I have just read a great post by Prashant Panjiar of Nazar Foundation where he lists 7 ‘easy’ steps to becoming a great photographer (The title was just to get you hooked – there are no easy steps to becoming a great photographer. P.P). Unfortunately there was no place for comments on that post and so here we are. Prashant is a great guy and a fantastic photographer and I agree with him on most the points that he had mentioned but one. Here is the original text from his post:
“When you start out in photography you will experiment with numerous styles and genres. This is necessary, and desirable too. You will also imitate the styles of photographers whose work you have liked. This is natural. However to graduate to becoming a photographer in your own right you must not be content with being a clone. You must find your own expression. There is great merit in being able to do different kinds of photography competently and particularly useful if you are going to make a living out of it. However, you must identify what you are most interested in. Once you have discovered the kind of photography you wish to do, pursue it with resolve. As you progress in your career, you must strive to create your own visual style to give yourself a distinct identity. But always remember, you must constantly reinvent yourself and your style should continuously evolve, or you will find yourself stagnating.”
Wonderfully put but where I would like to add is the point where he says “you must strive to create your own visual style to give yourself a distinct identity.” I actually don’t think that this is something that is possible to do. One cannot strive to create a style. This is something that needs to slowly evolve and show itself through the accumulative process of selection that a photographer applies to his work.
For me style and identity are two different things that are indeed interlinked but do not necessarily come together. One needs to find his/her own identity and photography is a great medium for self exploration. Once a photographer finds his or her identity their images will start showing that identity and people will start recognizing their images as a distinct and unique visual expression of an individual photographer.
You cannot copy what I do because I don’t do anything
It so happened that a few days ago I saw a great movie called ‘Four Beats to the Bar and No Cheating’ about the legendary photographer David Bailey. I had to stop the movie for a sec to note down a fantastic thing he said about style; “This is what I like about my pictures . .” said Bailey, ” . . You cannot copy what I do because I don’t do anything“. I love this quote because I feel the same about my work. I don’t do anything. I am there with my camera and I take a picture (Sorry Prashant. A force of habit like you said). David Bailey also says, and I agree with that statement as well, that he never wanted to have a style. His was the fact that he had non. From a creative point of view, Bailey did not want to limit himself to looking at his images and making a selection based on whether an image fit into a certain box or not.
Find your own identity as a photographer to create your own visual style
Now don’t get me wrong. Having a distinct photographic language is a great thing and will surely be a marketing advantage. Many photographers out there run workshops in order to help young photographers find it so surely there is a demand for it. If you have one, and if you recognize it, it is easier for you to find the right clients, and it is also easier for a client to book you for what you do best. However, having one can sometimes be a great limitation. I am often asked what ‘kind’ of a photographer I am. A photojournalist? a travel photographer? a food photographer? am I a wedding photographer? It has always been a very difficult question for me to answer and I end up saying something about personal projects and making a living. Do I have a style? Maybe. Is it important to me? No.
What I’m saying is don’t go looking for a style. Instead go look for your identity as a human being and let your style develop on it’s own. If your journey is sincere and continuous, if you do what you do because you are committed, because you have no choice, if you keep asking the difficult questions and keep getting up when you fall, your style will be a reflection of who you are as a person and so will certainly be unique. You must strive to find your own identity as a photographer in order to create your own visual style, and not the other way around.
For further reading on the same subject have a look at my earlier post Photography is not about HOW you take your picture but about WHY you do that .