As a writer, it can be difficult to document your inspirations. I scribble notes on every available surface -- sticky notes, sketchbooks, cell phone lists, my overworked memory -- but even then, there's often a picture that goes missing. I spent some time trying to figure out what that meant and how to capture those ideas, and I quickly realized that documentation can be as easy as pressing a button. As a whimsical amateur-photographer, it (ironically) never occurred to me to document my own inspiration, the way set designers and artists take photographs to inform their physical work, I (wrongfully) thought that the written word needed to be documented as written word. 1+1=2, dammit. But photography can be a powerful tool for a writer, or any artist for that matter, because photographs often capture moments in better detail and color and emotion than the flighty brain. On A, ROBOT, I will be showcasing all sorts of inspiration: My own, the work of others, and hopefully some of yours, in a feature pretentiously-titled APERTURE. No, I'm not changing the title, do you see that fancy-ass graphic I made?
One of the best sources of photography out there today comes from the The Atlantic magazine. I subscribe to the 'In Focus' RSS, where photo essays are sent out from The Atlantic's incredible photographers, detailing everything from beautiful, sweeping landscapes of sparsely-populated countries to the inner workings of urban, industrial life. The photo essay is really a powerful tool, one that isn't used often enough in modern journalism, but it's good to know that there are still photographers and outlets who see the value of visual storytelling. There's a lot to learn from photographic composition and essay storytelling, something that can and should be gleaned for the writer. Just by looking at a photograph, my brain starts to tumble, dreaming up old blind ladies with robotic assistants, paraplegic soldiers reassembled for war, starving farmers staring at distant metropolises.
Two recent essays from In Focus, "Robots at Work and Play" and "Scenes From 21st-Century China" are especially relevant for writers and readers of science fiction. The first is an almost surreal exploration of the current state and use of robotics; a heavy subject in science fiction and something that's only getting more traction as we reach that point of robotic critical mass. The latter essay, documenting The People's Republic, shows a dichotomous China, dancing between an already-realized future and a punishing, divisive economy. Each photograph tells a marvelous moment, but together, they weave a larger narrative, one that must be deconstructed and shredded for a writer's own consumption. Inside each essay are hundreds of stories waiting to be written, and we are vultures; leave no carcass unclean.
Lines in notebooks are still important. As are simple words or scribbled paragraphs. But you never know when you're going to need that robot or that soldier or that farmer, when you're going to need that scenery, and 10 years from now, having a photograph, something that locks in the emotions and the imagery, may be far more fruitful than "contemplative orangutan."