Developing a Distinct Style/Vision (& other stuff)

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by jenna_g, Apr 4, 2005.

  1. I?ve had a few brief discussions about style and vision with a
    couple of photographers in the gallery and it's something I'm
    curious about, specifically for those who primarily do street and/or
    documentary work. I won't name names, but there are several PN
    street photographers that seem to have a distinct style, or their
    work consistently fits into a coherent theme. Others (like myself)
    seem to be all over the map and do not have a consistent style or
    theme. The later group may have some individually excellent photos,
    but collectively it doesn?t work as well together if that makes any
    sense. It could be editing of course (just uploading photos
    haphazardly) or it could be that people don?t want to define
    themselves in a certain way.

    I've only been doing street stuff for about six months now, and I'm
    finally reaching a comfort zone, at least with the street
    environment. At first it was rather intimidating. Exciting, but
    intimidating and I celebrated every small victory and mediocre photo
    I got. I never did people stuff (except family) before and most of
    my prior work was landscapes, which was a very controlled
    atmosphere. Find something interesting, set up a tripod, and wait
    for the right light. Gets pretty boring after awhile! Street
    however is always exciting. It's spontaneous, improvised, and
    totally unpredictable. Sure you can look for the right light,
    backdrops, etc, but so much is instinctive or simply being in the
    right place at the right time. Perhaps that is why such a small
    percentage of photographers do much street photography and why even
    a smaller percentage are consistently successful. I think that is
    why I seem so drawn to it. The excitement, the unpredictability,
    the human interaction, and finally the challenge. Most people
    can't thrive in this type of uncontrolled environment perhaps
    because it depends more on instinct than gear, studio setup, etc.

    Okay I kind of got off my original statement. For those of you who
    feel your work has a distinctive style or vision, how did this come
    about? Was it a conscious decision, or did it develop over time?
    If it developed over time, how long did it take? And if you don't
    mind, how long have you all been doing street and/or documentary
    stuff? For those who don't have or don't want a defined style, was
    this a conscious choice?

    I guess I'm at the point where I want more of a defined style, or
    consistent feel to my street images, but I'm not sure which
    direction to go. I?m also working on a documentary series, but it's
    going to be straightforward photojournalism type of stuff, so that's
    another issue entirely.

    Lastly, I've heard on numerous occasions that street photography is
    basically a dying genre. Do you agree? Disagree? Reasons?
     
  2. See this and get this book
    Yeah, as a genre it's probably dying but who cares? Unless, you are going to try to make a living from it, it doesn't matter whether it is or isn't if that's what you want to do, then do it.
     
  3. Don't go looking for a style. Keep shooting street and sooner or later, if you seriously keep at it, style will find you. Just keep going out there and keep shooting. One thing that works for me on the street is to just go ahead and shoot anything that intersts me, whether or not it fits into a "categorie". You are right about street being tough;it requires excelent anticipation, great hand reflexes, and instinctive use of the camera. Look at the work of as many "good "photographers as you can. Also, depending on where you shoot, you will see a street shooter or 2 that simply by watching the way they work, you know they are good. When that happens, sit back and watch from a distance for a while. you'll learn something. Photography goes in cycles. Actually I think street photogrphy is currently on the upswing. At this years AIPAD convention in NYC I saw much more street than usual. Arbus is at the Met, a unique street.
     
