INTERVIEW WITH CAPTURE MAGAZINE, AUSTRALIA
Throughout history there has been much contention surrounding the definition of creativity. The common accepted definition is that creativity is the act of creating something new, something from nothing. According to this definition however, many argue that only writers and poets can be considered to be truly creative, while artists (under which category photographers fall) only replicate what already exists. What would you say to someone with that belief and what is your own understanding of creativity?
ZH: Its an interesting idea but I would argue that most worthwhile painters and photographers don’t replicate what already exists but use their craft to create work that is an interpretation of what they see or imagine. Photographers use light to paint an image, and in most cases, a variety of processes afterwards to change and bend what they’ve captured to further alter it from reality. If the photographer is using the medium to do this then they must be considered to be creating something new.
Everyone’s creative process is different. For some creativity comes easily and leads to a proliferation of great work while others describe their creative process to be like extracting poison, slow and incredibly painful. What is your creative process like?
ZH: Ah yes the ‘beautiful burden’. I confess I’m not one of those wonderfully crazy people with an elastic mind stretching off at tangents all of the time and obsessing with work. I wish that I was less ordered, less literal and more radical, however the upside is that I’m content to let the ideas or the situations to create arrive in their own time. I need to create but not in a way that is destructive.
Do you rely heavily on external stimuli – mood boards, music, movies etc – to boost your creativity?
ZH: One of the great things about working solely underwater is that I can pull references from all sorts of sources and once applied to an underwater environment the results take on their own direction. On an editorial shoot where creativity is allowed to evolve and the water plays its part there are lots of opportunities to create something different. The trick is to recognise when the accidental process is going in a good direction and when a different approach is needed. The more references I start with, the more ideas I find to move the work forward.
I’m sure everyone has experienced that moment of panic when a great idea occurs to you only to slip away, like water through your fingers, before you’ve had a chance to get it all down. In fact, studies have shown that some of the most creatively successful people have “capturing” methods in place to capture creative thought the moment they happen, before they disappear. Do you have any creative capturing methods ie carrying around a notebook/sketchbook everywhere etc? For example, one interviewee said she kept a dictaphone next to her bed which she used in the middle of the night to record vivd dreams she’d just woken from.
ZH: All my best ideas tend to come when I’m in the place of dreaming before becoming fully asleep. When I’m trying to work out some ideas I always keep a notebook by the bed otherwise I just end up foraging around in the dark trying to scribble the ideas down. Indeed this doesn’t seem to be a very uncommon strategy for lots of people.
The popular image of the tortured, depressive artist is an enduring one and is often attributed to the agony artists suffer at the hands of the whims of creativity. For artists, with so much riding on creative performance, the
unpredictability of creativity can be incredibly crippling. Do you experience creative block yourself and if so, how do you get around it?
ZH: When I was younger I might have fallen into the ‘tortured, depressive artist’ category. I was often unsure if the path that I was on would actually work. I didn’t have a role model, I’m selftaught and specialising just in underwater photography was quite a radical approach. I didn’t know if I would be able to create a business from it and how readily my imagery would be accepted. It was an unnerving path but now with 3 small children they tend to keep me busy enough so that the selfish, obsessive existence is no longer an option.
Most of the work I do now is driven by commerce but when there is an opportunity to work on a more creative project it’s uplifting to have the boundaries removed. Creating great imagery is a team effort and a talented crew is vital. Their input removes any opportunity for creative blocks.
From a psychological perspective, one of the greatest enemies of creativity is fear – fear of judgement from others, fear of failing etc. Scientists believe this is why children, who are yet to learn to fear such things, have
such an easy relationship with creativity. How much of a role do you think fear plays in creativity?
ZH: I’ve always been utterly stubborn about going in my own direction and I recognised from a young age that different is good. Art by committee never works. To create something new takes a certain amount of courage but to not at least try and push the boundaries is just boring. I’m all for the mavericks of society who swim again the tide.
Has fear – in any shape of form – held you back creatively in your career? If so, how have you overcome it? (one interviewee had a failure so colossal, he said nothing scared him after that because it could only ever get better!)
ZH: I like the rush of being on a shoot; the pressure to create something wonderful in a fixed period of time. My shoots are costly and not having my own underwater studio I’m always in a hired pool and the clock is ticking. Fear? No I don’t think about work or commission with fear, it’s an adventure and an opportunity.
Another popular belief is that creativity is something inherent to someone’s nature, an intrinsic skill some are born with, while others miss out. Do you believe this is true or do you think creativity can be nurtured and developed by anyone at any age?
ZH: I’m on the nature rather than nurture camp with everything. It’s rather predictable of me but I think people are wired from the start to be 80% of the person they turn out to be. The other 20% is nurture. I think this applies to creativity as well.