Developing Style

For some time now I have been thinking about style….my style, do I need one….do I have one? Is it good to have something that distinguishes your work so that people can identify it? Or is this a stifling and rather constrictive way of thinking that keeps us in a rut (albeit a comfortable rut) where we receive praise simply for repeating ourselves, a bit like the chorus of a song….everyone remembers the chorus but do they remember the message in the verse?

I feel, at present as if I am on a long journey  with my photography. Every so often I come to a viewpoint where I see further into the landscape in front and I see more clearly where I am heading; sometimes, the whole place is just foggy and I am stumbling along singing the chorus to myself, even if no one is listening!

I look back on how I started in photography versus where I am now and the ‘style’ of my work has changed significantly over the years. I have always had an idea of images I wanted to capture, early in life that was through painting and sketching, now I make them with the camera. Over the past few years I have taken up this pursuit with real determination but it has not been with the intention of perfecting a ‘technique’, although I have spent considerable time in that area! The camera for me is instead the means to an end, my real goal is to leave the viewer thinking about the image rather than wondering how I took the shot.

I have to admit to succumbing for some time to  a bit of peer pressure. In magazines and photography books many of the landscape images now seem to me rather predictable and dogmatic; a big boulder or some dramatic piece of landscape ‘furniture’ in the foreground, very little mid-ground and some awe-inspiring mountain at the rear. Indeed, I have been on workshops where there seemed to be an almost manic hunt to find the right rock, boulder or bit of seaweed to put at the front with little thought to the intent, colour, tone or voice within the image. Although the results of the formulaic work can be beautiful and I have many images in this vein, I now find myself seeking subjects that inspire and provoke questions rather than simply give pleasure from their beauty. It is a hard task, in a complex scene, to find the essence of what captured your imagination in the first place and to distill it down to the bare elements.

Currently, I am working with some minimal, colour-focussed concepts, by that I mean that the elements of my images must be tied together by the colours and tonal quality with less emphasis on traditional foreground, mid ground or background used in conventional landscape photography.

For example, the image below of the stunning mountains in the Scottish Highlands was made a couple of years ago. My aim at the time, was to tie the colours in sky and water together as well as to tie together the shapes in clouds, the mountains and the foreground. The image works well as there is a lot of symmetry and it conforms to traditional concepts of the rule of thirds.

Assynt Day 1_2528-Edit

The second image below on the other hand, was made a couple of weeks ago when it was foggy and there was a heavy layer of mist covering up the background. This small tree sits on a loch near my house, although I visit this place often it had gone unnoticed as there was a lot of other action going on in the background but, enveloped in mist, as it was that day, it took on another, almost ethereal, dimension. Again the image is tied together by colour in both the top and bottom sections, connected only by the small tree. The image works well but has a less formal structure; for me the minimal content stimulates more questions than the image above of the mountains, it seems to me more symbolic of singularity, inner strength, survival, mystery….



As I move forward in my journey I find it useful to look back on past pursuits; I still love taking the beautiful images of lochs and streams, mountains and forests but I hope to expand into new territory and develop some dialog with the viewer as I go along.

Is this developing a ‘style’? I am not certain, there is no conscious effort to do so on my part but if following an inner voice and train of thought result in any ‘predictability’ then I hope my style remains undefined for some time to come.

If you feel like saying what this image says to you, please feel free to share…!

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