Personal Expression

How does one create unique art in an age when everything has already been photographed? By taking the subject material and making it personal.

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In a way, one could almost consider a camera a little like a portable copy machine. In fact, people sometimes use cameras for exactly that purpose. Sometimes, there’s no good way to fit a large print or some such in a scanner, so the best way to make a digital copy is with a camera.

And with this, it’s so easy, even when creating art with a camera, to simply produce copies. It’s that whole “everything’s already been done” chestnut. If you go to the Grand Canyon to take photographs, then doubtless no matter which vantages you choose, another photographer has already stood in that vantage and taken similar photographs.

Copying — it’s something we don’t even mean to do, most of the time. And it’s something that even extends to the search for inspiration. Have you ever caught yourself browsing images online and thinking to yourself, “oh, I’d really like to make something similar, that looks like fun!” In a way, that’s kind of copying. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from others. That is, after all, one of the most important reasons to share art — to inspire and be inspired by what others produce.

And, too, there’s something to the idea that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It’s not that there is malicious intent behind it. More, when people see something they enjoy, the urge to create something similar but with their own unique twist drives them to create.

That unique twist is the important part. I’d argue that it’s almost impossible to create photographs that haven’t already been taken, these days. If you photograph a flower, even one of an extraordinarily rare variety, chances are, someone else — probably many someones — have already taken photographs of that same type of flower. And if you’ve visited a beautiful place for photographs, doubtless, other photographers have been there before you. By the laws of probability, you’ll end up taking photographs similar to something someone else has already created.

So at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal expression. That really, truly is the only way we can create unique pieces of art. The subjects, the locations, the techniques — these are all things that everyone has access to, and therefore, everyone will use them.

But the one thing no one can replicate is your unique perspective. Your thoughts and feelings. These things are personal and can only be expressed by you. So when you take photographs make them personal. Put your mark on them. Use them to tell the world something about yourself, something about how you think and feel, or something about the way you see the world. Make your art speak of the things you believe. In this day and age, when it’s all been done before, the secret to creating meaning and thus art that resonates widely is to turn inward and show the world something of ourselves.