The word STYLE derives its current meaning from the Latin word stilus meaning spike used for sketching and writing on clay tablets.
Dictionaries reveal the full definition of style as
- a distinctive manner of expression;
- a distinctive manner or custom of behaving or conducting oneself;
- a particular mode of living;
- a particular manner or technique by which something is done, created, or performed;
- a definition, title... but also „to give (yourself) a name or title even if you do not really deserve it.“
So, what is a style in photography? Why are so many people trying to „have a style“ of their own? And how comes that so many sadly and utterly fail to create such a distinction? Let's try to figure it out.
First off, there is this strong wish to do things differently. Nothing wrong with that, of course, except in photography there are so many others that it is insanely difficult. One's own personal style is only recognized when it is so obviously new that it can't be compared to anything seen before.
From another angle, note that many millions of people are making photos this very moment. Every single photograph is different in aspects like theme, light, subject, location, technical mode, approach, framing, or color.
All of those newly created images describe a moment in some photographer's life. Even if all those people took a picture of the same theme, the results would differ greatly, because our moments are our own! That's why we share them in the first place; trying to compare the known, weigh the obvious, and thus tell each other about the way we see our World. Nothing wrong with that too!
With all those elements that set every author and every picture apart, why style?
The social part of our lives has been created (misformed?) to accent the element of competition, although it is not equally beneficial in all the things we do! A competition is often just a persistent echo of other things in our social interaction; a manner of doing things that has transferred itself even to such fields in our existence where it isn't making much sense.
Not a style... just an effect, available for certain purposes.
To see and comment upon what is seen, that's the core of every art aimed at visual appreciation. Note how our circumstances, education, upbringing, fields of interest, combined with technical aspects of all the cameras in use make every one among us unique! In our own physical, intellectual and spiritual Worlds, we experience everything uniquely, regardless of the fact that we share the same places and times!
Our views and images are presented in electronic or material form, through internet or exhibitions, galleries, newspapers, magazines or television... and we all use fairly common post-processing means to finalize our works before submitting those to the viewers. Thus, one might say that the processes are pretty much standardized. There are only so many technical means, but our views remain unique.
My point is that each image uniqueness is something that can't be repeated, copied nor imitated. There is more than too many factors that set our views, records, and comments apart; quite sufficiently so that our sincere and sensible efforts at presenting our photographic works simply can't be replicated.
Not a style... just something that never occurs in normal life. Also, it is far from being inventive...
Nevertheless, our competitive way of thinking makes us chase after ever more differences, solely for the sake of standing further apart from what we think of as the „crowd“. We keep on forgetting that we already are so unique that there is no other person in the Universe existing in the same photographic or other circumstances! These singular facts of life determine our choice of themes and our approach to those.
Still, there would be one way to achieve one's own style, and one way only. It is born of an effort toward forming a way of seeing things. I do not hint at visual or photographic sight; what I mean is how one understands what one sees. This, and this alone can then change our way of visually commenting upon our themes in such manner that our photographic expression appears recognizably new.
This specially trained quality, sometimes augmented by talent, can be said to contain a potential of a certain style. As it resides in the realm of thinking, this is the central element that sets all photographers apart. And it can be neither copied, mimicked, playacted, nor bought.
Not a style... and nothing new. Also, without any purpose or message. Thus, a creativity flop.
No filters, effects, nor tricks can ever become (or replace) a true style. Effects are not experienced, so such efforts become a visual lie. Whatever is being done to a photograph during PP interventions can't be said to be a style per se, even if the same workflow is constant throughout the whole of a photographer's gallery. Instead it will merely speak of a quixotic battle for an elusive term which it can't replace. A style comes from hard work upon oneself – and that work begins long before the shutter has been pressed.
Those photographers that we perceive as having a real style have been working on their Art Of Seeing, and not only through the viewfinders of their cameras. Their work became special by dint of their souls, and we easily recognise this as a style: an authoring quality of approach to the visual experiencing of the World.
Perhaps you have noted how I avoid to mention cameras, lenses, filters... You are correct then in thinking how tools do not belong to this theme. The best poems can be scratched on the wall by a rusty nail, but even the most expensive pen there is can't guarantee the quality of the expressed thoughts. In every Art there is at least 90% author; whatever the tools the author used, those can't mean more than the rest of the total work produced. And shouldn't the work of art be larger than the sum of components? Of course.
Finally, is it worth having style?
Perhaps... but it is not something worth chasing after, as it will only become more elusive. But it can be raised and developed, like most other worthy things, from talent, sweat and tears.
Not a style. Definitely. Such an effect might be used for special theme and purpose. This example is neither.