There's a video of an unscripted HBO special with famous comedians like Jerry Seinfeld talking about their craft of comedy: how they write a joke, how they do stand up, that sort of thing.
One comedian talks about how he would start with his ending bit (his funniest joke). This would force him to always try and be better and better as the show went on. Normally you'd want to end your stand up routine on a high note, but instead he forced himself to use his best joke at the beginning. It put pressure on him to sort of 'outperform' himself, because he had to be that much better as the show went on.
This short excerpt from a 2011 video was the basis of my most recent shoot with Z Shoes. I had remembered watching the video a while back, and it suddenly came into my mind when I was thinking of what to take photos of next.
I had some Holi Powder (basically colored dust) I bought a while back that I wanted to save for something special...and i've had a few pairs of Z Shoes in my studio for a few months now (I do their studio photography). At first I was hesitant to do the photo because it seemed like a bit of waste to do this idea. This is probably better suited for the perfume bottles I haven't shot, or some cool tech item I could try and rent. There's a lot of cool things to do with the limited amount of powder I had, and it would be pointless to take a lot of photos with this concept in my portfolio (unless I wanted to be known as the 'colored powder guy' I guess) as it would get repetitive.
But then I remembered that bit, that quote from the comedian. It was the best idea I had at the time. Sure, I had reservations—I wanted to save it for something even cooler or more awesome. However, the same logic applies. By forcing myself to do this cool photo, now I feel compelled to do an even better photo next time. I've run my course with this idea, so now I need to think of something new and cool and exciting. I'm constantly going to be trying to make the best photo I can because i'm competing against myself. I'm not trying to make one singular great photo for my portfolio or looking for that last photo to complete a series. I'm in this nice organic flow now where i'm constantly trying to better myself and my work—and its because I started off with what I thought was the best potential idea at the time. I can't shoot shoes for a while now, and I have a lot of product. I can't use the powder anymore. Probably shouldn't do any more motion freezing stuff. So...what now? Who knows?
The Basic Idea
I think getting inspiration (as a photographer) from other photography is pointless. You end up imitating, copying, or just being bombarded with information. Maybe it even un-inspires you because you realize how much great work is out there.
I find my best inspiration comes from the most random places. So this HBO special is one example. While clearly designed to give great advice to aspiring stand up comedians, I found an abstract form of inspiration from it.
I've found inspiration from watching random people on the internet play and talk about video games. Sometimes I get advice from writers. Sometimes its a podcast. It's really everywhere EXCEPT from photographers.
The downside of listening to advice from people in your own career or passion is that you end up often connecting to it on too much of a personal level. You instantly agree with them—you feel their pain or understand their difficulties. You indeed know what its like to have someone not laugh at a joke you slaved away at. You know what its like to play in front of a dead audience. You relate to someone when they say no one liked their drawings.
I think the problem is that we tend to compartmentalize advice from people similar to us. Like our brain actively shuts off when we hear about what we need to do. Maybe we silently judge their success, perhaps we find their advice bullshit. If we do get inspired from someone, its often short lived and temporary.
This is why I like advice from other people. Other creatives in vastly different mediums. They share a similar struggle as I do usually, but always have—from my point of view—a radically different approach to problems. And its not REALLY a different problem, but it feels so different because I have no idea what its like to be a video game streamer who makes money off of Youtube videos. But when they give creative advice, I take it to heart because its in a field I have no idea about, and I see them as successful, driven people.
It's like taking advice from a stranger vs. from your parents. Maybe its because you've lived your whole life hearing advice from your parents, but somehow getting advice from a stranger is just reassuring. It's different. It somehow gives a sense of scope to your life and your problems.
Honestly, I think that's the best way to find inspiration: look for it in other places. The narrative is usually all the same: Do what you love, be passionate, work hard. If you're a photographer do you want to hear yet another photographers story about how they woke up at 4AM to get the perfect sunrise shot? No, because as a photographer you have your own variation of this story. The heart of the story or the message of the idea may be about passion or overcoming odds, but it doesn't stick. Now, if you hear a story about a starving musician who constantly was living paycheck to paycheck but would always stay up late practicing guitar until he eventually became successful... I mean, maybe its the same story. Maybe its the same advice. But if you've never played guitar, the message you internalize is going to be much stronger as you have nothing to reference it off of.
As a creative you're going to always reach your lazy point (you may even be there now). It's the point at which you stop wanting to be creative and start doing nothing. Artists like to call this being "uninspired" usually. You'll find that a lot of creative people often find weird ways to force themselves to stay on top of things. Maybe its starting with your best joke in stand up routine. Or maybe its about listening about writing advice from the co-creator of Rick and Morty, Dan Harmon (I do that quite often). Do whatever it takes, but the bottom line is: Don't look for inspiration where your career is.