  4. I have to agree with the above post; it's better to just follow your instincts. When one feels they have to adopt a particular style or approach, then their own unique creativity will suffer. Six months is not a long time. After another six months, review your contact sheets and see what kinds of things keep popping up. I did this myself and found that some of my best street shots have only two people in them. Family, friends, lovers whatever, it became clear to me that I seem to be interested in peoples realtionships to others, especially when there is a contrast. For example a recent shot of mine showed a middle aged couple on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Blvd. The man has his mouth wide open in the middle of a yawn while his wife stands next to him with a look of wonder on her face as she looks up at something over and behind me. Both are facing me and they are the only two people in the frame. A lucky shot as it was very crowded that day and any number of people could have walked into the picture. Two people two very different expressions.
    Another shot taken on Melrose was two Asian young women I saw exit from a packed tour bus. As I scanned the crowd looking for any interesting faces I zeroed in on these two. They were obviously friends, but their attire and posture spoke of two very different personalities. So when I approached them to ask for a photo they agreed and the result was what I expected. The one with the tight fitting fashionable clothing stood shoulders square with her back arched and a slight smile. The other with the more plain clothes stood more naturally with a warmer smile. Again two people linked in some way but very different personalities. These are just two examples of where your street shooting may take you. As I have mentioned here before, listen to your gut. When it tells you to take the shot, there is a very good reason to do so.
    PS - Sorry I can't post these and other shots of mine, I have a scanner but an old computer that it won't run on.
     
  5. Jay: I'll check out that article and I will eventually get Bystander. I do have other street photography books and check out every exhibit that hits my area. I definitely study the Masters as well as the street photogs here. Big fan of the Magnum photogs as well.

    John: I'm pretty much a random shooter. When I'm out I'll shoot anything, everything and under any condition. I'm equally influenced by "old school" stuff as well as some of the darker, edgier stuff. And yes it does require excellent anticipation and instinct. I'm sure some of this develops over time, yet I'm pretty sure some are just naturals.

    As for watching other street shooters? I have not seen another since I've been doing this. A tourist with a camera yes, but not any street shooters. If I lived in NYC, SF, LA, or Chicago I'm sure I would run into a few. I live in Albuquerque and primarily shoot in ABQ & Santa Fe, a metro area of 500,000 and about 150,000 respectively. El Paso/Juarez, Mexico is a 3 hour drive and I'm starting to shoot there as well.

    Peter: Yep you're probably right! It may never return to the popularity of it's heyday, but I still think street/documentary work is the most potent form of photography. People will probably appreciate today's street work more 20-30 years from now than they do today. The people and urban environment will change far more than Half Dome or Antelope Canyon during that period which eventually gives it a historical context.

    I do enjoy other types of photography and they all require a certain amount of skill, some of which may be adapted for street photography. But it's definitely not for rigid perfectionists or control freaks. Too many intangibles. I've often heard it compared to jazz and I'm sure they were not referring to Kenny G ;-) It's like a great garage band, not a symphony. Of course I prefer the Ramones over Beethoven!
     
  6. I like your stuff Jenna, you've been putting up some strong images lately - that's what counts for me. Style is personal, do what you like and in time it'll be Jenna G. style
     
  7. I agree with Kipling. I think you've been putting up images that show your own unique vision. That to me is what makes style in the long run.
     
  8. "...Don't go looking for a style. Keep shooting street and sooner or later, if you seriously keep at it, style will find you...." - John Elder

    worth repeating...

    ...one other thing, I believe (from my own personal experience) that sometimes you find your style and get disuaded (is that a word?) from it for some reason. So, that raises another interesting question..............How do you know when you've reached your own style? Hint: It's the images that put the biggest grin on your own face...not a haha grin, just one of those satisfaction type grins.....IMHO.
     
  9. I like street photography but, personally, I think it's a numbers game. Unlike, say, landscape, where you've got specific subject and can to a large extent anticipate the result, street photography (as expressed through PN) is much more speculative and random. You shoot a million images and just pick out a few arty-farty ones.
     
  10. ...I've shot nature/landscape, and I've read all the leading photographer's advice on landscape, and I've seen the advice from nature photographers here on PN..........and using the same camera's as one would for "street" (ie 35mm and medium format), the advice from all of them is "bracket your exposure"! Especially those that use slide film.....those brackets sometimes are 5 shots. Plus all the nature photographers tend to recomend getting different angles on the subject. "Explore the subject" I think is the normal advice.

    That is just a diferrent type of numbers game. You could apply the numbers game to almost every type of photography.

    Is one more "numbers" than another? Don't know. But, it is not exclusive to only street.
     
