“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” A very true statement. Imagine, sometime copying your style of photography! How great would that be? You’re a hero, an idol, a GOD behind the lens! But there’s something else even more powerful than being imitated. That’s the power to INSPIRE. Lighting someone’s fire to create, that’s where it’s at. That’s the best flattery of them all! But let me explain why I feel it’s important to us, as photographers, to not copy or imitate someone’s style, but to be our own animal. Our own creature that evolves constantly and maybe inspires someone else to create their own art.
Looking at other’s work
A novice, like myself, is easily influenced when answering the internal call to create. I’ve looked at other’s work. I’ve looked at the “masters”. Initially I felt the need to try and replicate their style. This is wholly natural, and, in a sense, logical. “This is great work I’m looking at, I must attempt to do the same!” True, we all strive for greatness. It should, essentially, be a never ending quest.
However, I was never a visual art student. I never tried to replicate a great artist’s style with painting or drawing. I imagine that’s how you start your path, though. “Put your brush or pen to canvas or paper and knock out something with an impressionist feel!” I know that’s how I started with photography though, especially Street Photography.
I looked at other’s work. Anyone from the great masters like Cartier-Bresson to lesser-known great Street Photographers on Google+ and flickr. I hit the streets hungry to imitate, to copy the fantastic styles I saw earlier. These photographers gave me ideas and I, albeit unknown to them, was paying great homage to them by trying to imitate them. But also unknown to them was the fact that they had INSPIRED me. They had inspired me to do work, to try and be great. That’s powerful stuff! Somewhere, out there in the cosmos, or in our own spiritual innerspace, the artist’s “soul” is racking up points… each time they inspire someone.
But that’s when we’re all still sucking on the teat, so to speak. There comes the time when we must leave the nest and go fend for ourselves. That’s when we must become our own animal. This is where I find myself right now. And it’s much, much more than a crossroads.
Be your own animal
It’s the journey to finding our own style, and it’s not clear cut by any stretch. I find myself challenging myself when I go out on a Street Hunt now. But, I don’t do it often enough. I want to push myself to create something that’s not safe and familiar, but something that satisfies that deeper desire to blow my own mind. However, the pull to play it safe is great. It’s stronger than I think we all realize. It lays in our subconscious. It’s always there. Comfortable and familiar. “Take that back shot, they always work.”
Now that’s not to say that the “old reliable” shot should be totally discounted. There’s many an instance where a great composition cannot be denied. A shot that isn’t challenging or “edgy”, but just a great shot. I think as part of evolution, our growth, it’s key to not forget the basics, but to branch off of them. We can’t just throw away the rule of thirds, framing and such. They make a shot work. To take a “classic” style street photograph is not a regression in style, but it’s practice. Like with a musician, or an athlete, practice makes perfect. And practice helps us gain confidence in our abilities. And it helps us grow.
I think it’s a dance on the ledge shooting the familiar shot, though. And I find myself trying not to spend too much time there, and spending more jumping off. To take the less beaten path and take a shot I haven’t taken before. To try a different approach. To take the odd angle. To play with the focus. To do things I wouldn’t have done a month, or to be exact, nine months ago when I first dove into Street Photography.
Of course, this brings failure. But we must embrace failure. Almost everything amazing man has created is born out of failure. For example, I shoot a ridiculous amount of pictures when I go out. I have no expectations that any great amount of them would be considered “keepers”. At the very best, maybe a few. But this is practice. Not only do I try to hone fundamental skills, but I experiment. I play with apertures and ISO. More importantly, I try to get out of my comfort zone. I try taking different paths. I try to blow my own mind.
Obviously, all the failures bring frustration. Great frustration. This, too, is natural. But the journey requires frustration. It requires failure. Out of these, we create ourselves. We become our own animal. I think our photographic eye opens wider and our vision becomes stronger. We start thinking more about satisfying ourselves and less about what we think everyone believes makes a great photograph. It’s out of this failure and frustration that we create our own style. It’s where we start to liberate ourselves.
Amidst all the frustration and failure, is our evolution as artists. This journey I have come to love. What has started as a hobby has become a passion. A hunger that will never be sated, I think. The process is as emotional as it is technical. We become more skilled and our desire grows. Our desire to be great. Our desire to satisfy our creative urges. And maybe, our desire to have our work loved by others.
That’s why I think it’s important that we try to be our own animals and not just merely imitators. Think about the greats, about the work that inspires you. Who wouldn’t want to be an inspiration. Someone more than an imitator.