I noticed that some of my prints had an overall darkness to them — in part because I was using relatively small areas of light and saturated colors within a darker background to bring shape and dimension and drama to them. Working on-screen with the light radiating from within delayed recognition of what was becoming a habit.
The epiphany came when I saw some images (example) on Pat Coakley’s blog, “Single for a Reason.” She used the full range of values, but the balance was predominantly light, even washed-out looking, with smaller pastel and dark shapes. It was time to break my habit with darkness and experiment with brilliance. The images here are two of the results.
At the top is a beautiful protected sandy beach and the cut between a small offshore cay and the mainland. The photo was taken mid-day with the sun high and bright — the kind of day where without sunglasses, the brilliance can be dazzling.
At the bottom is a candid shot of a young girl at the St. Patrick’s Day parade (hence the bits of green). She had been playing and visiting friends up and down the street, and had just returned to check in with her dad seated in front of me. It was a cotton-candy moment that deserved to be shown that way.
Not every image can be approached using brilliance, and not every attempt with a new approach is successful. Nevertheless, I have learned that experimenting and breaking habits can help prevent one’s style from becoming confining.
The past few months I’ve been puzzling over the tension that sometimes occurs between the content and subject matter of an image, and its more abstract qualities of composition, color and design. Ideally, the two should complement each other, with the design qualities strengthening the emotional impact of the subject matter — and vice versa.
However, I have found that is not always the case. Sometimes color and design can compete with the subject, distract, and actually weaken the image’s impact. Photographers working in black-and-white know this well. In other cases, an image’s content can distract and interfere with the emotional and sensual appeal of the colors and design — especially when those elements are an important quality of the subject.
If there is a focus to my work right now, it is experimenting to find a balance for each image that is right for me where subject matter and design work together to make the images stronger. The images in this post illustrate one direction the experiments have taken.
This has been an issue for me. I often venture off in different directions. While I could force myself to stay within a certain “box” for commercial purposes, I know that box could also become a prison (as Martin suggests).
On the other hand, an identifiable “style” is a likely outcome of the daily discipline of working on one’s art. In time, a style should develop and become apparent on its own. It will not need to be forced. Having a recognizable style may be a mark of maturity and accomplishment as an artist — assuming the artist allows that style to gradually evolve over time.
Style as a mark of maturity and accomplishment may also be one reason the galleries and marketing gurus encourage anyone who wants to advance commercially in the art world to find a style and stick with it. A “signature style” provides the appearance (although not necessarily the reality) of maturity and accomplishment. As a result, some may feel pressured to lock into a style for commercial purposes, perhaps before a genuine personal style has emerged on its own.
In the end, this is one more facet of the age-old tension between art for art’s sake, and monetary and public success. I know few people who have no need for the money or the sense of approval and respect for our work that an occasional sale can provide. Each must resolve the tension between commercial success and artistic freedom in their own way. I will be interested to see how I resolve it for myself.
We no longer trust beauty as a serious means of investigation. But it can be ... In fact, beauty can be incendiary; it can be subversive; it can make us cringe.
-- David Maisel, Photographer
"It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it." -- Anais Nin
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders of the universe, the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race.” -- Rachel Carson