Dec 072007
 

Let me begin with what one never should do: Send you off to other pages, but we really must have some context to discuss a matter that is very interesting.

Remember my question “Have I Got Style”? It was triggered by two articles about photographic style on The Online Photographer (here and here). Now we’ve got “Achieving your Personal Style” by Alain Briot over at The Luminous Landscape, and it still sounds all too wrong to me.

I don’t question Alain’s work itself, the article is a rich source of guidelines, but I question its ultimate goal. At the base of Alain’s article are the assumptions that a “Personal Style” is achieved through a lifetime of artistic work, that every artist should have one, that a style is something that is reached asymptotically, and that artists should actively strive for achieving their personal style.

Basically I agree with the first assumption (which in a way reminds me of my original stance that “style is for the dead”), the second is questionable, and the third and fourth are plain wrong.

What’s questionable in that every artist should have a personal style? That depends on the definition of style. There are so many artists who, at one time in their career, find something that sells, declare that as their “style”, and from that moment on are artistically dead. This is greatly furthered by the art market, a market that is – like every market – always on the search for new, high-quality goods that, once found, should continue to be produced in the exact same, instantly recognizable quality. Being in this state of having a marketable style may be comfortable, but actually it should be something to fear.

I propose a very minimal definition: Style is how an artist in similar situations tends to make similar decisions, not exclusively so, but statistically significant.

Now you have it. This is a style with which I can breathe, a style that may sell or not, but that does not constrain me, a style that may change, a style that may grow. Never is this an only asymptotically reached state that the artistic gods are in and everyone else is not, and suddenly one could have more than one style. Why not having a style for landscape photography and another one for portrait work? But, most important, it makes actively striving for a personal style look a little bit silly and ridiculous.

A style is something that develops all by itself, comes through experience, comes while you work. Work long enough and you develop a style. The only thing that is certain to hold it up, is the desperate attempt to force it. Relax. It’s coming anyway.

Let’s take the two images for today. I didn’t have anything particularly great, so I thought I’d take this piece of twilight architecture. I spent some time post-processing it, used two versions from RAW that I combined, that way avoiding burning out highlights, cleaned a little bit up, looked for a title and a Song of the Day … and then felt strangely unsatisfied.

I went back to the day’s images, and seeing the bicycle saddle, I instantly recognized what was wrong. The image of the stairs is quite nice, a warm welcome, but it could have been made by everyone. On the other hand, I immediately recognized the bicycle as mine. I only had to work a bit on contrasts and make the handle bar stand out, which it originally did not.

The Song of the Day is Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine“. The original is from “Blonde On Blonde“, and there is an interesting remix by Mark Ronson on Sony’s latest attempt on getting your money. Hear it on YouTube.

  2 Responses to “419 – Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”

  1. Yeah, I shall weigh in on this at length on my blogsite sometime next week… but suffice it to say that for too many the line between style and stunt is invisible.

    Regardless of what style is, creating it through the use of a filter, a lens, a palette, or another technical gee-gaw is, as you so succinctly put it, artistic death.

    Question, how many of the “great” artistic photographers of the first 125 years of photography… how many of them can be identified by the examination of any randomly selected six from their not overly famous images?

    I can name maybe three: Jerry Uselmann, Dina Arbus, and Duane Michaels (all of which may be misspelled… sorry). Certainly not Ansel Adams, Edward Stiechen, or Alfred Steiglitz (again my apologies to the dictionary). Certainly not Cartier-Bresson, Brett Weston, Eliot Porter, Eadweard Muybridge, or even Fox Talbot.

    Is it the nature of photography to allow a creative person to become so dazzling expressive with each major addition to his/her portfolio that it is the subject rather than the auteur which always bleed through? Is it the nature of photography that unless the photographer is determinedly stunt oriented, that what an image is about will always overwhelm “who took the picture”?

    There is a machine between a photographer and subject. To what degree will that mechanical apparatus always … always… always… diminish the photographer’s role in creation? Or at least restrict the photographer’s ability to overwhelm the frame with personality? Remember, until this era of unlimited PP… Photographers were strictly governed by engineering standards that make genuine ideosyncratic achievement a rarity.

    Right?

    Is style in an image, or inherent in an entire body of lifelong work? And if the latter, how to explain the fact that it cannot be found in a random selection of any of the pieces of a life-time’s portfolio?

  2. That’s one of the things that infuriate me, when I read Alain Briot’s article: the insinuation that a style is only a style when it is visible in each and every image. That’s utter rubbish. It’s elitist snobbish myth, and in all that snobbism it does nothing but strengthen the position of the art trade, at the prize of weakening the artist’s.

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