On Finding a Style

Years ago I was driving through Southwest Wisconsin and I drove by a couple of the very large wind turbines. The light was just right and they lit up in my mind because they needed to be photographed right then. Stephen Shore points out in _The Nature of Photographs_ that seeing happens in the mind not in the eyes. I had my camera with me, I was just starting out in photography, but I didn't stop. I thought, I'll come later, and I did. The light was wrong. The photos were OK, but forced. Not great. You can find thousands of photos like that on stock websites. I learned that I have to take the photograph I See right then because it will never happen again. I don't always do that, but I am no longer in the delusion that I can come back some other time and find that same image.

I ran across an article recently by some blogger that compared art photographers to painters. He claimed that since the camera takes whatever image is in front of it in a mechanical fashion that it was different from other kinds of art that require much practice and talent to develop. He thought that given the proper settings anyone could reproduce any given photograph. Therefore, it is important for an art photographer to develop their own style and vision in order to stand out from all the other photographers and avoid being a "camera operator".

I believe every photographers style comes through no matter what. I don't believe for a second that I could fool you into thinking one of my shots was made by William Eggleston or Minor White or Edward Weston. Sometimes what comes through is a lack of practice and knowledge and a sense of trying too hard.

The reasons I believe that are because found photographs can only be found once (so obviously studio stilllifes aren't subjected to light quality at any given time like natural light photographs are) based both on the quality of light and atmospheric conditions and the mind set of the artist. Because seeing happens in the mind, you do not see what I see, and would not make the same photograph I do.

The challenge is to know the camera and my mind and sense of sight well enough to be able to see a shot that transcends frame and ground and make the machine reproduce what my mind saw. Much like the painter, this takes years of practice and a deep passion, even compulsion. 

If I practice, study, and absolutely love, to the point of madness and beyond, my art the style and vision will naturally flow.