The Pursuit of Personal Style

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Jeremy, May 22, 2006.

  1. Jeremy

    Jeremy Member

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    There seems to be a point in your photography where the equipment and the chemicals and the techniques don't matter anymore. This is not because they aren't required or that you won't learn new things or mix in new ways, but because this is all superfluous. You can and could learn all of the techniques and with enough practice you can master them... that is no more than just practice to the point of unconcious action.

    At what point, after you have hit this wall, do you find your path in photography? Or does this never happen?

    I guess the recent thread about some big-wigs in photography has lead me to think about my future in photography and wonder if personal style develops on its own or if must be actively sought. Also, if a personal style is found, can it be broken out of? Self-pidgeon-holing seems to be a problem with a number of the big names in photography as they ride their popularity wave. It seems the greatest among us are always reinventing themselves and pushing out of or driving deeper into novel work which continues to inspire themselves and those of us who admire from afar.

    This really isn't that much of a pointed question, but more of a rambling as I have had this on my mind this past week while doing some gum over prints and looking at my work.
     
  2. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    This is a topic that I have strong opinions about.

    I believe that they way to develop a personal style is by doing the work that interests you in the manner that you see fit.

    Setting out to develop a persoanl style is. in my opinion, a fruitless task. Work, work, work. The style will come and it will be all yours.
     
  3. reellis67

    reellis67 Subscriber

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    I'm with Claire on this one - true personal style comes from our very being; it can't be learned. You can emulate the work of others in a particular style, but it will never be yours.

    - Randy
     
  4. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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    I'm in agreement with Claire as well.

    I've come to the realization that it's up to the artist to explore whichever paths get the juices flowing, and it's up to others to look back on your body of work to sort out what it all means.

    Murray
     
  5. Jeremy

    Jeremy Member

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    That's a very good distillation of the way I have begun to look at things.

    This thread wasn't a question of how do I find my style or should I emulate the style of others... just wanted to stop that before it starts. Just some random thoughts which I thought I might share with my fellow photogs who may be ruminating the same things.
     
  6. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    I found that at least for me, I have a particular way of seeing and recording things, and that people with at least a minimally trained eye can pick that up - they can look at a photo I took, whether it is a nude or an ancient temple, and say, "yes, that's a Scott Davis photograph". Same with my painting and drawing (although let's not go there... I think unlike my photos, the descriptor of a Scott Davis painting or drawing would be 'universally bad'! :smile: ) That part of it is something you can't learn/teach, except that if someone HAS a personal way of seeing/recording, you can encourage them to be aware of it and to develop it in a systematic way.

    Where personal artistic growth happens is where someone takes that personal way of seeing, and applies it to a subject they haven't applied it to before, or uses new materials to communicate it. Once you get to a certain point, applying new subjects/new materials to your vision becomes synergistic - as you try new things, your way of looking at things changes, and vice versa - as your way of looking at things changes, the tools you use to express it will also change.
     
  7. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I agree with Claire on this...seeking a personal style is like trying to find happiness...it becomes a byproduct of doing something else. In this case of doing photography. I would go a bit further, however. There are things that one can do to enable the process...at least in my direct experience. The greatest single aid to personal expression is taking the time and expending a few brain cells in consideration of who and what we are...at the depth of our being...what meaning we give to our lives...what moves us and causes us to react with emotional response. In other words learning of ourselves.

    I would go on to say that we, each and everyone of us, has a personally distinct and unique view of life. This has been the result of the totality of our lifes experiences. So we each will express that view in different ways.

    There is a great deal that is not discussed within the realm of photography and more specifically creative artistic expression within photography. For instance where are the discussions of symbolism within photographic expression?

    Where are the discussions on the depiction of symbolic form in contrast with photography of "known objects"?
     
  8. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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    You're right, it's fun to ponder these things, but I don't think it can be defined very easily, if at all.

    Have you ever heard the difference between a truly gifted pianist, and somebody with technical accuracy but no 'soul of an artist' playing the same piece of music? The difference is the answer, and there were probably sparks of artistic interpretations from the very beginning of the former's growth...I'm sure it didn't just appear after a specific point in technical development.

