strategies in and of itself is a creative endeavor, and anytime we’re creating something, we’re exercising the parts of our minds that come up with the next great idea.
This particular strategy has to do with categorizing images. To my mind, this is a great way to come up with a new project idea so unusual that you may not have otherwise dreamed of it.
One thing to note, however, is that there is a catch to this strategy of categorizing images—but you’ll see what I mean in a minute.
The first thing to do is to browse through your digital archives and just see what is there. Once you’ve gotten sort of the overview, or you’ve refreshed your memory, then it is time to start the categorization process. The catch is to avoid common categories. So rather than sorting images by flowers, trees, people, shapes or colors, you should instead look for truly unusual ways to categorize images.
What sort of unusual categories should you choose? That depends on you and on your archive. Grab a cup of coffee and spend time studying images to see if anything unconventional pops out. The goal here is to take seemingly unrelated images and find ways in which they can relate so that you can turn them into a project of sorts.
As an example, a category could be “imperfection.” Maybe while studying your library, you notice different images of things that feature some sort of imperfection, like a leaf with a hole in it, a torn flower petal, ragged cloth or broken glass. Can you put these images together in a way that tells a story about the beauty of imperfection? Is it possible to create more images surrounding this theme to further flesh out your concept?
Perhaps an unusual category that stands out to you is something strange, like images of things that are all leaning to the left—a tree, an old dilapidated building, that kind of thing. Or maybe you notice there are several images in which the wind is obviously blowing as illustrated by bowing grass in landscapes and rippling flags in cityscapes. As I said, these unusual categories are completely up to you—and it might take time to find them, particularly since you likely originally created these images with other intentions in mind and are therefore likely to think of them with that old perspective in mind. But if you can, try to abandon those old perspectives to look at your images in new ways. You might be surprised to find unusual new themes coming to the surface from among otherwise seemingly unrelated images—and those themes could very well be something that inspires a truly unique photography project.