For any photographer, I think the highest level they can reach is to have their work be immediately recognizable as theirs. Some obvious examples that come to mind are Steve McCurry and Saul Leiter. Any photographs they've made are instantly recognizable, and any ones that replicate it are known as 'McCurry-esque' or 'Leiter-esque', noting that they follow some noticable trend or style set by that photographer.
Unfortunately, as I almost exclusively shoot in color, I scroll through my lightroom catalogue sometimes and just feel.... mediocre. I have photographs from the same places with different ranges of colors and saturation that despite feeling like that work is consistently good, it's extremely incoherent when put together. I couldn't string them together in a book without them feeling disjointed.
My saving grace, oddly enough, was arguably the most consistently inconsistent musician in human history: David Bowie.
Take a peek at David Bowie's discography and you'll see that he consistently evolved with not only what he wanted to say, but how he said it. His album, 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust' which tells the story of the human embodiment of a rock-and-roll alien from outer space who comes to earth to tell humans of the 'Starmen' who will come to save Earth. However Ziggy ultimately meets his own demise due to the decadence of fame. The tracks are all over the place in terms of how they sound, with the opening track 'Five Years' being slow and opening the album up with depressing lyrics... Only to heat up with tracks like 'Starman' , 'Moonage Daydream' and 'Ziggy Stardust'... Then ultimately die down with a depressing, and almost painful track called 'Rock and Roll Suicide'...
....And thats only one album.
Over the years his work took every direction seemingly possible, his personas as well. He played around with the idea of being a Space Alien, a Gobling King, 'The Thing White Duke', and ultimately himself coming to terms with his own demise. He followed some trends in the music world but always made them his own, releasing my favorite song of all time 'Modern Love' in 1983 and more hard-rock tracks like 'The Stars are Out Tonight' and 'Valentines Day' in the 2000s (a musical generation we best forget about).
His obvious freedom of exploration within his own medium is something any photographer should take to heart. In the digital age, you do not have an obligation to your own style. I can shoot saturated long exposures one second and gritty black-and-white macro shots the next. And as liberating as it is, I know we all start to worry about how coherent our photos are when put side by side.
I shot black-and-white for the first time in over a year in Shimonoseki last month and for the longest time thought about putting them into my computers trash-bin. The rest of my time in Yamaguchi Prefecture (where Shimonoseki is located) was shot in color-- vibrant color-- and putting the photos side by side made me feel awkward... like it should all match.
Thats when it dawned upon me that theres SO much more to developing your own style than how colors (or a lack there-of) go together. Because in those black and white photos I saw the same things I saw in my color photographs-- Almost always telephoto, composition is usually weighting toward the center, an eye for repetition and patterns and (trying really hard to) have precise framelines and a lot of background noise removed. Thats all me whether the color was there or not. And just like how you KNOW a David Bowie song when you hear one, regardless of being a long-winded ballad like 'Blackstar' or a funky track like 'Fame’、I saw the way I photograph the world clearly whether it was highly saturated photos of a Shrine, or black-and-white photos of a city at night.
So what can you take away from all of this?
Well.. EXPLORE! Process your photos differently, and in as many ways as you want, but always look for the consistent things within them, such as how you frame a shot or the perspective you usually take, and build upon that. Master your own techniques and let post-processing figure itself out.
**Also, I apologize for the lack of photographs in this blog about photography... Having some Lightroom trouble right now...