Sunday 12 June, Christopher IRELAND and Danny EASTWOOD took the stage at MCA in UNFOCUSSED, a VIVID IDEAS talk about what happens when we consciously break the rules, free ourselves creatively by challenging a notion that is so ingrained we don’t even notice it’s there. Ireland led this special event, acting as MC, moderator, and speaker, while both he and Eastwood discussed how challenging their own assumptions has led them to exciting new creative territories.
CHRISTOPHER IRELAND // Judgement & Creative Confidence
Christopher Ireland opened the night by explaining how in order to be creative, we need to overcome habitual, narrow minded thinking, to be comfortable with ambiguity, and to find creative disruptions to introduce in creative practice. Your best judgement happens when you let go of preconceived ideas of what is right and break the rules. Within this framework, each artist spoke about a different facet of rule breaking in the creative process.
Drawing upon his personal series ‘The Alchemy of Fire’, Ireland discussed how to achieve creative confidence through eliminating fear of failure, achieving a creative flow, being comfortable with ambiguity and moving beyond pre-visualization.

'The Alchemy of Fire'

On fear of failure
“I learned not to fear failure from a bathroom renovator. He spent 3 months making a sculpture from scrap timber. He wanted to burn the exterior and we documented the process. He didn’t care if the whole thing went up in flames- what mattered was how much he enjoyed making it.”
“You gradually learn to overcome fear of failure and its stifling grip. After a while you seem to find such lovely things from unexpected places. When you make a habit of finding great things in these places, you begin to thank the mistakes that took you there. But to go here you have to be willing to try things that have uncertain outcomes.”
“I learned to detour failure. It’s much harder to fight with things that are beyond your control. If you use this energy instead to bump and spin with obstacles, you end up in a position where you’re grateful for them being there in the first place.”

'The Alchemy of Fire'

On creative flow
“My film about Craig and his sculpture burning was pretty low-fi. I was really surprised when it captured the imagination of many people. It’s less about how perfectly you make something, and more about the spirit in which you operate. Craig burned on enthusiasm and it was contagious. It speaks about creative flow, and how it can be achieved and passed on.”
On ambiguity
“Certainty is the enemy of creativity. Certainty seems to be quite socially acceptable lately. It doesn’t tend to offer anything new. I’ve learned it’s o.k. to say ‘I don’t know yet,’ it’s quite empowering. It leaves the door open to find something that can’t be pre-visualised.”
On pre-visualisation

“Pre-visualisation is overrated. I prefer anticipation and reaction. When my work is good, it’s responsive; when it’s static it’s usually from too much pre-visualisation.”

'The Alchemy of Fire'

THE LAB //  Unfocussed
Christopher Ireland – director, leader and mentor of Canon’s The Lab –  then discussed his most recent workshop with The Lab.
Ireland led a group of photographers out into the rain to capture Vivid’s lights, exploring and challenging the idea that a ‘good’ image is pin sharp and perfect. By encouraging the participants to defocus, Ireland gave photographers permission to let go of creative restriction. The result- an attention to movement, colour, shadow, form, and light.
“What we have been focusing on with Canon Lab is creating disruptions aimed at breaking habits. The disruptions we introduce to workshops focus our minds on the challenge but also enable us to judge creatively without the baggage of habitual thinking.”
DANNY EASTWOOD // Originality vs. Conformity
Using his own work from ‘Discard’, ‘Surface Tension’, and ‘The Naked and the Nude’ as examples, Danny eastwood discussed how he sees the concepts of originality and conformity existing on a continuum rather than as opposing practices, how conformity leads to originality and originality can eventually give way to conformity. Instead of aiming for originality, we should be aiming for authenticity.
“Photography is relatively young art form and it is easy to look back to it’s origins. Even in it’s beginning it conformed to existing ideas – especially in terms of portraiture and landscape photography. It paid homage to the disciplines and art forms that preceded it – it drew upon an established visual language. Over time though it has evolved it created it’s own language and genres and it has transformed the way we see the world.”
“Despite this evolution, today where photography seems present everywhere, it seems almost more conformist than ever. Virtually everyone carries a camera with them yet originality seems rarer. It isn’t that the nature of photography has changed, rather our relationship to it has. More often than not rather than a reflection of how we see the world, photography is now a reflection of how we want the world to see us.”



“To create great imagery we need to look at our intent. It is our intent that shapes and creates originality. We have to ask what our intent is in creating our images. What are we trying to capture? What is the story we are trying to tell? What are we aiming to explore? In actuality these are the things we should be concerned about – forget about whether something is conformist or original.”
“In my own practice I seldom consider if what I’m doing is original. Sometimes projects start in quite generic places and evolve from there.”

'Surface Tension'

“And as important as the evolution of a project is, it actually beginning a project that is the crucial element. It is easy to get caught up in if something is a good idea or not… And this is where originality can be a stumbling block, if we based a project’s merits on its originality at the outset, very little would get made.”
“Forget if something is conformist or original – in fact initially you can even forget the idea of authenticity – simply create. It is through the process of creation, of actually shooting, that you will find you voice and your authenticity. Simply keep shooting and keep thinking about your motives for shooting.”

'The Naked and the Nude'

Cover image credit // Aidan Cunningham, participant of The Lab