This is essentially my entire photographic setup now. One camera, one lens, some film (HP5), a light meter, a flash, and a self-timer. It lives in this canvas bag along with whatever other crap I put in there. I take it with me most places.

My Leica year is nearly over. I didn’t especially set out to do it so there’s no specific date; when the Leica arrived (February 15), when I took the first photo with it (February 16), when I took the first black and white photo with it (February 19), the day I posted here saying that’s what I would do (March 19). Whatever, I’m not stopping. I’m only just getting into it, only just starting to make interesting pictures. Only just figuring out what interests me. This took an entire year. I guess I thought that by now I would be desperate to do something different, but I’m not, not at all. It’s that Helsinki bus station thing, right here in my life.


Helsinki Bus Station Theory and Kandinsky

Finnish-American photographer Arno Minkkinen (see his photo above) introduced the Helsinki Bus Station Theory of creativity. I first heard about this in a talk by the fairly outrageous Grayson Perry.

But I’ve just come across a similar analogy from Kandinsky, writing more than a century ago. Do you think they are similar ideas?

“In daily life we would rarely find a man who will get off the train at Regensburg when he wants to go to Berlin. In spiritual life, getting off Regensburg is a rather common occurrence. Sometimes even the driver does not want to go on, and all the passengers get of at Regensburg. How many who sought God stopped at a carved figure! How many who searched for art were arrested at a form that an artist had used for his own purpose, be it Giotto, Raphael, Durer, or Van Gogh!”

- Wassily Kandinsky, in the essay On the Question of Form, appearing in the 1912 Blaue Reiter Almanac
Stay on the fucking bus.

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory of creative fulfilment.

’“There are two dozen platforms, Minkkinen explains, from each of which several different bus lines depart. Thereafter, for a kilometre or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops. "Each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer,” Minkkinen says. You pick a career direction – maybe you focus on making platinum prints of nudes – and set off. Three stops later, you’ve got a nascent body of work. “You take those three years of work on the nude to [a gallery], and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn.” Penn’s bus, it turns out, was on the same route. Annoyed to have been following someone else’s path, “you hop off the bus, grab a cab… and head straight back to the bus station, looking for another platform”. Three years later, something similar happens. “This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others.” What’s the answer? “It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus.”’

It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.

What an insightful little piece of wisdom to stumble across. In photography, and probably most creative endeavors, it can be hard to find your voice, and even easier to doubt you have anything new to say. We can’t abandon our journey or our passion, even if it’s been done before, for It’s only when we continue on, when we stay on the bus, that we will really find our way and realize what we have to say.

(STAY ON THE BUS is excerpted from the commencement speech at delivered at the New England School of Photography in June 2004 by Arno Rafael Minkkinen)