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Jul 10, 2017
Your Personal History as Inspiration

Self-portrait in my apartment with my childhood cat, Tigger, 2010.

I'm often asked where my ideas come from. The best answer that I can give is, myself, by which I mean my own personal history and unique experiences. 

I create very intuitively, which I think is true for a lot creatives. However, when I examine my work I notice that my aesthetic choices are, in fact, informed by the experiences I've had and the preferences I've developed. For example, I grew up with the unusual dichotomy of swimming in pristine mountain rivers surrounded by old-growth forests, and then returned home to perfectly-built houses in newly developed suburban areas. Now in my imagery, I find myself creating and imposing the order and symmetry of suburban life on the freedom of natural landscapes.

In other words, the area that I grew up in had a profound impact on how I interpret the world and the constructs I now use to communicate my ideas. It is in this exploration of self that you begin to develop a personal style.

Think about the colors that you gravitate towards, or the kind of subject matter you prefer and then ask yourself, how does your personal history influence your aesthetic choices?

What was the landscape like where you grew up? 
What places did you go as a child? As a teenager?
What were your family dynamics like?
Did you have a secret hideout?
Were you a loner, always on the outskirts?
Or were you the center of attention?
What was the color of the sunset where you lived? Is it different than where you live now?
Did you have stars at night, or flashing sirens and city lights?

In short, where did you come from? And what did it look like?

I grew up watching Tim Burton films and can't count how many times I've seen Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. Because he has such a distinct personal style, I began investigating him. I discovered that not only are his films highly influenced by his childhood, but he is also incredibly good at articulating how he reinterprets those experiences into his unique visual aesthetic. 

If you enjoyed this article and are ready for more, sign up for my upcoming workshop on Making Meaningful Photographs, at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the beautiful Oregon coast.

Recommended Reading:

Burton on Burton, foreword by Johnny Depp, edited by Mark Salisbury

Recommended Video:

Chase Jarvis: How to Develop Personal Style