  11. Jenna, 6 months is not a very long time. Why constrain yourself so early on and miss a lot
    of opportunities for exploring other possibilities? You post good stuff, and have a lot of
    strong photos in your galleries. And reaching a comfort zone so early is great. Simply
    (hah!) focus on creating strong images, and if it's meant to happen, style will find you. As
    for myself and style, I'm still all over the place - that's OK with me.
     
  12. "...As for myself and style, I'm still all over the place - that's OK with me...."

    Yeah, and Jenna, sometimes that is true with me too......I'm all over the place and "no worries"..........then other times, I look back on one style that I really had fun with, and I'm convinced that's what I should be doing again. This is all a VERY recent discovery, so your question is very timely for me. And I have gone back recently to that style, and it does put this gigantic smile on my face when I see the stuff on my monitor...heh......"blur", the only way to go ;o)

    so, you see, you're not the only one confused/unsettled about this "style" thing. It's a journey, just enjoy it as it unfurls. Seems to be the best attitude to take.
     
  13. The photographic genres are like music. Landscape is akin, not to Classical, but to good ole C&W. It's a specific discipline, you must stick to the rules to please the faithful. You're allowed to bend a couple of rules, but even then you're considered New Country. Anything too avant garde and you're out, you've crossed over into Rock. Now, Street photography is your Rock'n'roll, obviously. The rule about street photography is: there are no rules. I could spend days shooting at a landscape location and still not get my intended shot because the weather wasn't right. On the other hand, I can stick some HP5 in an Olympus Trip and walk through central London taking any number of shots of people, traffic, shops, markets, buildings; all without looking through the viewfinder, lots of wonky horizons and chopped off heads. I can finish the day with a portfolio of documentary life on the street and nobody could tell me it's not art. That's what I mean by a numbers game :)
     
  14. I can finish the day with a portfolio of documentary life on the street and nobody could tell me it's not art
    Andrew, try it--I'd like to see your "arty-farty ones".
     
  15. jenna. i like your stuff too. as others have said, it'll come naturally... perhaps not
    something that can/should be forced...

    i've been shooting street stuff since nov last year. i don't think i have a distinctive style
    and that doesn't worry me. i just enjoy being out there - it's kind a like meditation for me
    cos my mind goes blank and i'm just..... 'there', in that moment. more into that, than the
    end result i guess.
     
  16. Now, Street photography is your Rock'n'roll, obviously.
    It's not obvious to me. The vast majority of rock music is highly structured. Street photography has much more in common with jazz than with rock.
    On the other hand, I can stick some HP5 in an Olympus Trip and walk through central London taking any number of shots of people, traffic, shops, markets, buildings; all without looking through the viewfinder, lots of wonky horizons and chopped off heads. I can finish the day with a portfolio of documentary life on the street and nobody could tell me it's not art.
    I'm with Cyr--let's see it! Most street photographers I know of spend a lot of time and effort on the street, staying aware of what's going on, and trying to catch some of the feel on film. If you had actually tried your proposed method you'd know what a load a crap you're spouting.
    Finally, to the original questions, I second (or third or fourth) the advice to shoot what you want and let your style develop without trying to force anything. Trying to edit your themes while you're shooting will just get in the way.
     
  17. A portfolio in one day, no less. Wow!
     
  18. Jenna G: I read this thread today and decided I should look at your photos. It looks like you are getting good quickly. With that in mind, I make the following sugestions. Be your own worst [best] critic. Don't post something unless it blows you away. Even if it looks great today, wait awhile and see if it still looks great 6months from now. Post or display[wherever: show, porfolio, internet] only your best stuff. Second, while editing your work, go back over you old stuff and see if there are any visual gimmicks you use or overuse in your compositions. Once you become aware of these visusal devices you will use them more effectively. There are a couple that I spotted, can you spot them? I only looked at your street , aechitecture and abstract shots. These 3 areas are my main triggers. You are realy doing well. However, editing is a seperate skill which most photographers don't do real well, me included.
     
