Creativity and Travel

There's a familiarity to home that can dull the senses. Routine is often liberating and productive but rarely is it innovative. Every once in a while, your body, mind and soul need a shock. For me, that shock is travel. So today I set off for Paris and Amsterdam to see the familiar and breathe in the new.

Paris is less a shock than a reprieve considering I've spent a lot of time there, but Amsterdam, that's a whole new ballgame. I've never set foot in The Netherlands and the thought of Dutch words makes my head spin, which might be exactly what I need. I recently wrote about my struggle to find myself creative. It's a seriously daily thing. So for this trip I am bringing my camera but with only one lens. A 50mm prime lens to be exact. Known more as a portrait lens, the limited range will force me to get up close and personal to whatever I want to capture. It's an exercise in doing more with less. That's what travel is all about after all, doing more with less. You can only bring so much but options are limitless once you arrive.

Capture My Heart O' City of Light

My first trip to Paris, apart from a quick stopover in 2007, was in 2009. It lasted for 6 months and was one of the most formative times of my life. I learned how to adapt in a different lifestyle, how to fit in. My French is and was pretty bad so I relied on body language and my roommate a lot. I fumbled plenty, but eventually found my rhythm. I taught conversational English classes on university campuses and made a friends with a multi-talented singer/songwriter. Many turkish kebabs were consumed and I always had a sleeve of Prince cookies in my room. It was a simple life. It was a good life.

Paris was my first extended period of time outside of the United States and it was necessary. I had just graduated university during the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis. My prospects for a job were slim so I found myself folding sweaters at Banana Republic for pretty crappy pay. So I took all of my savings, raised some money from family and friends and left for France. It was rash, impulsive and I'd counsel anyone to do something similar at least once in their life. It introduced uncertainty into my life in a way I had never dreamed of before. I knew no one, spoke a different language and was distinctly Texan (with a slight British bent, but that's another story.)

Celluloid Dreams

Me in Paris, 2015. Taken by my lovely wife, Kim Thompson

Me in Paris, 2015. Taken by my lovely wife, Kim Thompson

Walking around the city was where I first felt the pull of photography. It was rudimentary, vague and probably contrived, but I could feel the buildings calling stories out to me. Odd signs on doorways. Alleyways with graffiti. People walking up Metro steps. All of it was a story I was just learning to capture.

Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on creativity and international travel talked to The Atlantic in 2015 about what travel does to your brain. “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms," Gailinsky told The Atlantic. For me, travel is what melds the creative side with the ability to see things in a different light. At home we often overlook things we see everyday but when traveling, everything is new. It causes us to reassess our views and look at problems in a whole new way.  Quite simply, travel makes connections that may have been directly in front of you at home, but that you never noticed.

Finding The New

There's a certain anxiety about traveling to a new place and I've dealt with that a lot this week. Not only have I never been to Amsterdam, I'm going by myself. At least I won't be too embarrassed when I inevitably get lost and turn down the wrong canal. I'm really excited about my limited lens possibilities, because as my boss knows, I get lost in technical stuff. Should I bring the 24-120mm even though it's heavy? Maybe buying an 85mm could help get some great medium shots. With only one option, there's no second guessing. Just a man and a camera. Get closer or farther away. Bokeh or deep depth of field. It's all dependent on how I manipulate the camera. No extra technical stuff.

Amsterdam is new to me, exciting and adventurous. I think that's exactly what my creativity needs right now. A shot in the arm. Expect a lot of 50mm shots on Instagram in the coming week or so. For now, it's time for a plane ride.