The Photographic Voice and “Style”
The photographic voice. Where does it comes from? As photography becomes increasingly more accessible for everyone, finding a unique style has become more important to differentiate one photographer’s work from others. No doubt, there is a lot of talent out there today. Even many new photographers often have something fresh and interesting to captivate our attention. Common among the best photographers is the talent in translating their visions from mere ideas into a photographic reality. This is often accompanied by a strong style or theme that is coherent throughout all the images. For instance, some photographers enjoy integrating fantasy elements, reminiscent of fairy tales, while others may take a completely different approach and prefer photos more rooted in reality with more of a documentary style. A key dilemma for artists is to find that unique style that appeal to them and that they would love to explore more. This is true for painters and musicians as much as it is for photographers. Personally, I enjoy many genres of photography, with an appreciation for different styles that engages me to explore different techniques to represent my visions. In many ways, this may not project as much of a coherent voice in my work, as the work could be vastly different from one series to another, especially when placed next to one another.
When I reflect on this, I believe that our style is a combination of our interests, our interpretation of the world, and the message we want to deliver. In simple terms, I grew up with Lego, a fascination for technology and things that moved, and inventions in general. As time had gone by, I started to appreciate creative writing, poetry, and philosophical ideas. There is no perfect science to this, but all these things influenced my photography into what it is today.
I recently had a chat with one of my models on this topic, and she had some great insights about the photographic voice and finding our style. She believes that our style is innate and something we have found and held onto long ago. She sees this in both my work, and the work of some other photographers. We agree that some photographers have an attraction to one style of photography only, and produce excellent work in that aesthetic exclusively. On the other hand, just like other areas of life, exploring different styles and being willing to experiment artistically is more risky (and perhaps more difficult) but provides excellent rewards. What I personally enjoy about exploring different styles is that it constantly challenges my technical and creative abilities to create something unique and beautiful while keeping me engaged and interested in coming up with the “impossible”. To take a page out of existentialism philosophy, our goals in life should not be static, as the world and our relationship with it changes every day. When we established our goals and visions, they may be the best possible decision at the time. But, change is constant, and if our goals and visions remain static, then we are denying ourselves of the opportunity to improve and to reinvent ourselves.
This photo was taken long before I had any education in photography, but it stands alongside my recent work in my portfolio with an unmistakable signature that is still recognizable today. Is this the photographic voice? I would love to explore this topic in greater depth later.
That First Camera
I had an interest in photography for as long as I could remember. Despite not having any formal education in photography at the start, I always intuitively saw snapshots that I wanted to capture in the world, and the people, places, and moments that were important and beautiful to me. While I have taken casual photos before with my parents’ cameras, I never had a decent camera of my own to use. In 2008, my first serious exploration into photography began when I decided to purchase my first camera, a Canon 40D. It was the older model, but I knew it would be good enough, especially because it was already far over my budget as a co-op student. In fact, I still remember fondly the $100 memory card that I had to purchase for it, which put the price over the edge, and made it the single most expensive purchase for me ever at that point in life. Coincidentally, I was publishing the monthly co-op committee newsletters at the time, which gave me a good excuse to really get out there and capture the world.
I roamed the streets of downtown Toronto with my camera and started to blend in with the tourists. The camera was left mostly in aperture and auto mode since I knew little about all its technical features. I did not rationally understand what subjects interested me, but I felt that I had a good sense of proportions, space, and colours, and I was happy with the photos! My fellow co-op friends were happy with them as well.
At around this time, I met Tony from work, who grew up taking a lot of photography. He praised me on my composition skills, and encouraged me to explore photography further. I continued to roam the streets of downtown Toronto and began to create more and more photos. Towards the end of that summer, I woke up to find that one of my photos was featured on BlogTo, a popular website documenting events and news in the city. It was the first time my work was in the spotlight. It was a great summer.