Being Influenced but Keeping Your Vision

I find myself heavily influenced by other photographers. Or, at least by their images.

There's a lot of photography that I like and admire. Not so much landscapes or cityscapes, but good documentary and journalism. Artistic street photography and portraiture. Good lifestyle images that bring elements of a story rather than just looking pretty. Images with soul and emotion and connection, regardless of the genre. Those are the type of images I like most, and enjoy looking to see what the photographer has done to make the image work visually.


But that can also so easily make me want to create the same type of image. It’s easier to follow than to lead. (Mostly. In some cases it can take humility to admit that we still need to follow, that we’re still learning, that we still need mentoring, that maybe those other photographers could still teach us a lot if we’re willing to listen).

Maybe it’s no bad thing to be overly influenced by Cartier-Bresson or Salgado, but if you find yourself just trying to imitate their images? This isn’t unusual. I remember an author saying that if he read the work of another author before he started to write, he would naturally write like them. It could be useful as an exercise. To understand a technique or how to create a certain look. But it’s still someone else’s style and vision.

I think the answer is to go deeper. It’s not just the song, or the book or the photograph that should inspire us. Dig a little. Who’s the artist, what are they about. What are they trying to say and why? What’s the story behind the art and what informed their decisions in creating it. Ask them, maybe. It’s not so hard these days.

When I read and enjoyed Gregory Heisler's book '50 portraits', it made me want to go and create my own portraits, in my own way, rather than create images that look like Heisler’s. Because he explains his ideas, his thoughts and the vision that lead him to make those pictures. How he overcame the problems to get to them.


I’ve often said that it’s the process of photography that’s more important to me than the final images. That it’s the experience, the act of photographing and creating that I enjoy more than the possession of the results (with the exception of some precious family memories). So then it makes sense, that it’s the photographers (or musicians, authors, poets...) and their thoughts and vision that should be the inspiration, not just their images themselves.





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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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