Friday, 19 October 2007

Style, empathy, obsession

Barrier Lake, Alberta, September 2007

There has been discussion of late on several blogs about the nature of style, how style defines great photographers and how style is developed. Probably the best discussions have been over at the Landscapist (start here and work forward to today). Much mention has been made of the obsession of great photographers to constantly go out and create images in a particular style, often of particular subjects.

In a comment to this post, I disagreed with the obsession idea, I think it is more a matter of empathy that then feeds the development of a subject and style.

I've been experimenting with the links between style and subject matter. The best landscape work I've done (for me at least) I've produced in a relatively high-contrast and low saturation manner in cool colours. It seems to suit the sort of open, day lit subjects I shoot. It doesn't, however, seem to fit all subjects.

The image with this post is one of a number of processing experiments I've tried the last few days. The original is below. This particular frame is badly exposed: there was far to much dynamic range to get an effective capture - the sun falling behind the mountains was still to high yet for the sky to have darkened yet the mountains are fully in shadow.

The shot was never about colour but for, so a black and white treatment was appropriate. When I did the initial conversion it looked a lot like old photographs of similar subjects, hence the treatment I tried above. I've slightly overdone the effect but it served the purpose: this style seemed to suit the subject and certainly worked given the technical deficiencies of the original.

Other experiments I've tried also seem to suggest that the right technical style can make a given photo and that most subjects have a style that suits. If, however, one does not connect with either subject or style, then one is never going to create a great body of work from them. Once a connection is made, then I think the two aspects can feed off one another: the continuing work on the subject and the development of the appropriate style.

This, maybe is where most of us fall down - we're too busy trying to make each and every image a good one, fitting the styles as suit the subject rather than focusing on those for which we have the greatest affinity.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I think you're right that trying to make each and every image a good one certainly gets in the way of a cohesive style. My favorite photographers seem to meld a combination of subject and technique in a way that is seemless, and also seems effortless, although I'm quite sure the latter is not true.

    I think there's probably something valuable in there somewhere... find your subject, then find the technique that suits it best, and stick to it. The best photographers develop a body of work that is cohesive, and that sometimes means not taking a photograph for it's own sake, but because it fits in with a general idea. If a few decent photographs are missed in the process, so be it.


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