  19. Wow lots of great input. I do appreciate it! I'll try to reply more later, but I'll address a couple of posts here.

    John: Yep my portfolio is in dire need of some editing. I post a lot of stuff that I know isn't necessarily good just hoping to get some input. It also helps seeing stuff I posted six months ago and comparing it to my newer stuff to gauge any progress. It's not organized very well though and I have street stuff scattered in several folders. Since I have a ton of new stuff that hasn't even been posted, I should start taking some down. As for not posting anything unless it blows me away? I wouldn't have many up...lol! Sometimes I immediatly like something, and other times I'm just not sure. Some things grow on me after awhile. I would heavily edit if I had a show or put up my own website, but I have not done so for PN.

    As for gimmicks? Oh I'm not beyond gimmicks or cliches! I do a lot of window scenes as well as mannequins for example. Often I don't encounter masses of people so I start looking for other things. I have a couple of shots up that are beasically the same and I'll eventually take one down.
     
  20. Don't read the article on Luminous Landscape Jay gave to you. The guy (Alain Briot) has no idea what he is writing about. He claims to have studied at Beaux-Arts in Paris and writes stuff like this:
    Different techniques have been developed by surrealist painters to achieve this goal including pointillism
    And you think he would have an idea...
     
  21. To answer the original question: why not try do several different styles? By this I mean: create several portfolios, works in each of which consistently follow a separate, set by you style. This way you both wouldn't be limited by any single style in particular and still would be able to produce strong consistent work. Then, as you move along, you can of course pick up one of these styles as your main one, but this is optional. Many of the greats were fluent in not one but several styles. This is like being multilingual...
     
  22. Eugene,

    Is that the only problem you have with Alan Briot's article? If so, isn't that like throwing the baby out with the bathwater when you say don't read it at all? That's like saying don't watch the Pope's funeral because some of the priest's attending are involved in the sex scandal. Or like saying don't believe anything Bill Clinton says because he lied under oath about his personal life.
     
  23. John said: "...Don't go looking for a style. Keep shooting street and sooner or later, if you seriously keep at it, style will find you...." - John Elder

    Thomas said: ...one other thing, I believe (from my own personal experience) that sometimes you find your style and get disuaded (is that a word?) from it for some reason. So, that raises another interesting question..............How do you know when you've reached your own style? Hint: It's the images that put the biggest grin on your own face...not a haha grin, just one of those satisfaction type grins.....IMHO.

    You're probably right. I'm probably a bit envious of those who really have a strong style and cohesive body of work, but I'm still finding my way and as I mentioned before seem to be equally influenced by some very different styles in this genre. Just as I'm torn by color vs. B&W and how to post-process my images. BTW I like the biggest grin statement! I still get a rush everytime I go out, but I've definitely reached the stage where the images are as important (or moreso) than the experience itself.

    Steve: You've only been doing street since November? Wow! Your stuff is incredibly good so I just assumed you've been at this for awhile. May I ask what you were shooting before? Anyway you've set the bar pretty high for the rest of us newbies!

    Mike said: I'm with Cyr--let's see it! Most street photographers I know of spend a lot of time and effort on the street, staying aware of what's going on, and trying to catch some of the feel on film.
    I think maybe Andrew took offense to my mentioning landscape photography. I wasn't knocking it, just offering it as a comparison since that is what I primarily did. Sure anybody can go out and shoot in the street, but no one, even the best, can shoot a solid portfolio in one day, much less their first day. It takes time to become acclimated, and until then you will be lucky to even get a few mediocre images. Once you are more comfortable, you become as much of a participant as an observer. For me a lot was overcoming fears, and now I pretty much go anywhere with my camera. The more comfortable and aware you are of your surroundings, the better your images will get. I still have a long way to go, but that's been my experience so far. And those that are really good have a keen sense of their environment because you can feel it in their images.

