Sometimes Artistic Inspiration Is Closer Than You Think

Sometimes Artistic Inspiration Is Closer Than You Think

Sometimes you don’t have to look far and wide for artistic inspiration. Oftentimes the answer you seek is right around the corner.

I just got back from my morning run. Now, to be sure, I don’t run as far these days as I used to. I definitely don’t run as fast. Less gazelle and more arthritic turtle. But my long runs have never been about setting a world record pace. The extended journey across town, along the coastline, or even around my old studio’s backlot was most useful as a chance to unplug. Aside from the music and/or podcast flowing into my headphones, my runs are a tech-free zone. No email. No posting my progress on social media. I don’t take any calls (partially because doing so would surely result in my clumsily tripping and falling due to my inability to do two things at once). My distance runs are my chance to detach from the world.

But, at the same time, doing so still allows me to form a different kind of connection. A connection to my city and my surroundings. Experiencing a city on foot is far different from witnessing it from the back seat of a tour bus or taking a virtual tour online. You can listen to all of your friend’s stories that you like, but actually putting your own personal shoe leather to the pavement and feeling the gravel beneath your feet gives you a unique perspective that only you will ever fully comprehend.

The places we live tend to seep into our subconscious. They inform the way we view the world. They inform our goals and expectations. Our ideas of right and wrong. Our visions of beauty.

I remember listening to a lecture by a great cinematographer once, and he was mentioning how many of the great Hollywood DPs come from outside of the United States. It wasn’t a quantitative comparison. Rather, what he was pointing out was that many a great image is the result of an artist looking at the world differently. Seeing something that most people never see. Those things don’t go unnoticed because they aren’t interesting. Rather, for those used to staring at them every day, they become little more than routine, whereas someone coming at that scenario for the first time is still able to see the majesty in the moment.

I think a lot about how the city I live in affects me as an artist. I live in Los Angeles and have spent the majority of my life here. The places I frequent and the people I bump into at the grocery store tend to be many of the same ones you see often in television or movies. That’s not to say I’m some kind of insider. My experience is not even unique. Rather, living in LA, you can’t help but interact with Tinseltown in one way or another. It’s as in the DNA as cars are to Detroit or tech is to Silicon Valley.

But I think about how living here has affected my own aesthetic and my own ambitions. How I define beauty in the subjects I decide to photograph. What I consider to be an interesting vista to use as a backdrop. All of this is greatly influenced by my easy access to actors and actresses, models and supermodels, beaches and mountains, and everything in between that makes up the fabric of my city. There’s no way to avoid having that affect me in one way or another. From my taste in other people's work to deciding what kind of work to make on my own.

When I was younger, my family lived in Boston. When I went out to dinner with my mother the other day, I asked her if she thought that, had we stayed in Boston, my life would have been different. I’m fairly certain that I would still be an artist. From early in grade school, I’ve always been less interested in living a certain life than translating the lives I see into art. So, to some extent, that die was cast long before I ever moved west. But, perhaps instead of becoming a screenwriter, I would have become an author. Had I been in the literary world instead of Hollywood, I likely would have never thought to become a director. That would have never led to cinematography and photography. I would likely still be some version of the artist that I am today, but the particulars would likely have changed. Such has been the effect of my fated environment.

But as I take my long runs on the weekend, traveling my home city on foot, one cannot deny all the gifts this city has provided me as an artist. It has helped to shape how I see the world. Both the good experiences and the bad experiences I’ve lived through here have inspired and toughened me, respectively. The people I’ve had the pleasure to engage with, the diversity of thought granted from living in such an international city, have granted me access to millions of amazing stories to tell and shared experiences to understand. My home is as much a part of my work as my technique. And that’s a good thing.

Reading this article, one might think it to be simply a love letter to Los Angeles. And, while I definitely am partial to my hometown, the point is not to say how cool it is to live in LA. Rather, it’s about how joyful it can be to recognize the uniqueness of all the places we call home. I’m sure if you were to think about the place you call home, those thoughts would instantly come associated with a set of feelings and emotions. It probably wouldn’t be a stretch for you to rattle off a series of “firsts” that happened to you around town. The first day of school. The first time you met your wife. The first time you picked up a camera.

What did you point that camera at? How did it make you feel? Think about the landscape of your town. Do you live in a big city? A small village? How has that affected the way you see? How would you describe the personality of your town? And how has that personality affected your own work? How has the environment itself affected the way you compose your images, your color palette, and the way you see light?

It’s human nature to sometimes consider if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But it is worthwhile to take a little time to relish the beauty closer to home. Consider all the gifts your hometown has given you as an artist. Let it inform the work you create. No matter how far we travel, there’s no place like home.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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