Finding style, in fashion & photography [Tess, week five]

Written on July 27, 2011 by in Business savvy, Guest bloggers

This is Tess Pierson, Art Aligned guest blogger, and I’d like to tell you a story.

One of my sisters, let’s call her Sally, and I were attending the same meeting—rather a formal one. She walked in just before it started and took the seat next to mine. I glanced over at her and was horrified. Horrified! I thought ‘oh no, she’s forgotten to put on her skirt—she only has a slip on, OMG she’s going to be so embarrassed when she realizes!’ And then my eyes got all darty. No, no, dear reader, please cast your mind back. In the mid 90’s we had a short lived fad that included short skirts made out of some flimsy silky stuff with a lace edge around the bottom hem, i.e. a skirt that looked precisely like a slip one would wear under a skirt prior to that summer. And yes indeed Geor—I mean Sally!—was wearing one of those things! In broad daylight! A slip skirt!

Turns out she had indeed remembered to put her skirt on.

And let’s spend a moment with jeans. I am short and rather round, and the jeans that I wore for the last decade are the Calvin Klein boot cut medium rise. They look fantastic on me, balancing out the larger middle area with the boot cut at the bottom, and with the medium rise, well, I am short-waisted, so it was a match made for my body. Something happened about two years ago: a new style of jean made its debut. Gone was the boot cut from the stores—gone was the medium rise. Now it’s the skinny jean cut super tight along the leg, making the middle section look even bigger in contrast, and the low rise along with it. It looks terrible on most female bodies. And I see them everywhere. And lest you think I’m above all of this, honestly, don’t kid yourself. I have a pair of skinny jeans, low rise. And I knew before I purchased them that they weren’t for me, but I just had to see for myself how awful it was. It was awful. They lay in a drawer these days, taunting me about self-control. Yes, self-control, because if I had any, I would get rid of 40 pounds so I could wear them. Sigh. And here’s another thing I’ve discovered about fashion that doesn’t suit me: I’m keeping them because if I get rid of them, does that mean I’ve given up ever being skinny again???? I am not even the millionth woman that has asked herself that ridiculous question, and then kept something completely unsuited to her. We have to have dreams after all. Jeez.

What on earth does this have to do with photography you ask? This week we discussed style at Art Aligned, the style of photography that each shooter must settle on for her work. And it’s kind of tricky, just like fashion. Easy to make choices that don’t personally suit us, or are fads. There is all kinds of ‘you absolutely must do this’ and ‘don’t ever ever ever do that’ advice from the photography world at large. Kate went in and clarified and went on to make some more interesting points about style, and how to develop your own.

First, style is not subject matter. Rather, it’s about my vision. My vision for my work, and bringing it to life.  And how I bring my vision to life is my style. Hmm.

Next was don’t run around looking at other people’s work in order to copy it. Be careful with blog stalking as your mind will get filled up with what others are doing and then your good ideas and inspiration are gone, poof.

I’ve been shooting for around 4+ years now, so I’m pretty new at this. And yes of course I have looked at what other photographers in my industry are doing and copied them. Not a specific picture, rather, a post processing technique and poses. Do you remember spot color? About 5 years ago? The B+W with a punch of color in one part of the image? I was in, baby. It was enchanting. For some reason, new seems to equal fascination for a time. I temporarily lost my mind. I LOVED that stuff. It was new and fresh and so surprising. I mean, I was expecting just B+W, but I got this jolt of unexpected color too! As a bonus! Wow! I cannot believe it when I go back to those old photos and I have done spot color on some of them! Quite awful. So yes, I too have fallen for the fad of the moment.  And boy was it hot. Ever notice how those things seem to be connected to a new something or other that Photoshop can now do? It’s not photography really, it’s editing. Editing I tell you. Well, enough reminiscing. Let’s get back to style.

Timeless or ephemeral? Only you can decide for your work... (c) Meagan via Flickr

Style can be understood a little better by asking how questions: How can I bring my vision to life through my choices of medium, composition, lighting, equipment? Or, how am I going to express my vision so that others can understand what it is?

And then lastly, on to motivation, as in what is my motivation for shooting? What is my belief about my environment? What do I think about family? Trees? Animals? And what do I want to shoot that is connected to that motivation? 

Saturated colors... part of your style or a passing fancy? (c) AQ Photography via Flickr

Style is indeed a tricky thing. One person’s style is another person’s humor or shock or dismay. All sorts of styles, all sorts of fads and trends surround us constantly and are as ephemeral as the summer. Fellow photographer Misha Gordin warned about influence when he said, ‘be careful when choosing your teacher. If you have real talent, you might not need one.’ Now, yes I believe I have talent; otherwise I would not be in this field. At the same time, however, I do need teachers to help me grow beyond my own limits, my own ideas, my own small world. So the balancing act of seeking out inspiration and at the same time keeping myself and developing my vision continues. Like I said, it can be tricky.

Textures: trend or timeless? (c) Sean McGrath via Flickr

Extreme retouching: Here today, gone tomorrow, or the new way of the world? (c) Tucia via Flickr

Let’s go back to jeans. I love my midrise boot cut Calvins. I love how they fit and how I can move in them and my butt doesn’t fall out, I love the dark wash, I love the length, I love love love them. They are comfortable, they fit my lifestyle, they look good on my butt, I can wear them for most any occasion I am likely to stumble over, the front pockets are nice and deep, and they have a coin pocket for CF cards. In short, they are perfect for me. I went through many many many types and cuts and lengths and makers of jeans, for years, before settling on those Calvins. Right now I am doing the same thing with my photography style. I am trying on everything to see if it fits, if I like it, if it suits my lifestyle and my personality, is it how I think, do I sigh with relief when I finally get to do that? I know what to look for in a pair of jeans. I narrowed it down over the years. And now I am doing the same with my shooting: noticing things and narrowing it down. I’ll let you know when I have the perfect match, with deep front pockets and a coin pocket for CF cards. 

Bootcut, trouser or skinny: What's your style?

[Editor’s Note: Thanks for sharing your take on this week’s topic, Tess. But just say no to the skinny jeans! I too lack the form for them, and I absolutely refuse to participate. Boot cut or bust! :-)]

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  1. […] inspiration file led easily into week four, the discussion of style. Now style can be rather complicated, it turns out. Who, what, why, where, when, and, most […]

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