When does personal style morph into self-repetition?
My query paraphrases one posed by Varga in his book Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers, but it’s obviously equally relevant for us as photographers.
In pondering the dilemma, I was reminded of an overseas photographer whose work I followed with interest for quite some time. The photographer lived in a struggling rural settlement, home to marginalised people with few worldly goods. Their faces were furrowed with the hardships of their lived experience, and they made wonderful subjects for the photographer’s lens.
The resulting head-and-shoulder portraits were powerfully emotive, the solemn demeanour and direct unsmiling gaze of the subjects thrown into sharp relief against incongruously bright-coloured backgrounds. Technically the images were very good, and the photographer’s engagement with the subjects was clear.
The photographer’s personal style of portraiture was instantly recognisable, even from small thumbnails in mixed online galleries. So recognisable in fact, that I felt somewhat guilty when I realised I’d become bored with the work, despite its obvious merit, and I soon stopped following their portfolio. It seemed to me the photographer’s personal style had morphed into self-repetition.