There is something interesting about photography, something that perhaps you may not have noticed before. And it’s one of those things, just like the perfect composition, that once you see it, you can’t “unsee” it. Have you ever noticed that the overwhelming majority of photographs — almost all, if not all — neatly fit into one of a few niches? We have genres like landscape, abstract, portraiture, urbex photography, nature photography, wildlife, and so on. There are lots and lots of different categories, but when you compare the number of well-known categories to the millions of photographs created each day, it’s actually quite shocking that 99%, if not more of these millions of photographs, can all fit into one of these genres. Really, looking at it another way, it’s actually extraordinarily difficult to find a photograph that doesn’t fit within one or more genres.
Isn’t that interesting? Here we are, all of us attempting to create unique works of art, but yet, all of our works are easily classified along with the works of everyone else.
To my mind, that begs the question, why? Is it because all of the things we can possibly think to feature in our images can easily be placed in one of a few categories? Myself, I don’t have an answer, not really. I suppose that probably, it’s simply easy to sort photographs into broad categories—and the categories are very, very broad. Wildlife photography can encompass one of millions of species, for example. And that’s true of most genres. No matter what you can think to create a photograph of, there is probably an existing, popular niche in which it will fit.
Anyway, all of these thoughts lead me to an idea. Perhaps an exercise we can undertake when we feel the need for more originality. It might be productive to ask yourself if it is possible to create photographs that don’t fit into any genres. I’m quite sure that it must be possible to create such an image. The world is a big place, after all, full of nearly infinite possibilities. At the same time, I can also see where, with genres as broad as they are, it might be nearly impossible to create such an image.
But it’s not so much the creation of a genre-less photograph that interests me as much as the pursuit of such an image. Even if we don’t end up with a photograph that defies categorization, if we focus our efforts toward breaking with convention as much as possible, we should at least be creating something unusual. To my mind, this could be a worthwhile creative experiment, something that we can add to our toolboxes as we learn, grow, and try to approach photography with ever more creative ideas.
And really, at the end of the day, that’s what photography is all about — the quest to push our creatives selves just a little bit farther each time we head out into the field to create a photograph.