Photography is a creative process that calls for new ways to see the world.
Like all artistic endeavors, photography thrives on new perspectives, new ideas and new ways of expression. A great book, a great painting, or a great piece of music is important primarily because it provides us with something new to see, hear or understand. Most of what we see on the web, in magazines, and even in galleries, looks like so many other images we’ve already seen. Don't get me wrong. There are vast numbers of amazing works being done today. There are real creative people doing really wonderful things. However, at the same time, I see huge numbers of images that fall way short of what is possible. That is the subject of this article. Much of what I see is far less self-expressed than it is a product of someone else's idea of what an image should be. In many ways, creativity has become the product of an engineer, a camera type, the technology or a social style and less the work of a real artist. Instagram and cell phone apps have contributed to the flood of images we are seeing. Some of it is good. Some of it is great. Most of it simply adds to the confusion. Magazine images, tutorials and 'how to' books have also contributed to the problem. By watching others, we tend to think that there is only one way to do anything creatively. Easy to produce effects and add on styles are trite in part because the effects are ubiquitous. Hype too, does not make for good photography. Advertising, the king of hype, is a collaborative creation between an agency and a client. It is not usually a product of sincere personal insight. Stylish, hot, cool, slick, trendy and beautiful offer little or nothing else to the experience of a viewer. They offer nothing of reality other than fantasy and diversion from truth. They are usually simplistic and extremely shallow.
Every category of image making is guilty of producing those who follow the trails of others. There are painters who imitate other painters and photographers who echo photographers. There are groups on Flickr and other social media sites, that emulate any number of great image makers. We tend to emulate what we like. In most cases, so did the artists who are followed.
We are attracted to the look and feel, so we copy it and call it our own. While it may seem a form of flattery, it is actually a form of stealing. Not so much from others, but from oneself. It is a robbing of ones own ability to express.
For the newbie, following the lead of others is a way to acquire a useful set of technical skills. Also, in a very basic sense, it is a way to begin the process of seeing photographically. More likely however, it is a way of seeing certain types of subjects as portrayed by their mentors. That kind of seeing may lead to a fairly narrow viewpoint. I believe that at some point, it is more important to find ones own path........