Have you ever browsed through your very own photographs and finding some really great ones? Only to later realize they look like one of Mr. Great-awsome Photographer’s pictures from that-book-you-read-three-months ago? No? Does this not sound familiar? Great! Then I am truly happy for you!
For me, however, the art of photography is an ongoing quest for honesty. Here’s why:
Introducing Creativity’s Block
For those few of you who’ve actually read this blog before, know that’s it has been really quiet around here for a while. Silent, perhaps is more the right word. The silence has lasted for years. Why? And now, reading the title you might grasp the idea behind all this. Because the thing is, I’ve never been comfortable presenting myself as anyone else. As anyone besides myself, unless of course it is the conscious act of wearing a mask. And as my knowledge about photography grew, technical skills and all that, I learned how to produce the right pictures. Then I got stuck. Really stuck. The writing block kind of stuck, if you ignore the fact that taking pictures is basically the act of pushing one single button. Creatively stuck, creativity’s block. – Is that even a word? Because when I produced a photograph I actually liked, it looked like somebody else’s picture; a Diane Arbus in colour, a Strand, or even the occasional Ansel Adams passing by.
In a world where doing your thing is the new mantra, this kind of experiences are slightly discouraging,
Photographic Style: What is it?
Photographic style is what we call the kind of look that follows a photographer. Or more likely is a part his or her pictures. This something, either intentionally or as a consequence of habits/subject-matters etc., is what distinguishes one mind-blowing photographer from the next. No wonder there’s a wast amount on literature on the subject. How finding it, how to discover it etc. Alain Briot’s got a wonderful article on the how-tos and whys of personal photographic style, if you’ve got a couple of minutes to spare. Know thy self and trust yourself is in many ways the answer to this question. Again, just do your thing (but know what that thing is) and everything will be okay. Eventually. But who is the judge in all this?
While visiting a street art show last year I was amazed at how many of the exhibiting photographers had merely copied the styles of famous photographers. I surmise they had done so in order to give a unique “quality” to their work and, perhaps, to allow them to stand out among the many other photographers who exhibit at art fairs. Among them I found several “Ansel Adams,” several “David Muench,” and at least one “Jerry Uelsmann.” The show being held in the Southwest there was a large number of landscape photographs on display. But if the subject had been portraiture, wildlife, travel photography or other mainstay photographic subject I believe I would have found a similar attitude in regards to other famous photographers. I do understand that this approach is legitimate from a legal perspective. After all these artists all create original works of art and do not sell copies of images created by the originator of the style they emulate. However, it is difficult (if not impossible) for me to remember these artists for anything but a pale copy of the masters they copy.
Briot is noticing when something’s off, and I’ll bet he’s not the only one; whenever I (unintentionally) walk into somebody else’s territory in terms of style, I feel really guilty. Like I’ve plugged into somebody’s mind (preferably the mind of a great photographer), and stolen all his or her secrets. Somehow it seems like my photograph should really belong to him or her. After all, it’s stolen property. Emotionally speaking.
So, I’ve stopped sharing these images with people. Afraid that they’ll figure out I’m a “fraud”, who’s stealing somebody else’s ideas and presenting them as my own. This probably sounds crazy, but it’s the truth.
So, what’s your take on photographic style?