Evolution is one of the most elementary things of nature and of human nature as well. Outgrowing a past stage is therefore one of the most natural things that can happen, yet it scares so many artists. When we feel we are outgrowing our style, it brings up all kinds of worries and anxieties. We might be invested in what we are creating, we think others expect us to keep delivering the same kind of things or we are financially dependent on the signature look of our work. Our vision might have become more refined through the years, we have come to understand the elements of what makes up our vision more intimately and this may well result in a growing unhappiness with your work.
Whatever the case may be, if you are at that stage where you feel you are starting to feel confined by your style rather than being inspired by it, it is time to do some soul searching. In my experience, the feeling of confinement is overwhelming. I can’t really deal with that kind of emotion and being the solution oriented person that I am, I quickly try to find a way out of the confinement. I might try new things within the boundaries, but most of the time this leads to more frustration. Soon I start to feel like the only escape is to do something drastically different and this is when resistance is most likely to awaken.
You just know that you have followers on social media who like you for this specific thing you have been doing for years. They will probably not like what you are about to do, they might even stop following you. You might have a loyal group of clients who buy your work and they too might not like what you are about to do. You might consider doing something that is not particularly popular on social media at all and this might just be such a frightening concept to some (or most) photographers and artists, that they quickly go back to that confined safe space.
A photography or artistic style is not meant to be confining you though. If you are an artist, your art is a kind of self-expression. If you stay within the boundaries of your style, which you have outgrown, you are no longer expressing yourself, but expressing the demands of the outside world or , in the best scenario, you are expressing an outdated version of yourself. Something in your life might have changed, which affected you in a way that you changed as well. This might have lead to you not being happy with the work you have been creating up until that point. The self you were expressing has changed and this means your style will have to follow suit. This might bring up all kinds of fears, but for most artists it is very hard to stay inspired if they can not express their vision.
I believe in putting pen to paper and writing down exactly what it is that you don’t connect to in your work anymore. Then also write down which pictures come closer to the look that you are after and write down why these pictures speak to you more. It is certainly possible that your style changes a bit temporarily. You might have been affected by a tragic event in your life making it impossible for you to connect with the happy and vibrant pictures that you used to take. This stage might pass or it might not. Still, creating work that you don’t connect to, will make you feel bad and this is one sure reason for artists to get a burn out.
Accept that you see things differently now and that you have outgrown some of your old style. Evaluate if you can make older work fit in more with your new style. Usually there is one thing in your work that feels off more than the other parts. If you are lucky, it might be something that can be fixed in post-processing. Perhaps you really like saturated and contrasty images and they now make your eyes hurt. You can easily fix things like the saturation and colour with a new edit. Perhaps a picture needs to be cropped differently or it needs an entirely different exposure.
You can start working on those pictures that you think can still work with a new edit. Then start building your new style from those pictures you feel most connected to. Make note of what works for you and do more of that the next time you take pictures. This way your style will evolve without it becoming too daunting.
What it all boils down to is that in order for us to stay happy and inspired, we must accept the possibility of having to change direction. We must come to terms with the concept of outgrowing one version of ourselves and being prepared to let go so we can more aptly express who we are in our work. This is what artistry is all about; To not settle for capturing a location or even a moment, but to have the desire to capture our own vision of the scene. And if this vision has changed or become more clear, you need to follow its calling, because to not do so would be a betrayal of your own creativity.