The Originality Question
This post is a stab at a topic that has preoccupied me for much of my creative life. It is one that I want to finally bury for good and this piece is an attempt to do that. Apologies in advance if it comes across as a little preachy (I really struggled with the editing).
…but is it Original?
The subject of originality is one that occupies all artists including photographers at some point or other in their careers. Some never move past it and spend their entire careers striving to produce something that is truly original. History tells us that such a pursuit only rarely if ever leads anywhere good. The more common result of this approach is a frustrated artist who got stuck so to speak, and therefore failed to reach their full potential.
A certain level of acceptance is a good thing. I have no issue with is the Post Modern idea that everything has already been done and all that is left is arranging the elements in different ways – juxtaposition. Many artists find this concept terrifying and many an existential crisis has been prompted by little more than consideration of this fact.
The Post Modern idea that everything artistic that can be done has been done preceded the digital image explosion by about 50 years give or take so it is not a knee jerk reaction to the sudden ubiquity of photographs. The idea itself surfaced in a time when there were only a tiny fraction of the numbers of photographs in existence when compared with today.
Forgetting the whole art philosophy side of things for a moment and thinking in terms of what we see around us the thought that there really is nothing new is not to much of a stretch. Cameras everywhere and the ease of instant online publishing means that not only is there a photograph of just about everything but also that just about anyone with a computer and a connection can access a photo of just about anything within a matter of seconds.
An onion reflected
The only exception to this is technology based newness, something new with very high speed synch flash for example or maybe a new really elaborate setup that allows the capture of something quirky. Remember the goldfish that seemingly leaped out of their bowls that suddenly appeared on the front page slider of just about every stock photo site? Interesting, technically superb and extremely inventive to say the least but with all of the emotional content and longevity of an already open can of beans.
The bottom line is that, as photographers, we will not change photography by aiming for novelty and originality. This may appear to be a very gloomy assessment but it really isn’t. An acceptance of the fact that there is nothing new frees the photographer up to do his or her own thing as there is simply no point in chasing novelty for its own sake. Acceptance stops the photographer from producing superficial and quirky but ultimately slick work.
A red pepper
As there is now nothing to be gained from skimming the surface hoping to chance onto something new so the only other option is to go deep, for the photographer to look inward to see what really gets their juices flowing. This is much easier to do when the pressure of having to produce something stunningly original is removed from the equation. To put it another way, as artists it is really hard to get past the internal voice that stops us following through with ideas because it deems them unoriginal – unless we understand that said inner voice is completely irrelevant (at least with regard to this specific issue).
Now this is where we come full circle and I appear to totally contradict myself. By going deep as opposed to going broad/superficial we actually stand a chance of producing something original. This is because the deeper we go the more the photograph/series/body of work becomes about us and the more that the work is about the individual the more unique it will be – after all we are all unique. To put it another way, true originality is possible but never when it is articulated as a specific goal.
Scratches and dust
On a different note the photographs don’t really have much to do with this post but are all images that I’ve made over the past week using a camera/strobe setup that is fast becoming my default – it is incredibly cheap, small and capable of producing very high quality work. I will detail it in my next post – which I will hopefully write up tomorrow.
On yet another completely different and very happy note my book The Minimalist Photographer was featured as one of Photo.net’s best ten books of 2013 . To say that I was pleased and excited by this would be a massive understatement! Follow the link to see the very kind write up along with the other nine books that made the cut.
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