As a photographer it's second nature for me to compare myself to others. It's not the most healthiest habit, but it's inevitable. I'm really big on photo books, and documentaries, more recently I've fell in love with everything Vivian Maier has touched. Much like the lady in the documentary I think I love her story more so than her work (though her work is equally amazing). Beyond her I also enjoy the likes of Trent Parke, Robert Frank and Sally Mann. However i've noticed when looking at their work, I'm doing so as a fan, I'm not researching or looking for guidance, I just enjoy good pictures. Sure, I want their legacy, but in terms of inspiration, it's just not enough for me.
When I first started to take pictures some of the first advice given to me was never to look at other people's work. I thought this was absurd, how was I supposed to get better? How was I supposed to develop a style? Surely my plan wasn't to flat out copy someone, but influenced of course. Till this day I'm not sure if I 100% agree with the above advice, but I do think by relying strictly on other photographs to help develop a style, or to develop new ideas is a terrible idea. Essentially you will pigeonhole yourself.
In my earlier days I shot a lot of portraiture. I used sites like 500px and Tumblr to gather ideas for the shoots with my clients. This was helpful for me, at least it was initially. Whenever I went for an "inspired" shoot the only ideas I truly had were the ones that I copied. I didn't further innovate, if the shoot I researched had 6 total poses then thats all I had for my client. Once we shot those 6 poses I was pretty much useless. It made me reliant, I couldn't think of my own concepts and none of my early work was authentic. Everything from the outfit to the location was similar to those photos that "inspired" me.
For me I guess music is my go to for anything inspiration. I find it amazing how artist can tell a story, and how a diverse library of music can pretty much relieve you from any problem. It's both therapeutic and inspirational. Often the lyrics themselves can't help me photographically, but it's more so the motivation or ability to empower myself that gives me life. Especially when you listen to artist early in their career, you can hear the growth in the music, you can see it, it gives you hope and shows you that you can do it as well. Some of my favorite artist are Kanye West, Wale, J. Cole, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran... the list goes on and on.
Movies are also a big factor. Whenever I'm in a funk I tend to find a good movie to watch, sometimes a stand up, but mostly a good movie. Now I'm not a conceptual photographer, so you'll never see me try to replicate themes in my photographs from movies like Pulp Fiction, but that doesn't mean a visual experience like that can't be inspiring. The aspiration to be great is what I get from that film.
Recently I saw Blood Diamonds for the first time, I didn't know what to expect, but I heard it in Kanye West's song "Diamonds Are Forever", so for that very reason I was intrigued. It's amazing how one creative outlet can lead you to something else... The film was amazing, it made me look and think differently, and ironically it had a few scenes of a journalist taking photographs. The photographs she took were documentary style, they weren't fantastic, but they were something of importance. Many of them showed the struggles and deaths of those who lived in South Africa. Throughout the film she was also very passionate about her work. It's those types of small things that get me going, that get me look at my work and ask myself questions. I wondered was I just taking pictures or am making a difference. I understand it's not everyone's duty to make a difference, but my point is that may have not been a question you asked yourself if you only looked at work similar to what you already have been photographing.
I think when people look at photographs for inspiration they get an instant satisfaction, when with movies or music you have to pick what you relate to and run with it. In a 3 minute song there may be only 5 seconds of inspiration, but at times thats all you need. I get it though, some people simply don't have the time to watch a array of movies, or to listen to 60 minutes of an album only to dislike every track. With that being said don't limit yourself to anything, life in itself is inspiring, go outside, look at architecture, start paying attention to symmetry, take long walks, watch children (from a distance), read books and eat great food. In the end, it's really about finding what inspires you to create, not necessarily something that inspires you what you create.