Well, here’s a beast of a topic to take on when I’ve not yet had my breakfast! It’s an important question to ask, especially when talking about photography as art. Shooting with originality is the aspiration of every beginner photographer. We all go into it thinking we’re going to create the next amazing piece of art. The piece that’s going to wow the world. The piece that’s going to make us a shit ton of money. But are we shooting with originality anymore? Hasn’t everything already been done?
I first thought about this topic after watching an amazing video some years back – ‘Vemödalen: The Fear That Everything Has Already Been Done’. I’ll let you watch it now before we go on. Turn on the sound, or plug in your head phones. The words are important… (and it’s under 3 minutes long, in case you’re wondering!)
So, in a world of 7 billion, we’re worried we’re repeating and regurgitating the same images as everyone else, right? Never has this repetition been more clear than now, with access to the internet, and apps like Instagram, at our fingertips. Instagram is a great example of a world of copycats all vying for likes and followers as this article shows. Hundreds of similar images of the same or similar scenes. Shot from the same angles, composed, cropped and edited in very similar ways. And yet, if you look closely, they are all different too.
Aside from the obvious details, there is one overriding factor that differentiates every photograph…
Yep. Despite a human’s ability to be inspired by, or to copy a particular image, they cannot escape the fact that they are a different person capturing that image.
And, when it comes to originality, that’s a pretty big deal.
Because, you see, it’s your absolute uniqueness as a human being that makes everything you do, or create, completely different from the person who did it before you.
Take, for example, two sisters. They might have been born in the same hospital, to the same parents, and grew up in the same home, one or two years apart. They might have listened to similar songs on the radio, or to their Dad’s favourite records. They probably wore the same clothes (I know my poor sis used to get all my hand-me-downs seven years after I’d worn them!), read the same books, played the same games and ate the same food. Yet, there will always be subtle differences between them. Whether noticeable or imperceptible to the naked eye, they’re there.
They might like particular songs by the same band, or other bands entirely. They might have different favourite cartoons, books, films, or places to play hide-and-seek. They’ll have individual friends. They’ll have differing tastes in food and drink. Their handwriting will be different. Their mannerisms unique to them.
And, when you put them both in front of the same scene, with the same camera, on the same day, at the same time… they’ll shoot the same shot.
But it won’t be the same.
All their experiences. All their loves, their likes, their desires, their dislikes. All their thoughts and feelings, their emotions, their politics, their motivations and ethics. No two people can ever be identical when you involve all these factors. It is those differences and nuances of character that each person brings to their art. It is what stops anything from being absolutely identical and being utterly unique.
Sure, at first glance, it might LOOK the same. But, when you peel back the surface and look a little deeper to see what’s behind the initial image, you’ll realise there’s more to creating a piece of art. It’s those differences that maintain uniqueness.
Here’s the crux of it. Uniqueness is a different entity to originality.
While you might not immediately think so, if you delve deeper you’ll realise the difference is a very subtle one.
The definition of unique is: “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else”. Original is defined as: “present or existing from the beginning; first or earliest”.
And that’s what it boils down to… who did something first. Which is why shooting with originality may be a tall order, particularly when photography has been around for almost 1000 years. The reality is that whatever we shoot now has been shot before by someone else.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take your own unique image of the same thing… and put your own personal stamp on it.