Sameness vs Style

Last week I received a comment through Formspring from an anonymous person letting me know that they thought that all of my work has the same look to it; “you doing something in the middle of a bunch of grass against the skyline”.  At first I was a little offended and kind of embarrassed but then after I got over it, I started to think about it.

This person hit the nail on the head and brought my attention to something that I had been neglecting in the last few months, trying new things and putting my creativity to the test. It’s no secret that I like to shoot in wide open vistas with lots of space and nice backdrops. I have a favourite field that I visit often for photographs and I kind of rely on it a little too heavily at times. While thinking about this whole topic I was trying to find ways of defending my “sameness”. The field is close (about a 5 minute walk), its nice to shoot in (well, yes but so are other things), it’s familiar (ah yes it is, but when was photography about being familiar?).  I tend to want my photos to turn out exactly as I see them in my mind, which I think is a normal desire for any photographer, and typically my mind pictures these images in familiar settings and that’s where I end up shooting them, and returning over and over again.

  

It’s a balancing act to develop a style without becoming boring and to try new things without losing your own vision. I think in the past few months I’ve become a little complacent with shooting in the same locations. I go to these spots because I know that they work, it’s like a favourite recipe that you make every week because you know that it tastes good. Well, sometimes you need to dust off the cookbooks and try something new, which is what I think I need to start doing in my photography. Granted it’s easier to fall back into the “field” or “bunch of grass” photos, I need to try to let my mind create images that allow me to explore more of my natural surroundings, to develop new areas of my photography and to not get stuck in the same old photo.


I might argue that it’s in my style as a photographer to shoot in wide, grassy spaces with the subject in the centre and while that may be true on some level, I want to be known for more than just that. I want to try to express my ideas or thoughts in new ways that people might not have seen before and that lights a creative spark in themselves and in me. I don’t want my portfolio to look like the same photo over and over, but in that breath I also want to develop a style that people can see as “Joel’s style”. The trick I suppose is learning how to do both. To walk both lines without leaning heavily onto one side.

What are your thoughts about developing your own style versus being too similar?

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12 thoughts on “Sameness vs Style

  1. Gosh, Joel. That criticism wasn’t even directed at me and I thought it stung. I also can’t really understand it because even though you might use a similar landscape (i.e., where you live), you express so many different ideas and you have an incredibly active imagination. You are one of the most creative people I “know”. How funny too that I sometimes get the opposite criticism, which is that a lot of my work looks so different that it doesn’t make up one particular body of work. What a conundrum. I will be curious to see how you react to it, but I simply intend to keep creating art for me — art that comes from my soul and makes me happy. If it pleases others, then that is just an added benefit.

  2. I think you do have a distinctive style (apart from the setting) and your images are each quite unique, even if you use the same settings sometimes. Some photographers shoot in a studio in front of the same background all the time and still, their work is always different (ex: Richard Avedon, Irving Penn). The majority of people who only shoot in studio tend to produce very similar and boring work. It’s a great idea to challenge yourself to explore more spaces and try something new out there, but it’s also a great challenge to try to produce something different in the same setting over and over. That you can make distinctive images in that field on a consistent basis shows you have real creativity.

  3. So here is my mildly brain damaged point of view on this person’s comment to you..
    YOU are the artist, and if there is some theme that is common to your work then so be it. It is not your job to convince his/her small mind that there is meaning beyond similarities of style.
    Think about it, as children and adults we have things that define us; style music, memories, etc. Why are you not allowed to have something that defines you?
    I find your work refreshing and thought invoking. The background serves as a focus to the message… it works for me and I love the depth of emotion you capture in your images.

  4. I know exactly what you’re talking about, we as artists have our ups and downs.

    But, anyways I just wanted to tell you that there are always going to be people who support your art and that admire your work -Im one of them :)- because we know what you can do and that is: being able to delight us with your pictures.

