It’s very easy to think that a new camera or a new lens is the answer to a photographic impasse. I have, on many occasions, scrolled through seemingly endless eBay listings of cameras I can’t afford, but they hold an allure because they’re new to me and ostensibly better than what I have. Yet, a new camera won’t make me or anyone a better photographer. Will it up the image quality on a technical level? Most probably, but it won’t up the photograph’s emotional resonance. The camera is the first step towards making photographs, but once a creative block sets in, a new (or used) camera or lens won’t do anything but make a hole in your bank account. There are things besides gear that can rejuvenate you.
Photo books are perhaps one of the greatest investments you can make. A well-wrought photo book, particularly one by a revered photographer, can do a great deal for your photography. There are, of course, the folks everyone looks to – Frank, Koudelka, Winogrand and others – who are (were, in Winogrand’s case) masters of their craft, and whose photographs work very well in book form. Frank’s “The Americans,” Koudelka’s “Exiles,” and Winogrand’s “Women Are Beautiful” are all excellent books, though Winogrand’s commands a fairly high price on the used circuit. A well-made book shows how well images can communicate with each other in form and content, and it emphasizes the importance of a body of work over one-off, single images. They can be fertile ground for ideas. TIME puts together great lists of photo book recommendations.
A workshop can really sing with a great instructor and a good group of students. It can be incredibly helpful to work for a series of days with like-minded people in an environment solely dedicated to photography, which can be a hard thing to come by if it isn’t your main gig. It’s about fostering ideas, and learning new ways to see and understand photography. Yet, don’t go in expecting roses. Workshops aren’t designed to heap praise on paying participants. They’re educational, so there’ll be criticism, too. Of course, the question is, “Which one do you take?” It depends on the top of photography you practice. There are plenty of street photography workshops, but there are workshops for just about any style of photography out there.
Perhaps a workshop isn’t what you need. Maybe you need a change of pace and a change of scenery. Getting out of your neighborhood, providing you can set aside the time, can be revitalizing. Of course, trips aren’t the cheapest, depending on where you want to go, but there are ways to travel cheaply. This doesn’t necessarily mean traveling to a different country. A city next door might do the trick. Regardless, traveling can help keep your eyes fresh, and when you get back home, you might find yourself able to make better photographs.
This is somewhat different than picking up a photo book because photographs work differently in a 3-dimensional space than they do on the printed page or the screen. Gallery exhibitions allow you to interact with the work in a unique way, particularly if the prints are massive. Sebastião Salgado’s traveling exhibition “Genesis” has huge prints that work far better in a gallery space than they do in a book or on a screen. Galleries are also great places to meet other photographers and artsy types who can, potentially, help with your photography somewhere down the line. Opening nights tend to be a little crazy, but they have the biggest turnout. So, have some business cards ready.