Finding Your Voice
1 August, 2017
One of the things I've striven for in my photography over the years is finding a style that is my own. Making beautiful photographs is not hard with a lot of practice but stamping them with your own identity is, I think, a much greater challenge.
There are thousands, no millions, of people capturing photos in the world today. Some do it for social media, some do it as hobbyists and some make a living from it. It doesn't really matter how you identify yourself, the gear is great and affordable and there are a lot of talented people making stunning pictures. But without a style, they disappear in the yawning chasm of what I call Pulp Photography.
What I mean by that is this, let's say I Google "Grand Canyon Photographs". Chances are there'll be thousands of results and many of them will look like they were shot by the same person. Hell, most of them will probably be of the exact same scene.
Once in a while, however, a photograph will jump out of this maze as something unique. A different take on a jaded scene. It may be that the photographer has chosen to find interest in the microcosmic amidst this seemingly infinite canyon. It may be she sees the interaction of light on a distant ridge and focuses only on that, excluding the grander view. Maybe the photographer has chosen an alternative color palette and created something entirely new using software.
When I find artists like this, and they are artists to me, more often than not, this vision extends into their work at large. Soon l notice something that binds all of their images together. Each has a distinct look or feel only that particular photographer could produce. It may or may not be a conscious thing on their part but they have found that elusive thing called style. Soon, it's easy to spot their work in a sea of other images.
I found my style after I stopped trying to develop it. Let me explain. For years, I was frustrated with my own photographs because, although I thought they were technically good, many others were doing the same thing. Just when I thought I had captured something unique, I found a hundred identical images online. I finally decided to stop trying to capture the perfect photograph and that was the day things became different.
Decades ago, I painted with oil on canvas. I created something from nothing and it was thrilling. I now approach a scene with that same painter's eye. I am able to separate the reality in front of me with the vision I have for the final picture. There are two things at play here; experience in knowing what I can do with my camera and software and, ultimately, utilizing my imagination. I have no interest anymore in trying to faithfully reproduce what's in front of me. That's just perfunctory in my mind. The challenge I set forth for myself is to capture the actual response I'm having. I'm enjoying much more success these days because I'm shooting all the time, every day, flexing my technical chops and, at the same time, exercising my imagination.
What has emerged is my own style. Occasionally I'll produce something that everyone else has done but, for the most part, I feel like my stamp is quite obvious on the images I make. Whether or not that leads to anything lucrative is beside the point. What it means to me is that my experience out in the field is a deep and rich one, full of excitement and possibilities. I no longer care about comparing my photographs with others shot in the same location.
I've spent the last year building a portfolio of digital pinhole images and that has been one of the most fulfilling things I've done so far. I've decided to step back a little from that (I will keep doing pinhole work but not as a prime focus) and concentrate on producing new, almost painterly, versions of the landscapes I'm encountering in my life on the road.
What has spurred this specifically is a new software I'm using called ON1 Photo RAW. Generally, I preach that photography is never about the gear, and it isn't, but sometimes external elements can inspire a whole new way of doing things. This software has provided me with tools that further realize my vision (especially with layering textures to create moods). Recently, I've been reworking older photographs and even producing new favorites from images I once rejected. The software has given me a new impetus and inspiration to capture the world as I see it. I've set up a 500px account for these images here.
I will journey to the coast of Maine very soon. This is home to many of artist Andrew Wyeth's most enduring paintings. His paintings have had a big influence on me. I have studied him for years and now finally get to be where he made some of my favorites. This experience, hopefully, will lead to a brand new body of work.
If you would like to keep up with my meanderings, sign up to subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this page. Peace.