Developing Your Photographic Style

I was recently reading an interview with Michael Kenna, one of my favorite photographers and whose work I draw a lot of inspiration from.  While there are many interesting points in the interview, when asked who his major influences were, Kenna said:

“my influences were the giants Atget, Bill Brandt, and Joseph Sudek, for example.  I actively emulated many photographers, studied their styles, went to their locations – it was all a part of trying to find my own vision”.

What I find very interesting is that this philosophy is in stark contrast to Cole Thompson, another photographer whose work I also admire.  Thompson believes that in order for him to find his own vision he had to stop looking at the work of other photographers to minimize their influence in his own work.

So, this got me wondering.  The first question I pondered was why I am drawn to the work of one photographer who has developed his vision and style by carefully studying the work of other photographers and another who frowns upon looking at the work of other photographers for fear that it may somehow influence his style.  Then I asked myself where do I fall within these two extremes as I continue to learn and develop my style.

The first question was fairly easy to answer – both photographers create amazing work and their images are complex in their simplicity.  I enjoy looking at their images and embrace their ideas in my own work.  The second question was and continues to be more difficult to answer.  Looking at the work of other photographers is important to my learning and therefore I seem to gravitate more towards the Kenna philosophy.  However,  I also have tremendous respect for the Thompson philosophy in so much that I want to develop my own individual style that defines me as a photographer.  In other words, although my style is influenced by the work of many photographers, I do not want to be identified with a particular photographer or his / her style.

Case in point, Polly Chandler is another photographer I have known about for some time, but I have only just recently started to study her work in detail.  Like Kenna and Thompson, I believe her work also falls into the category of complex simplicity.  Her images are extremely powerful and entice the viewer with their underlying stories.  A number of ideas have been churning around in my head after studying her work and I have been wondering how I can develop these ideas by using my own style.  The images accompanying this post are the result of some of those ideas.

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3 comments

  1. Interesting thoughts… I too was struck by Cole’s comments in his post about your subject… Personally, I tend to look at and draw inspiration from others work.

    As for developing your own style… Tony and I have spoken about this… he suggested and I’m not sure I totally agree that we can’t develop a style… that is for someone else to decide… Kind of like calling ourselves a fine art photographer… seems that is for someone else to decide. One might feel my work is fine art others might see it as rubbish. Is a style something others decide? I think we can make choices that will have an impact on our work… we can certainly create a look but is that a style? Will our style be ours? Or is is just something very similar to someone else? Good grief, way too much to think about…. I think I’ll just go out and make photographs… 🙂

  2. Oh by the way, stunning images. BRAVO!

  3. […] my recent Developing Your Photographic Style post I ventured into the world of personal photographic styles and how they identify us as […]

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