Creativity on demand can be taxing and when there is no down time, we often find ourselves looking for inspiration in the same familiar places. Visiting the same sites and following the same social accounts. But as creatives it is important that we continue to push ourselves and let ourselves be inspired by new experiences.
It was an extremely rewarding year professionally and the new creative opportunities that came with launching New Atlanta Stadium and MLS Atlanta 2017 inspired some of the best work my team has produced. But it was also creatively exhausting. I needed to recharge.
Ive always wanted to visit Cuba. I wanted to get there before it became Americanized with a McDonalds and Starbucks on every corner. I had been planning a photography trip there for the last 2 years and the timing couldn’t have been better. This past February I set out for a 10 day trip through Havana, Vinales, Ceinfugos and Trinidad with a group of European photographers that Ive never met. Cell phone service and internet access was sparse (in fact my American cellular carrier didn’t work at all) so it was easy to completely disconnect from the daily grind of the office.
Traveling with people I have never met before, in a Spanish speaking country certainly forced me to get outside of my comfort zone and it was exactly what I needed.
When I arrived in Cuba I had pre-visualized allot of the “shots I wanted to get”. A photographers dream I was mesmerized by the colorful and beautifully dilapidated architecture, the classic American cars and most of all the the welcoming demeanor of the Cuban people.
On my very first day as I got up early for a pre-breakfast photo walk and remembered an interview with one of my favorite street photographers, Jay Maisel. Maisel likes to “go out empty” and not preconceive what he is going to shoot. Based on Maisel’s theory, If I went out with the idea that I was going to shoot a 1950s American car in front of the Floridita Hotel, I would probably miss countless of other opportunities because I was focused on getting my preconceived shot. Instead I went out empty and surprised myself how much I was drawn to the people. I was more inspired by the vibrant clothes and the arrogant gestures of the trendy youth in Havana and the stories written in the wrinkles on the faces of the tobacco farmers in Ceifuegos then I was by any classic car.
It was easily the most creatively inspiring experience of my life. I made photos, memories and friendships that will last a lifetime but of all the things Ive learned from my time in Cuba the most significant was the reminder of the importance of getting away, leaving our daily routine and completely disconnecting; getting outside of your comfort zone. I came back from Cuba spiritually, personally and professionally recharged.
While I may not be able to take long sabaticales like Stefan Sagmeister I do plan to make trips like this a more regular occurrence. And to remind myself to “go out empty” because inspiration can come in the most unlikely form.