Thursday, November 15th, 2012
Photographers bang on about style like it was something you decide and follow through – wedding photography, black and white, strobes. That’s it, you’re done. Consistency in that paradigm equates to style. However, I disagree.
First, style isn’t about the camera you use or the film type. If you put a 35mm in the hands of Edward Weston, or a colour digital, he would still produce images in the style of Edward Weston.
On the flip side of that statement, the style of Cartier-Bresson wasn’t that he shot 35mm black and white film. Anybody could do that. Cartier-Bresson’s style was in the journalistic story and the visual vocabulary of what he had to say about the world.
Second, style isn’t a premeditated attempt to capture a “unique look”. That isn’t style, it’s a consistency of aesthetic description. The pictures a photographer makes come from the mind: cameras don’t make photographs, people make photographs.
Third, style evolves over a long period of time as a body of work grows and the vision and mind of the photographer expresses through image after image. Style is not a premeditation of software filters or selections of technology that are easily replicated. Pick up a Leica, load some black and white film… no, you haven’t shot through Cartier-Bresson’s eyes with his politics and perspective. No.
However, style can over time include a curatorial respect for discarding the inarticulate. In the end, we only know the images that a photographer is willing to share with the world. That conscious choice at that time is where a photographer inserts the commas and full stops that make a story understandable.
Which drives to the heart of this idea of a style. I much prefer the journalism equivalent of a voice.
This is where you might pull out a pen and paper to write something simple about style. It is about what the photographer has to say about the world. Style is about the story not the camera. It’s the inner voice that a storyteller evolves or discovers that compels them to put that vocabulary together within the constraints of a commas and full stops so they can communicate.
But perhaps a photographer doesn’t have a voice? So what. I don’t care. Consistency is nice and there’s nothing that impels everybody who picks up a camera to stand on a public pulpit to share. Have you noticed a lot of people are babbling with unsophisticated vocabulary about the same old stuff?