Creativity on demand can be taxing, and when there is no downtime, 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 essential that we continue to push ourselves and let new experiences inspire us.
It was an advantageous 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.
I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba. I tried 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 two years, and the timing couldn’t have been better. This past February I set out for a ten day trip through Havana, Vinales, and Trinidad with a group of European photographers that I’ve never met. Cell phone service and internet access were sparse (in fact my American cellular carrier didn’t work at all), so it was easy to disconnect from the daily grind of the office altogether.
Traveling with people I had never met before, in a Spanish speaking country indeed 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 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 Cienfuegos then I was by any classic car.
It was hands down the most creatively inspiring experience of my life. I made photos, memories, and friendships that will last a lifetime but of all the things I’ve 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 sabbaticals like Stefan Sagmeister I do plan to make trips like this a more regular occurrence. And to remind me to “go out empty” because inspiration can come in the most unlikely form.