    I think because you're chewing these things over in your head, means you're on the right path Jeremy!

    Murray
     
  9. BWGirl

    BWGirl Member

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    This is exactly what I have been thinking about as of late. I guess, it's easy to look at our 'outward' selves and say... "oh yeah, I know my personal style! I love blue jeans and comfortable sweat shirts." It's outward, it's evident, and people who have even a casual acquaintance with you can see it.

    But I think it's much different to 'see' our own personal style in our photography...and it is there, waiting for us to see. I think it is this elusive 'personal style' that defines us and that becomes our path. I think the tough thing is that we all want so desparately to know what it is, to define it in words, to give it substance... this may or may not be possible. It does, in fact, exist, but instead of just accepting it, we try to give it form, put it in a box, correlate its reality to the most minimal explanation... My stlye is..."

    I am not too sure this is like those "How I Spent my Summer Vacation" papers. I think we can only say what moves us...
     
  10. battra92

    battra92 Member

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    "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like."

    That's my motto about my style. I just let it happen and take photos that look good to me.
     
  11. wfe

    wfe Member

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    I too am with Claire on this one. When I first got serious about black and white photography I set out to be a distinctive great photographer :rolleyes: Well these thought patterns have changed quickly as I have been humbled many times. At this point I don't know if my work has a personal style or not. I try not to think about it and just follow what I feel strongly about.

    Regards,
    Bill
     
  12. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    I gree to a point. Trying too hard is fruitless, trying to improve, by learning or understanding what it is that motivates you, and why is not fruitless.

    Blindly waiting for your style to arrive, might work, pursing it does work. The problem is balancing your intuition (or heart which is where the gutz of the style thing resides) with your intellect. Too much of the former and you'll achieve Barry Manilow , too much of the latter and you have Bernd and Hilla Becher.

    What is most important is doing and reviewing.
     
  13. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

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    Yup!

    Murray
     
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  15. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    The good photographers that I trained under ( took seminars from etc) all said to be "successful" you must develop a recognized style. With that style you can charge X number of dollars and not be like the rest of the herd.

    That "style" may be unconscious, may be "you" but I don't think it is entirely so. I think it's a conscious self evaluation of what you like (moves you) what "fits" you and how you wish to be seen.

    We'd all like to think that like a "savant" that this all happens naturally and maybe in some cases it does, but I'm more inclined to think it is thought out and developed.

    And I don't think it necessarily makes it contrived, because it's thought out.

    As for financially, having a recognizable style puts you in a place where you are alone with no peers (or few), but still allows for some growth. Doing what everyone else does just makes you a member of the herd.

    I also think that having no training in the craft of photography and producing hack work is not a "style" but merely the work of an untrained wannabe.


    Michael
     
  16. mark

    mark Member

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    I agree with Claire to a point. I think it will come naturally as long as you do what you like. But you have to KNOW why you are taking the image. Answer the serious questions of why you are taking it. Being able to describe, if only to yourself, the purpose of your image. This can only come through reflection about the whys, instead of the hows of your work. I think this is where shooting with your heart, and not your head comes in.
     
  17. colrehogan

    colrehogan Member

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    I find myself wondering about this frequently.

    And Jeanette, I don't know that I ever had to write one of those, "What I did last summer" papers.
     
  18. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    I agree with what several people have said, but let me try to express it differently.

    There are a couple of ways to develop a personal style (aka vision), I think.

    The first method is to examine current art trends, stretch that in some direction, and repeat. If you stretch the trend far enough, most people won't figure out that it's contrived. If you're a "real artiste" you'll be able to artfully deny such claims. A lot of commercially-successful work may fall into this category.

    The second method is more difficult. It entails defining and refining your personal philosophy until you really understand how you feel about the important elements that pervade everything, and then figure out how best to reflect that in your work. Then, it doesn't matter what the subject is, that same core emotion will be reflected in how you photograph it.
     
  19. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    A personal style might not be necessarily interesting.

    Look at all the different people around you (everybody is different) and look at how many people you find interesting (not as much).

    By definition, everything we do bears the mark of our personality. If we're boring or just bored, then we may do things that no one else will notice.

    Every rock is different but they don't all hold you in awe.

