Whilst I was working on an individual masterclass in the past few weeks and talking to several people about authenticity in photography, I once again noticed that originality is perceived differently by different people. Some photographers I talked to were adamant about wanting to be different and others are relying on expressing what naturally spoke to them in the strongest way.
I must admit that I too started out wanting to create something different. When I was still a soft sculpture artist, this was absolutely vital in order for me to be able to make an income. Making something that has been done already would make my creations sit on the shelf, which was something I simply could not afford to happen. I was very aware of what others in the field were doing and made sure that my work was different from theirs. Creating something that had not been done before became a jumping board, but I had to still stay true to my own style. Collectors were counting on me staying true to my style and would drop me instantly if I had changed that. If I had only focussed on being different, just for the sake of being different though, my work would also have been all over the place. It was a balancing act of still creating recognizable work and creating work that was significantly different from other artists work. Sometimes I failed in convincing collectors that it was still recognizably my style and I had focussed too much on creating something different.
Wanting to create differently from others is rooted in what others are doing. If you are not careful you are not expressing yourself anymore, but you are expressing the opposite of others. This means you more or less rely on what others are doing and then you must steer in another direction again and again. You risk creating work that is different, but looks random and lacks your own signature.
I think that it is essential to understand that we all already have a unique way of seeing, just because we ARE unique. There is only one of you out there who is exactly like you. No other person can have the exact same way of seeing, because they don't have the same talents, the same personality and preferences and did not have the same experiences and circumstances. If you were to count up what goes into your way of seeing, you will realize that it consists on numerous little particles that come together in a very special brew.
I think you can only express yourself well if you know your own self. Creating from this self and having confidence that your own way of seeing is already unique tends to take the pressure off creatives. There is no need to twist your back whilst finding an infinitely original but weird angle for a picture just because you have not seen it before.
If you become aware of your preferences and the why behind these preferences, you will learn to trust your way of seeing. You will understand that creating unique pictures comes from expressing your unique way of seeing. Your vision and style will develop from there. This is also not something to force into being. You ultimately will find your style, because it will feel like the most natural way of expressing yourself .
We all go through this fase of going a little bit overboard when we want to develop a style of our own. The subtlety will come with time, with experience. There is no substitute for knowledge, hours of devotion and experience. There are no shortcuts to developing a style and ....this process will probably not ever stop. It comes naturally when you discard some choices made when taking a picture or whilst editing and get a preference for other choices. The process continues when you build on those choices and preferences which reflect your way of seeing.
Even though a style can not be forced into being (well it can, but this is hardly ever authentic), it is infinitely helpful to become aware of your preferences and not care about popularity or fitting in. If you strive to be popular, you will have to force yourself to create in a way that is liked by the masses, but...something that is popular now was already created in the past. What I mean is that for something to become popular someone must have had an idea, that took time to be adopted and accepted and would then have been followed by others who start to do the same thing.
What I would like to say to you today is to steer away your focus from wanting to be different and innovative, to just staying true to yourself. Put in the hours of devoted attention, learn about your equipment, gain experience, practice, take pictures of the things that make your hart sing, know yourself really well and trust your way of seeing and express this in the strongest possible way. Put your trust in your own unique way of seeing.