I broke my arm. I fell in my living room on a Sunday morning. The culprit? Slippery socks on hardwood. The break isn’t too bad, and thankfully it’s my left arm and not my right. But broken bones or not, life goes on, and the work continues, albeit with some necessary modifications.
As I’ve spent the last week with my arm slinged and immobilized, I’ve found myself thinking about limits and how they’re not such a bad thing. In fact, limits and a loose structure can often be the catalyst that sparks new and creative work. This may initially strike you as oppressive and doesn’t sound like it makes sense, I know, but limits, whether self-imposed or set by circumstances, can — and do — keep us on our toes. Limits force us to think in a different way, look at things from a different point of view.
A broken arm means I can’t hold a camera with two hands and advancing the film on my Holgas is too frustrating to bother with. I’ve found myself turning instead to my ultra-lightweight toy cameras like the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim and my stash of Vivitar IC101 panorama cameras that I always pick up at the thrift stores, as their life expectancy isn’t long. The situation has forced me to rethink the series I’m working on and rather than shooting with my trusty Holga CFN, I’ll be enlisting that Vivitar panorama camera. Sure, it’s portraiture, but who says you can’t take panorama people pictures? The tests I’ve done look great and I’m delighted to say that I actually prefer the look I’m getting — it’s unexpected and original. It’s taken me out of my comfort zone and I like it.
Limitations are challenging and push us into new areas we may have never explored otherwise. One of the worst things to hear in my experience is: do whatever you want. Too frequently, when someone says this, what they end up getting is more of the same of whatever you shoot. This might satisfy wedding or advertising clients, but it’s usually not particularly fulfilling. While logic may dictate that this freedom would unleash all kinds of creative thinking, it’s actually setting limits (but not too many!) that really get the imagination going.
What kinds of limits have you put on yourself (or have put onto you)? Share your shots and stories with me!
Pamela Klaffke is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who now works as a novelist and photographer. Her column appears weekly in the Analogue Lifestyle section of Lomography Magazine.