    Art is about its content; if it's empty, has no themes or makes no statement, shows no reflexion whatsoever, engages with no experiences, or creates no reaction, intellectual or emotional, as unique as it may be it is worth nothing.
     
  20. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I don't think Style CAN be developed consciously. It IS there, no matter what. It is a metter of stablity and defintinion ... as to whether other people can recognize that stye or not.

    I not only beleive Style cannot be developed consciously, I beleive that its presence can NOT be AVIODED, either.
     
  21. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    I think I mostly agree with that, too. The trick is to be consistent enough (i.e. stop bouncing around mentally or emotionally) that others will recognize it as your style.

    As to the conscious development of style, I think there is a conscious process involved, but its focus is on refining one's thinking and emotions, not on the style itself.
     
  22. Troy Hamon

    Troy Hamon Member

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    I agree with many of the opinions expressed here, which either makes me agreeable, a waffler, or perhaps just confused...

    The way Jeremy framed the original post gave me the impression that he took it as a given that first technique must be mastered to some level. I suspect that this depends on the person, and I know that there are some that start out with a camera and make strongly personal images without knowing the first thing about photography. Some photographers (Mary Ellen Mark, for example, if my memory is correct) never even learn to operate a camera with what most would consider to be wonderful technique or a great grasp on technical detail. But their 'personal style' can still be seen throughout their work. For others, including the F64 group, the style is highly dependent on the technique. For some people, technique is the chicken, for some the egg, and for all of us, just a tool...
     
  23. Gay Larson

    Gay Larson Member

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    Having a personal style is something I find baffling and even more so after reading all of the posts (beautifully written as they were) to this forum. All I recognize is that after 10+ years of pursuing a greater depth an understanding in the art of photography I know that I am inexplicably drawn to subjects I would have never thought I would have been. I really wanted to photograph beautiful landscapes but found myself being totally engrossed in very old dilapidated buildings and gritty images. Not at all the way I saw myself. However I have found such satisfaction and joy in this part of me. Personal style, perhaps, the other day I showed my sister an image and she said "Oh yes, I would have known it was yours anywhere". (of course she's family)
     
  24. Tom Kershaw

    Tom Kershaw Subscriber

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    For me, photography is seeing. Beyond that I think people need a little technique just to produce images reliably on the film, and I have seen what happens when this isn't the case. Once the potential photographer has this "background", then they can see whether they are going to develop more fully, leading to more technique, which after that as others have said, may / should become less important.
     
  25. rfshootist

    rfshootist Member

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    Perfect answer, Claire ! I don't know what I could add, it's all said.

    bertram
     
  26. rfshootist

    rfshootist Member

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    Absolutely. After a long time of practising and dealing with several issues, just to learn how to master them, there necessarily must come the point where you ask what style you will/shall have in future. And in principle it is the question of your personal identity as a photog, you can't stay the jack of all trades forever.

    There is no other way to find it than to deal photographiclly with all those things only which you are really interested in, in the sense of a personal concern, from what reason ever. This way you get a headline for your work, later a "style" too.

    It does not make sense IMHO to try to be someone else, maybe someone whose work one admires. If I admire a work or style this does not say I myself as a photog can be successful too with the same issue.

    So if one photographs what one likes, one is on the right way to a style, which is more the result of consequently going forward with continuous effort than something like a goal one has to achieve. Style is a side effect I'd say, proves you are going in the right , in YOUR direction

    My personal experience:
    I once was criticised by others that i seldom shoot people, places only, again and again, and later I criticised myself for this strange kind of inability, wasn't I one of those who admired so deeply Doisneau, Ronis, Boubat and all the other masters of La Photographie Humanite ?

    I felt a bit ashamed that I oviously was totally blind a this point, but it forced me to deal with my relationship to my neighbours in general and I discovered that it was more distant and discrete than I had thought all the time.
    Good or bad, from this moment on I gave up the idea to become a good people shooter.
    So on my way to a style I learned some new things about myself too.
    Another effect which makes photography so fascinating for me.

    Quite a bunch of babble I'd say, a minute after I had told Claire that :rolleyes: I have nothing to add..... Well, couldn't help it.

    bertram