At the end of last month I attended the Creative Mornings Summit Camp in upstate New York. It was a pretty transformative trip where I learned a hell of a lot about myself and made some new lifelong friends. One of those friends is Johannes; the host of Creative Mornings/Helsinki and a fellow photographer. Johannes agreed to be interviewed for my Creative Conversations series and we did something a little different in that I recorded our conversation. So you can either listen to the audio below or read the transcription. A little disclaimer that if you listen to the audio is it completely unedited, with a couple of things happening in the background, but I thought it was best this way! Enjoy!
J: What do you want to talk about?
E: I would love to hear your thoughts on creativity! What does it mean to you?
J: Creativity; I struggle with the meaning of the word and with the creative industries. Creativity is like a human fuel of action, it’s everywhere, for me it’s about looking at things from different angels and not taking things for granted. That’s funny, I haven’t ever articulated it, but that’s what I think creativity is for me
E: I like that. I do like the Creative Industries but find the difficulties I have with them is that I feel they create a lot of segregation . You either are ‘creative’ or you’re not, either your ‘a creative’ or you don’t have creativity
J: Exactly. Which is bullshit.
E: And for this project that’s one of the silos that I’m trying to break down, because I believe that everyone is creative. Yet so many people I speak to, generally more non-creative identifying people, say that they’re not creative. And I want to know why? I think scientists are creative…
J: And researchers are highly creative. Maybe that’s something you could differentiate, that it shows up more in some people’s lives than others, but it’s nonsense to say that someone isn’t creative or that somebody would have a complete lack of creativity. As long as you are able to form sentences…it’s a basic human act; creation; a strong part of being human in this world.
E: I agree! Do you feel that creativity is part of your identity? Do you use creativity in your everyday life?
J: It'‘s like I don’t think about the air I’m breathing, I’m not conscious of it. It surprises me when someone comments on my actions; if someone is facing a problem and I come at it quickly or if at first there seems to be no solutions, and I come up with a surprising solution, they’ll say ‘that’s so creative’. But it’s just a matter of challenging your mind to un-see things.
E: Unlearning, unseeing…
J: If you say there are no solutions you could just end it there, but why? Is that it? I think it’s also connected to curiosity
E: Yes! I totally agree
J: And of course it’s something you can train. But what you see and hear often is where people in early childhood are told that they are no good at simple acts of say drawing, that it should be better or something more. It’s a problem. Let’s call it the ‘form’ of creativity. It’s an absurd thought that creative thinking has a certain form.
E: I completely agree!
E: I meant to ask you at the beginning, but could you introduce yourself?
J: My name is Johannes Romppenan and I am a father of three children, a husband, I’m a cis-male and I live in Finland, in Espoo…Are you interested in my profession?
E: Yeah! Tell me about your profession!
J: Currently I work as a photographer. As a children I loved to draw and my goal was to become an animator at the Disney Studios!
E: Yes! That’s an amazing goal!
J: Yes! But then at some point I realised that my drawing skills weren’t good enough, at quite an early age I guess, so then I found Graphic Design. I was like 15/16 when I decided I would become a Graphic Designer and I remember the summer before starting High School I contracted like 80 Ad Agencies. Always after school, at about 2pm so I have 2 hours to call around; I was super determined! But I had no idea that people who already had Masters degrees had difficulty finding jobs. So I called these agencies and they were like ‘okay, send us your CV’ and I was like ‘What’s a CV?’
E: That’s amazing!
J: I had done a two-week internship in the 9th grade and I got this idea that I had to do this for summer. I was on a call with an agency, and we were ending the call and I said ‘This is so hard, I’ve called like 80 places;. And the guy said ‘What did you just say? You called 80 place?! I think I want to meet you. I really like your determination and I’ll offer you a job for summer. It won’t break my budget whatever happens, so I’ll give you a chance’. So I worked there for the summer, for a month or so and apparently did a good job because he was asking me to continue. It was retain marketing, so i was doing brochures and logo design because I was only 16. I started High School at an art school so I was trying to develop my craft there and try different things. I was really determined to be a Graphic Designer, but at some point I noticed that I always had super high expectations of myself. So I ended up feeling like I wasn’t good enough, and that’s when I found photography. I’ve been on that road now for the last 14 years. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not so interested in further developing my photography skills, but I’m more interested in developing my interpersonal skills. I’ve noticed that what I’m interested in, within an art context, is the art that happens when people meet. That’s also why I started Creative Mornings because it’s trying to learn the art of hosting and creating space for people to meet and create possibilities.
I really like starting things. I like seeing gaps and then filling them. I have some issues with allowing myself to explore other genres, because I feel like I’m doing this photo thing so I shouldn’t do anything else. It’s been a process of unlearning, and accepting, and giving myself permission to jump on whatever train feels interesting.
E: And I think that in itself is the essence of creativity. It’s really good.
J: Yeah. I try to keep the curiosity alive, I hope I’ll stay curious until the end of my life. I think maybe part of that comes from the people I honour in the creative field, they are people who you really see the childlike qualities in and they’ll be 70/80/90 years old.
E: Yeah, I really like that
J: I have this idea that my life will never be full, it will end. That idea also gave me a lot of freedom because I was always putting pressure on myself for things to be perfect and believing that everything should be perfect before shipping it out, so I would end up not shipping things. So to practice that, and understand that everything is always in progress, even though it’s finished. There are always some things that you could do and change. Seeing that with a bigger perspective that this is the whole story of life; that it’s just a long journey.
E: I like that a lot