    Eugene: I did read that article and absorbed what was useful and discarded the rest. Looking at his images, I couldn't really detect a distinct style. For landscapes, a few were pretty good, but most were ordinary shots of the same landscapes that I've seen done similarly. Want to see my Grand Canyon shots? I didn't think so! And your suggestion to group seperate styles is a good one. I could discard a bunch of images and then group the remaining ones into more cohesive folders. Maybe by doing that I can get a better sense of what I'm doing and where I'm going. Or maybe I could clone some boats onto my Grand Canyon shots ;-)
     
  24. Jay: I found some useful information in that article. Everything, no, but it was a good read. Thanks for posting the link.
     
  25. Jay, if it were the only problem, I would have thought Alain mistyped the word.
     
  26. 10% of everything is useful.
     
  27. I'm 90% useless 90% of the time ;-)
     
  28. "May I ask what you were shooting before?"

    jenna: i'm really a fashion and beauty photographer, tho' still do all kinds of other stuff.
    thanks for your comments.
     
  29. "For those of you who feel your work has a distinctive style or vision, how did this come about? Was it a conscious decision, or did it develop over time? If it developed over time, how long did it take? And if you don't mind, how long have you all been doing street and/or documentary stuff? For those who don't have or don't want a defined style, was this a conscious choice?"

    Here are answers embedded in suggestions:
    --Use just one camera and one lens for the next year.
    --Pick just one or two films, too.
    --Print lots of frames, hang them on a bulletin board that you view each day.
    --Spend more time shooting. For the first six months (longer, actually), I was just learning how to expose and print; developing a style came later.
    --Don't worry. You'll produce good photos from the get-go, and will begin to see a personal style at some point.
     
  30. Whoops! I knew my earlier post was a bad move - sorry if I caused offence to you terribly earnest people out there on the street documenting life in all it's grittiness. I really was just messing with you all! I was using what I believe they call hyperbole, but some of you took me absolutely literally at face value, despite me sticking a smiley face at the end!
    I'm just one of those rank amateurs who find it difficult to take any form of photography seriously, and you can't take anything I say seriously, I just love playing the Devil's advocate. Take it from me, I am not a huge fan of Landscape either (I certainly wasn't offended by your remarks Jenna); I'm just as likely to nip across to the Landscape forum and start a food fight, just to wind everybody up. Worth noting, though, that I won't direct negative comments to any particular individuals.
    Finally, in addressing Jennas original question about style, one guy who has left an impression with me is young Mr. Kochanowski, for 2 reasons. (1) He seems to work mainly in color, which I personally think is more of a challenge for street photography. (2) His approach to presentation. I noted his separation of horizontal and vertical images; he obviously prefers horizontal format and it just makes his PN folders very tidy and pleasing to look at. This also shows how greater emphasis is given to collections of images, rather than placing too much importance on single images which, in documentary/street work, don't always mean a great deal out of context. How refreshing, I thought and, given the inconveniences of vertical shots on computer screens, I too have taken the momentous decision to shoot in horizontal format only. So, yes, I believe you can get a lot of good ideas from studying the work of others.
     
  31. challenge for the sake of challenge is more sport than art. Color
    isn't more challenging than its absence; nothing is. It's just a
    means.
     
  32. Challenge does not have to be the overriding motivation - it's just part of the mix. And Sport is as legitimate as Art. Tasks accomplished without some kind of challenge, whether we are conscious of that challenge or not, fall into the category of mere habit.
     
  33. jenna, you probably know that cd. juarez is a very dangerous place for a
    woman, but in case you don`t, please be careful.
    david
     
  34. David:

    Yep I know it can be a very dangerous place for women. Hundreds of women there have been murdered or disappeared. That said if I solely limited myself to only safe places I shouldn't bother with street or documentary work.
     
  35. Sport can be habitual, art can be habitual. Nothing wrong with sport, but I was talking about art.
     
  36. And in art (except some conceptual art, but that's another story), only the final product needs to be challenging, not the process itself. Some people habitually produce great art and I love it. In other words, challenging yourself only counts when you are also challenging the viewer, and the latter is much more important.
     
  37. but this talk is stupid, Andrew... If you want to challenge yourself, go ahead; nothing wrong with that.
     

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