One of the biggest compliments you can receive as a photographer is somebody telling you that you have a unique style. It's a holy grail we all seek. But what do I mean by "style," and how can finding it help us connect with ourselves on a deeper level?
When talking about someone’s style as a photographer, it’s easy to throw out words like “landscape,” or “street,” or “lifestyle.” But while all these words can be used to describe a style of photography, I think they’re a little vague and are really just used to give people a general sense of the kind of work we do.
When I think about style, I think of something a little deeper, something a little more intangible, something that describes the connection between who we are as human beings and how that affects the work we produce as photographers. I think of style as a voice rather than a language.
I believe everything we produce is a direct reflection of who we are. And if we study this body of work, and if we listen to what it is trying to say (this is usually something we weren't even conscious of at the time of creation), then I think we will find a little piece of ourselves somewhere in there. This is where we start.
If it were possible to completely disconnect from yourself, take a step back and view your work from the point of view of a complete stranger, what would you say about that person? What does the work say, and what does that tell you about the person who created it? What do you think drives that person to produce?
When I study my own work as objectively as I possibly can (which admittedly is hard to do), I find it to be kind of lonely. It's not really something I'm conscious of while shooting, but I find my work as a whole to be kind of quiet and contemplative, like these isolated moments taken from the viewpoint of just another passerby.
And I find it really interesting, because this isn't something I've thought about before now. I usually just shoot what I'm drawn toward in a way I like to shoot. But I think I can dive a lot deeper than that. I think there is something to be learned of my personality here. Maybe it's something I already knew and am just now consciously realizing, or maybe it's something new entirely.
But regardless of my intentions, my work does have a voice. And that voice speaks to me as a person. And I won't go too far into psychoanalyzing myself in this post, but I think that dismissing my style as shooting "what I'm drawn toward in a way I like to shoot" is an injustice to both my work and myself.
I don't think understanding style is something you do and then you’re done with. It's an ongoing process, and as we change and evolve, so too does our work and our style. But I think it’s important to actively contemplate these things, because taking a moment today to analyze your work and seek an honest connection with yourself and what you are trying to say will help you stay focused on what’s meaningful to you not only as a photographer but as a human being.
As creators, we are driven to express through our work emotions we can't articulate with our thoughts. Our work is how we express ourselves, and it's often produced at a subconscious level. Even if you are just snapping images in the street, the underlying style of those images and what you are drawn toward speaks volumes about your interests, your values, and your beliefs. So I think that understanding the "style" of our work is the first step in gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves.
I realize this post might come off as a little strange, but it's just stuff I've been thinking about lately, and I wanted to share it with you in hopes that it will help you with your own work - even if that isn't photography.
Thank you for reading and happy shooting,