Monday, January 07, 2008

Variations on a theme

click photo to enlarge
I've been interested in photography for long enough to know that certain themes get a regular working over in journals, books and on the internet. One such theme is "finding a voice", sometimes called "discovering your own style". This idea is adapted from fine art criticism, and goes something like this. When you start out in photography you take snaps, then as your interest and skill grows you re-create technically sound well-known genres (some would say cliches) of images, and finally, if you make the ultimate leap, you produce artistic original images each including an element of a style that you have created: your work becomes recognisable by your particular "signature". Many enthusiastic amateurs, not a few professionals, and certain eminent photographic societies subscribe to this view of photographic development. And it's essentially rubbish!

It's true that some excellent photographers have trodden this road. But many have produced good images from the outset, others have a body of work that has changed over time, and there are those who have always been eclectic. Ultimately, each photograph must be judged by the content circumscribed by its rectangular perimeter. If it's good it's good, regardless of whether it fits in with a wider body of work. Photography has been in existence for the last 160 years, and like the other arts has been thoroughly worked over by successive generations of practitioners. The extent to which anyone can produce anything startlingly original in photography is limited. But, startlingly good photographic work can be produced in specific locations, or within genres, or by re-working ideas, just as a musician might take the tried and tested sonata form (or the blues) and create something we can all admire.

These thoughts arose when I looked at my photograph of a shopper amongst the market canopies at Newark in Nottinghamshire. Today's Guardian newspaper carries a photograph that uses the same idea of individuality set in repeated uniformity - a child in a red scarf looking round in a mass of black-clad women in Iran. Now, to some this is a well-worn theme (a cliche even), but I think it bears successive iterations because of the subjects to which the idea can be applied. Original? No. Of interest. I think so. But then I like the blues!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3EV
Image Stabilisation: On