  5. First I have to say I have an issue with anybody leaving a negative/critical comment anonymously. If you don’t have the maturity or are too timid to sign your name, then don’t comment. It’s too easy for people to throw comments around haphazardly without worrying about how it may affect another–allows people to not be accountable for their actions.

    As for the issue of developing your own style vs being too similar……As long as the artist is pleased with their work then there is nothing to question. The majority of artists I know create their art for themselves. As much as we would like to create art for the masses, we all understand that we can’t please everybody–so we must please ourselves first.
    Once you are not satisfied with your outcome, then I guess you could question you art becoming “too similar”.

    I personally enjoy people developing their own style and so I recognize it quickly and if its appealing to me–I return often for more.

  6. a very good article, I like your thoughts on this.

    my thoughts? well, over about 5 years of doing photograph, I have dipped into completely deferent styles. at first, all I did was HDR landscapes and I said that I would never shoot people. then I did mainly macros, then I started then the Snugg project (http://www.flickr.com/photos/snugglepup/) and now I am doing the little folk pictures and dabbling in some self portraits. who knows if I will ever find ‘my style’ or if next year I will be doing nothing but panoramas, fashion photography, or telephoto stereoscopic tilt-shift miniature fakes.

    in a way I hope that some time I will find what it is I love most and get as good at it as I can be, but the other half of me wants to try everything and never to stop changing. I guess we will just have to see.

    zev

  7. I think “Lara” hit it on the head. Your ideas and visions awesome and well executed. For the most part, I tend to ignore the background and focus on the main idea of the photo. If you do I think you will see the difference in each photo.
    On the other hand I can see where someone may say what that person said..People like variety..Especially after looking at several hundred photos in a row of the same scene I think peoples mind tends to blank out the details…Sometimes it is hard to take criticism but that I think is sometimes the catalyst for taking a look at your work and moving on to the next step…
    Me for one like when people are upfront with there views I think it makes us all think a little harder and grow..Trust me I have a lot of growing to do :). By the Really like all your work Joe!! Especially the x-men!!

  8. Great post! I struggle with understanding what my own style is, but at the same time I want to try new things. It´s a balance. It´s nothing wrong with knowing how to do a certain kind of pictures, that means that you´re talented at what you´re doing and that you know how to do it!

  9. LOL – I saw that question on Formspring and I thought it was a bit like telling Motzart he always plays the same music. {g}

    I totally get your train of thought – sameness vs style. Sometimes the feedback on Facebook can be kinda ruthless and I’ve had the same thing said about me – all your model are the same.

    I realized how powerful style is when I tried to something like Kama_Art’s style. She does quirky, mutiples of the same things, gothic horror, even tones. When I finished the picture it looked nothing like her stuff – nothing like it at all!!! It totally looked like I did it.

    Harold likes ethereal flower pictures with soft flowing tones – and I found some on Flickr that I really liked. Again I tried to make a soft ethereal flower picture – and it ended up my style again.

    My style just feels right to me in every way – regardless of subject. I know when a picture is ‘done’ and it reflect my sense of taste and what I like.

    My style is fantastic, vivid, focused. Fantastic because I usually like it be a bit larger than life, vivid because I tend toward saturated colors and focused because my pictures always seem to have a strong central focus.

    If I had to guess – your style is somewhere along the lines of whimsical, nostalgic, magic.
    Whimsical – your photos have a strong sense of whimsy
    Nostalgic – I often get warm fuzzies or ‘yes, I remember that’ moments when I see your pics. Some of your strongest pics also have a retro feel (bicycle with balloons)
    Magic – There is a wonder and magic about your pictures – reminds me of going to disney world.

    Anyway, I said all that to say – keep expanding your subject mater, places, ideas, creative sources – and your style will always be present with a strong voice.

    ‘Boy_Wonder’ will always be in da house!


    Unique and Powerful Male Artwork
    Michael Taggart Photography

  10. I have tremendous respect towards you for being so incredibly wise about a really ignorant comment. Amazing how you turn it into art. But I agree what is said here earlier, that being able to create new things constantly within your style , shows real creativity!

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