During my recent presentation at the B&H Photo Optic 2016 conference, I spoke briefly about the role of originality in composition. While they are deeply related, I think there are many difficult creative obstacles that can arise if originality becomes your sole focus.
Artists throughout the ages have always had to consider originality and how to somehow embody that in their own work. Yet here we are in a creative field that has existed for over 180 years, and I recently heard that more images are made every day than were made in the first 75 years of photography’s existence.
People have been making lots of photographs for a long time. Making uniquely original images will be incredibly difficult if not impossible depending on how much time you can devote to being in the field. It’s also an easy way to add lots of pressure to an activity that by definition necessitates open mindedness, and an absence of self-criticism and judgement.
Working with that kind of pressure, consciously or subconsciously, is a sure way to inhibit creativity and motivation.
If you study great artists from the past and how they made their work, you’ll learn they weren’t much different from you and I when they got started, and many struggled all their lives with the same voices of fear, insecurity, and doubt we all have. They all traveled the same path that we find ourselves on, and there are no shortcuts.
My experiences in music and photography have taught me that the most important thing to strive for is not originality, but authenticity and sincerity. Originality is a moving target that is elusive and comes from a sustained creative habit that values consistent work. Sure, being original is one of arts highest achievements, but we are equally moved by the authentic voice.
We resonate with those things that we relate to, that move us emotionally. That may or may not be original, but we can feel when an artist is being themselves, in the most vulnerable way.
Don’t try to be original simply to be different. That doesn’t respect or honor your intent or your voice. The tools are there for a purpose – to allow you to say what you want to say effectively and clearly. The end result is what matters, and if convention is what works best for your purposes, then so be it – there is nothing wrong with that.
“Just say what you want to say then, and say it with all of your heart. Share whatever you are driven to share. If it’s authentic enough, believe me – it will feel original.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, The Big Magic
What we need in my opinion, are people more willing to commit to their personal vision, instead of popularity metrics or Flickr likes.
Authenticity is key to that. It provides the path that leads to your own voice, and that is something that will be original because there is only one of you, just as there is only one of me. Take advantage of of your uniqueness and show us what really moves you. That is the only originality you need.