Influences On Personal Style

8th November 2013

Obviously there are many things that will have ‘Influence On Personal Style’, but without making the title of this piece too long what I really want to discuss is other photographers and their influence, whether or not we should be aware of it and should we know all the names of those who have provided this influence?

My personal reasons for wanting to delve into this are fairly basic, I simply can’t remember the names of people, therefore when it comes to remembering who the photographers are whom I’ve looked at and have admired, unless they’re one of those very famous ones, I have a problem when it comes to writing about, or discussing,  why I did something a particular way, whom it was who gave me an insight etc.  This isn’t just a problem with photographers, it’s a general problem I have with all sorts of reading material.  Trying to provide a clear link in any essay with a Harvard Reference is almost impossible unless I’m in the process of reading the quote at the time and I fear this may have a deleterious effect on my 2,000 word critical essay.  Another point I’ve pondered for some time is, is it really necessary to remember who made what image, what genre they followed and what style they used?  It does seem to me that it’s not really necessary from a personal point of view, but is it from an examination perspective?

I’m sure someone who reads this piece will say, ‘why don’t you make notes of the quotes and references as you read them or come across them?’  The answer to that is that I never know what I’m going to need to quote, so I’d need to have more notes than I could manage successfully and still not remember where to look!  Having that easy piece of advice out of the way, I’ll try to develop the arguments for and against why we should know and remember.

One of the most repetitive pieces of advice we’re given by tutors is to look at as many other photographers work as possible, visit as many exhibitions as possible to look at work and to try to work out for ourselves what there is we can take from them to provide influence and meaning to our own work.  The college also has a principle that every student has a different tutor for each course to give a wider learning experience and to prevent possible ‘cloning’ of style.  In essence these two statements are opposites, and whilst I’m sure that we’re not meant to follow all advice slavishly it does make me wonder if we do develop a personal style at all.  If we are to take away influences from other photographers are we not in fact simply repeating what they have already done?  I think the answer to this must be that as an individual we shouldn’t allow any one influence to dominate our work and we should allow our style to develop a strain of that influence which we incorporate, along with similar strains from other influences, into our own particular style.   Which is all well and good until such time as you’re asked to explain what your style was developed from and who were the main influences, then having a memory like mine lets you down.  Or does it?

There is an awful lot of bullshit written and spoken in artistic circles, which when analysed say absolutely nothing and have simply been spouted to make a sound bite.  A case in point is how many artists statements actually make any sense and hold any meaning at all?  In which case my memory is no disadvantage, I simply make up some suitable gobbledygook and no-one is the wiser. On the other hand, it’s no use trying to baffle brains with bullshit when it comes to examination assessors and tutors, at least I don’t think it is. Here I’m sure I’d be expected to know who the main influencers have been so far and point to where it can be seen in my work, then it’s oops ‘cos I can’t remember them all.  This is where I think it shouldn’t really be necessary to know that, as it’s my style, it’s individual to me, it’s not a clone of others and why should I even be aware of who and how many other artists influenced me?

Should we be aware?  I think that without doubt we must be aware somewhere in our consciousness even if it’s not at the forefront of our mind.  The artists I remember most, and am able to reference, have undoubtedly made an influence, but hopefully not one that can be detected easily enough for anyone to say, “oh, obviously that’s the influence of so-and-so”, if it is detectable then I would hope someone would bring it to my attention so that I could remedy it and try to hide it.  Why?  As I wrote earlier, if it’s to be my style then any overt reference to another artist in my work means to me that I’m cloning, and that’s not going to make my style unique.  Awareness of influence, in my opinion, needs to be the sort that helps you make a better image without trying to emulate, but by being overtly aware as well as subconsciously, should allow me to use that influence my way.

For me, I’ll continue to attend galleries and exhibitions to find influences to better my work and spur my imagination to think up different scenarios, but will my memory get better?  I think it will always remember the most influential and I’ll have to work harder on those that are less so.  I also wonder if what I’ve just illustrated is me attempting to change the way we have to prove our knowledge because of my own weakness?  If that is the case then I know I’m onto a loser and I really must work on my memory retention of names.

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3 Responses to Influences On Personal Style

  1. Catherine says:

    I certainly follow your reasoning here. Is it possible to look at this a different way? For instance ; you might appreciate the work of …….. but why? Is it the way s/he composes the image; the use of colour; the layering of tones etc. This isn’t ‘cloning’ it’s looking at the way an image is created, analysing how it gains its effect on you and then seeing how using these different components in new ways can develop your own style.

    • Eddy Lerp says:

      I think what you’ve just expressed is what I mean by the ideal influence in the fourth paragraph, and provided that’s what happens it’s great. The problem is that when it comes to expressing which artist guided you to that use in an exam, at least for me it is anyway.

      One of the things I greatly admire about your approach to your work is the ability you seem to have to pull your references from all sorts of sphere’s and then when you’re discussing things at workshops it’s all there, you’ve not forgotten, that’s where my problem comes in, I can’t remember.

  2. Catherine says:

    Yes – but there isn’t an exam as such to face here. You don’t have to remember way back into the past ‘on the spot’. I always had the problem of doing very well in coursework and then the exam result was less good because I couldn’t pull everything ‘out of a hat’. I’ve never had a good short term memory so can’t blame age! The way my brain works is that I get interested in all kinds of areas (otherwise known as a ‘butterfly brain’) I know that some concept has been written about (can remember the concept in general in a vague way) and I know where to look, but I can’t remember specifics. If I’m talking about some work in progress then my longer term memory helps me to think back, plus I have my notes with me.
    I remember with AOP that my tutor said at the start that some particular work she’d seen on Flickr reminded her of the work of Josef Koudelka. I researched him and couldn’t see that at all but it intrigued me. I wanted to know why, and I think it was because of figures in a landscape so that set me to thinking of why I was attracted towards that. It wasn’t about Koudelka as such but similarities in the way we were looking at life in that particular instance. It doesn’t mean I was ‘copying’ him because I didn’t know about him at the time.

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