Unlocking Creativity – Learning from comedy improv

Clothing Designer: Monique Desar | MUAH: Maaike Buurman | Model: Cecine

I’ve taught a few lectures and workshops. In these, I refer to the people I look up to and other cool friends who are making awesome things. And I’ve heard this over and over again: “But I’m not as creative as them”. I’m not always sure what that means. So let’s nip that excuse in the butt. You say you’re not creative? I’m going to ask you something. And you’re going to get 5 seconds to think about it.

Close your eyes and picture in your mind a mouse riding a cat. Right now!
That image you saw in your mind, this image is unique to you! Did you see a little mouse? A big mouse? A human inside a mouse suit, a person body painted as a cat and a mouse riding it? Second, how did seeing that make you feel? Was it funny? A happy cartoony mouse, or more dark and evil mouse riding a cat like a horse in spartan body armor? You saw something, and if you let it, you might have felt something too! Well, there you go. You just “creatively” created something. Don’t ever tell me you aren’t creative or “as” creative!

Learning from Improv.

All I did was feed your brain with a set of parameters or information. It needs something it can build on without replicating what it has seen before. Improvisers do this. Have you ever watched a comedy improv show? You know those kinds where they shout words from the audience? I’m in a….. “CAR!” I’m sitting with….”Angelina Jolie” We are talking about…. “…?” That kind of improv. Then they build a story and a joke around it. I use this to build stories. And as I build the story, the images start forming in my head. Even with this last sentence. First, I saw a car with me in it. Then I saw a car, with me and Angelina. What color was the car? What kind of car was it? All uniquely me/you. And of course there are other humans that will picture a yellow mustang. This is normal. I’ve had tons of ideas only to find out somebody did the exact same thing! Then I go back, I see what that person did, and reevaluate my work. Then to me it becomes a little challenge. Doing it better, doing it bigger, bringing it further than the other person.

Model/Styling: Vivian Kramer Gezegd Freher | MUAH/Grime: Jet van Dijk

Forcing the shit > Out!

Sometimes being in the professional photography business means you’re crunched for time. There is no time to think of a concept. The concepts you have aren’t fit for this project. That’s when I fallback to the improvs. By feeding my brain sentences. How I create a sentence: This trick I’ve learned from other great conceptual photographers. You take a piece of paper, and you brain dump words in these categories: Color, Prop, Clothing, Setting.
So I write down “Color” and for 30 seconds I write every color that comes to mind; blue, purple, orange, pink!
Same for Prop; machete, teddy bear, flowers, bird-cage
Same for clothing; 50’s pinup style, though black leather, a white dress, a night gown.
Same for setting; abandoned warehouse, mansion, an apartment, the forest
After this I scrap all but 1 word per category and form a sentence: Blue, Machete, Black Leather, Apartment.
“A girl with a blood machete at twilight (the blue sky color) looking outside of an apartment window wearing a bad ass black leather suite, ready for the nights hunt!”
And a story for a shoot is born. You can apply the same techniques to your work by learning from other mediums and how they improvise when crunched with time.


Last, because it’s cliché: song lyrics. Because there are no images to the words, you can listen to the weirdest, oddest music and just picture a scene to the lyrics, voice and ambiance.
Now, don’t ever tell me you aren’t creative, you aren’t as creative and all that bla bla bullshit! To leave you with one to listen to: Tom Waits – Reeperbahn