A number of years ago I was an active participant on an Internet landscape photography forum that attracted a large number of full-time professional photographers as well as a significant group of wannabe pros. A substantial percentage of these individuals were seemingly obsessed with the matter of style; people were thrilled when, after posting an image, someone would post a comment along the lines of “I knew this was your image as soon as I saw it; it had your distinct imprint all over it.”
This focus on developing and refining an identifiable, individual look to one’s images is, at some level, entirely understandable. People who are trying to make it as professionals often find an obvious benefit in having their work stand out among the crowded marketplace of imagery that predominates the art world.
Some of these folks attempted to establish a style by photographing a particular type of subject matter (mountain settings, for instance, the seaside, forests, etc.), or limiting themselves to shooting in a specific geographic location. Others focused on certain kinds of light, or on a singular type of photographic perspective. Some settled on a certain type of rendering (monochrome, for instance, or infrared); a few concentrated on shooting in the panorama format, or on square crops. Some shot exclusively with ultrawide angle lenses; others stuck with telephotos. Some used some combination of some or all of these, in concert.
The potential value that results from the instantaneous recognition of work as belonging to a particular individual is incalculable, and the undeniably conscious effort among many photographers to develop and promulgate a particular style is entirely unsurprising.
I can honestly say that I have never been concerned with portraying a particular style of my own. I have no idea, in fact, whether I have an identifiable singular manner of portraying the landscape; if I do, I’m not aware of it.
Admittedly, as someone who isn’t a full-time professional and has no ambition to become one, my concerns differ from many of the individuals who participated on the forum referenced above. I always assumed that if I had a legitimate style, it would emerge naturally. In fact, I not only haven’t tried to develop any style of my own, I’ve actually been a bit concerned on occasion that I not develop one.
What on earth am I talking about? Why would I be concerned about displaying a style–even a naturally emerging one?
I’ve always hoped that I would be able to have my approach to shooting a scene be dictated by the landscape itself, rather than imposing my own vision upon it. I had always hoped that I would have the self-awareness and open mind necessary to be able to “listen” to the natural world and allow it to instruct me as to how I should go about approaching it in the most aesthetically pleasing–but still organic–manner.
Perhaps that was a hopelessly naive notion. Or perhaps that is, in fact–and ready yourself for some high irony–my personal style. Or is it possibly both? Or neither? I honestly don’t know. But it remains my personal ambition, every time I head out with my camera, even though it may very well be an entirely unattainable goal.