Somewhere on social media (I think it was 500px) someone compared one of my photographs (a personal favourite so far, the head image) to Rui Palha style and another person commented that this was a big compliment. Although I understand this way of thinking, I didn’t really feel that this was, in fact, a compliment. From a technical point of view, yes, definitely. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Rui is a great photographer and I really like his work (even though I wasn’t familiar with it until that comment came along), but I’m on a quest, just like many of you I suppose, to find my own photographic style, my own being the key here. So how to find your own style? The one that would, in the future purely associated with you and comments made by others would refer to your name?
For instance, whenever I come across a black and white, minimalistic long exposure shot it reminds me of Michael Kenna. I just cannot help it, and, trust me I tried to shoot like him because I think his work is awesome. And that is only because the common voice out there is to find someone who’s work you like and try to imitate it. The problem is that most get to that point and then forget to move on.
How, otherwise, can you find your own voice when all you do is parroting somebody/everybody else? Jimi Hendrix, for instance, began by playing in a number of bands. If he continued to do that and Linda Keith did not step in we would have never heard his brilliance in All Along the Watchtower. He kept repeating “I just want to play MY music”, as annoying as that sounds, or at least it did in the movie I’ve watched recently (All Is by My Side, which I do not really recommend btw). Why is Hendrix considered to be one of the best guitarists to grace the surface of this planet? He had no teacher, he did not read “how to” blogs, no noise has been planted in his head. He just. Played. His guitar. That’s all (I’m gonna leave the drugs out of it, at least till the evening).
I think we can all agree on the simple fact that we are all a bit different. We can have same type of jobs, live in the same city/country, own same type of shoes but our life experiences differ a lot. I mean, a lot. We can learn things from others, like we can have a piano teacher and learn how to play compositions of masters, but this road will never teach us how to express ourselves through these 88 keys. We obviously do need the technical ability first, in order to express our own emotions, otherwise it would just sound sh*t, wouldn’t it? The key here is to answer the question on how to learn techniques, practice them with playing other people’s work but then, after “we are done” learning the technique (although that is never the case, but the point when we CAN play pretty much anything, from Christmas Carols to Etude Op. 10, No. 12 by Chopin) we need to “unlearn” or put things aside, things like “how did Chopin compose this piece” and “what techniques did he use” and all the rest, in order to let our own ideas flourish.
There’s no straight answer on how to find your own style but I think I’m onto something in my own journey. It’s very far from being refined just yet, but onto something nevertheless. I’m currently working on a set of challenges for photography maniacs (just as myself) and they are all based on constraints. One constraint at a time and loads of photographing. It’s something I’ve gone through myself and it certainly helped me to move forward. The trick is to, again, unlearn all this noise circulating everywhere. Especially marketing noise that will tell you that you need something to be more creative. Trust me, it is the opposite. On my last trip to Japan I only took with me what’s on the attached photo. Excuse me for your typical blogger/hipster/trendy wannabe type of shot, it’s just an illustration. 40 year old camera and lens, total cost of about a hundred bucks and five rolls of film, thirty bucks maybe? Not entirely sure as I bought these in Japan. I felt alive by having only this set in Kyoto and Osaka. No auto focus, fully manual exposure, 36 shots per roll, no zoom, no other focal length, no tripod, no-thing else. It seems that to feel the real freedom you need shackles on your feet. Excuse me, but it just how it feels. You can express yourself not to play with the camera. Seriously.
I cannot, for obvious reasons give a straight answer on how to find your true voice as this is very dependant on an individual, but here are three techniques to bring you closer to the answer:
- Meditation. Never mind the metaphysical, religious or “well being” aspects of it, meditation can be the key in our quest here. It simply helps to shut all the noise of the day out and focus on our own mind. It does take time to get to that state so it requires some commitment. I’ve read once (sorry cannot find the source now, it could be The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama) that if you have time, you should meditate half hour each day. If you do not have that sort of time you should meditate one hour a day. This could not be more true. The busier our life, the more chatter and noise that contaminates our mind, the more time we will have to spend to gain back the control.
If you’ve never done that before, well, do not despair, its super simple. Sit down comfortably on the floor (do not bother with the lotus flower position) in seiza (right), straighten your back (this will reduce the stress on your back muscles), move back and forth the gently to find the centre and repeat that with left and right movement. Drop your chin a little and close your eyes (or simply defocus your sight). Put your right palm upside down on your laps (in the middle) and your left one on top of it. Join two thumbs together and relax all your muscles. Ideally you feel your chest moving up and down as you breath. You can move about when getting into the position to keep it comfortable. Now simply try to focus on your breath (but not to control it) and sit for the given time. It sounds simple but you will notice how much noise there is in your thoughts and for the first few weeks it will be difficult to let go of it. Keep at it. It’s worth it and it will bring your creativity up a notch. It will also help you find your own voice in your work.
- Second thing is to get yourself physically tired, so to exercise on a regular basis. This doesn’t have to be a full work out but enough to get your mind off the usual things. Bob Marley use to write his songs right after playing football with his friends. Physical activity will relax your mind and free flow of thoughts will help to get the right stuff out. It will also keep you fit and healthy, especially if you will look after your diet with that as well, so there’s no reason why you should not try it. Do not hold anything back, get stuff out and sort things out late. As Ernest Hemingway used to say, write drunk, edit sober.
- The last but not least is to study new field of creative expression in your spare time (scarcity, I know, but whatever time you can spend, even just few minutes on the commute each day). Something completely unrelated to your field of work. So, if you’re a musician, you can study some visual arts and vice versa. Notice how things are taught in that field and try to look for things that restrain free thinking and self expression and bring them back to your own field. The reason for that is to notice these things as it is difficult to try to find them now in your field once you’ve been there for a while. Fresh perspective.
My morning routine, just to give you an idea:
4.30 AM – Wake up, about 5 minutes to pull myself together
4.35 AM – Morning pages – as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artists Way
5.00 AM – Stretch, brisk walk, run, depending on the weather
5.20 AM – Shower
5.30 AM – Meditation
6.00 AM – Leave for work, read stuff on the commute (20 minutes each, there and back)
Forget about the gear, forget about whatever you have learned or whatever somebody has told you. Sit down together with your artist within and have a good, long and honest conversation. His the only person you really should listen to. Now go and create some awesomeness. Let the force be with you (hello my Enza friend who’s name I do not know;). Bless.