A Question of Style

Nelson's Sparrow Pano Most often, when we are “going somewhere” in the metaphorical sense, that going happens in fits and starts, and sometimes even takes us in circles. I am by no means at the end of the process I’m about to describe, but I can certainly see already how it has been quite the process just to get to where I am, nudged along by specific events. It all started when I was listening to photography podcasts (I still am, just not as consistently) in which interviewers frequently ask “successful” photographers what they feel is their style, what makes a photograph uniquely theirs. In the process of answering the question, many confess that it took years for them to develop a style, and that it was a feeling-around-in-the-dark kind of affair. Of course, there I was, right in the midst of that murky process, and if truth be told, here I remain, though I have come a bit of distance. The question of style had varying effects upon me, depending on my mindset at the time of listening. The pendulum swung wildly from a calm knowing it would all come in time to extreme anxiety in the face of my complete lack of style – or even the lack of an idea about what I wanted my style to be.

One evening at a meeting of a local photography club, someone took us through an exercise to help us begin to understand what kind of style we wanted to achieve. I remember writing down things like “larger than life” and “saturated color.” As simple as the exercise was, I did walk out with a little bit better idea of where I wanted to be, style-wise.

Evening Descends on the Coleman BridgeIt helped to really look at the photography of others and try to sort out what defines their style. In doing this, I came across some photographers whose work I adore; it was worth the time and effort just for that result, but looking at photographs and listening to interviews helped me continue to hone, in my mind if not yet in my work. I remember listening to an interview with Varina Patel, and as she struggled to articulate what she saw as her style, she kept coming back to color. She said many of her landscapes were almost monochromatic. In perusing her work, I see what she means, though I don’t think monochromatic is the right word. Some of those landscapes are infused and layered with rich shades of the same color or color family. For me, monochromatic sounds rather dead, but her photos are alive. That is a very tangible aspect of style, and something clicked for me with that – not only did I now have a clearer idea about the sorts of things to look for regarding style, but I loved her photos that employed this “monochromatic” style, and put it on my to-try list.

Several months ago, I received an email out of the blue from someone I don’t know who lives in Australia. She said that she loves the “in-the-moment intimacy” of my photos. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, and “intimate” was an unexpected description of my photography, but it dovetailed nicely with this whole thought process I’d been having. “In-the-moment intimacy” somehow seemed to speak of style, and even though she was a stranger on the internet, I suspected that the woman might be on to something. My photographs are mostly of wildlife and landscapes, subjects with which – practically speaking – I really can’t be on intimate terms.

But when I thought about it, I kind of understood where she was getting that. I am a terrible poet with words, but I have a poet’s heart, and it’s with that heart that I see the birds, animals, and land that I photograph. It is with that that I discern which photos to share and how to edit them. It is with that that I even decide when to pick up my camera and hit the shutter button. It is poetry that I seek, and earth’s poetry that I want to capture and express, and if you think about it, poetry is intimacy. So, this stranger from Australia who could somehow see my own work better than I could has provided me with another key with which to unlock my style. I hope for this intimacy to be that which ultimately defines my photographic work, and that it becomes more so as the equipment gets more sophisticated, and as I get more savvy with that equipment and the editing. For the tangible aspects of style can be achieved with gear, but it is the intangible aspects that can only be achieved by who we are and how we operate in the world. (Click on the photos to view larger, higher quality versions.)
Kingfisher & Approaching Storm

2 Comments on “A Question of Style

  1. Love the idea of an in-the-moment intimacy. Some of the best poets do it in words; you do it with photography.

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