We say Terry Richardson has a style, boldly defined by portraits of celebrities with high contrast and strong flash. Some imitate his style mockingly, but the fact remains that imitation suggests some kind of inherent quality in the original work that is characteristic and thus can be imitated. So if his style is cohesive and distinct because of its visual similarity and technical consistency, is style just a visual technicality?
|"Parade" - Robert Frank, from The Americans (1958)|
|"Street Arabs in their Sleeping Quarters" - Jacob Riis,|
from How the Other Half Lives (1890)
But I return to my point on style—that both Frank and Riis photographed in black and white but they have different, characteristic styles, namely because their subjects were different. So is style not just a technical aspect, but one of subject matter? Sally Mann is (albeit controversially) known for her photographs of her children, so is it the subject, the content, of the photographs that deems the style?
If the subject denotes the style, then I can definitely affirm that my own photography has no style. I don't take pictures of the same things, and while some may find their niches in certain types of photography—fashion, conceptual, landscape—I can't sit still long enough in one without being devoured by the passionate desire to try another. When someone asks what kind of photos I take, I hesitate before I say "different kinds"—I do still-life, I do landscapes, I do model/fashion shots, I do self-portraits. It seems almost taboo when I insinuate that I don't just do one type of photography. On one hand, perhaps it suggests the utility of versatility and adaptability to different subjects and different photoshoots. However, on the other hand, there is that paranoid, insecure feeling that if I don't stick to a specific kind of photography, then perhaps one may think I am not fashioning any kind of photographic style. I have a photo of a mountain here, a photo of a vase of flowers there, a photo of a model by a window here, a photo of a city skyline there. Are they similar subjects? Obviously not—I like shooting different kinds of subjects. Do they have the same technical consistencies? Obviously not—different kinds of subjects call for different techniques, lighting, compositions. Perhaps there is no solid definition of style, or perhaps I am just looking to deeply into the concept. One thing that I can safely say is that style does seem to define some kind of consistency—what is consistent is not the issue, as long as there is a kind of consistency. So if consistency equals style, then I suppose I don't have a style.
But then again, I am consistently inconsistent. I won't ever settle for one type of photography over another, and I will always try and dip my toes in other photographic worlds (although I don't know how to dip my toes and sometimes I fall right in, headfirst, but that is a personal qualm). So if consistency equals style, then perhaps I do have a style—and it is that I don't have any style at all.