The difference between aspiration and inspiration

A few days back I read an article on how to get inspirations from Instagram. This reminded me of a discussion on a similar topic I had with a fellow photographer on the problem of seeking ‘inspiration’ from social media and other photographers in general.

It is very common for photographers to look at others work and feel the urge to take similar images. There is nothing wrong in doing that, but we often misjudge that feeling as a source of inspiration. Personally, I think it is aspiration and not inspiration. Now, many of you may feel that I am getting into semantics and over complicating things here. But hear me out and why I think it is essential for us to understand the difference.

Let’s take the below image as an example.

I am a big fan of Fred Herzog. I love the way he used colour. And I always wanted to make something similar. This image to an extent is a direct result of that ‘ambition’. An interesting looking person with a bit muted but complimentary colour palette.

But to me, this is an aspired image.

Aspiration is defined as a hope or ambition of achieving something. And an aspired image is one which is made with some ambition. In this case, the ambition was to make something similar to Herzog’s work.

To the contrary, inspiration is a sudden and often timely idea. Some people will say it is the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something.

Now let’s look at this image. This was taken inside a tram of a gentleman sitting opposite to me in a tram here in Melbourne. He had an interesting face. I also noticed the edge of the window on the top of his head and suddenly he reminded me of Gabriel Byrne’s character in the movie End of Days. I thought, hey even the devil prefer public transports these days.

This is what I consider an inspiration. It was more organic and much closer to who I am as a person. Yes, it is a fact that I walk around the city looking at people and imagining stuff. Weird, but true.

Why do I feel it is critical to understand the difference. Because it serves two very different purposes in our photographic journey.

Aspiration helps us to improve our skills. When we look at others photographs and want to emulate them, generally those are the images which we haven’t tried before. It may be because we don’t have the technical skills, or we may not have tried that particular way of shooting an image. And when we try to emulate, we learn these skills and problem-solving skills.

But at the same time, if we confuse aspiration as inspiration, and we end up following others work all the time, we end up looking at others. One of the reasons why so many images in social media look very similar. It may give one some social media cred in the short term, but in the longer run, it makes us feel empty. A creative rut, so to say.

It is the inspired images which give us that creative satisfaction and have a ‘voice’. It helps us to express ourselves.

The downside? It takes patience and persistence to create something in your own voice. There is no reference image, there is no baseline. It is an idea whose success and failure will completely depend on how you execute.

So next time you think of an idea or take an image, pause and think. Is it an aspired or an inspired image? Personally, I am focusing (and hoping) to take more inspired images.

More later. TC.

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