A group of fellow photographers were challenged to pick one photo that illustrated what they believed to be their style. It got me thinking about the topic.
Clearly all visual artists, musicians and writers can develop an identifiable personal style over time with practice and dedication. It's rare or never that we start out with one. As it develops others might recognize it before we are aware of it ourselves. Sometimes it finds the artist rather than vice versa.
Style is an expression of our vision, our personal way of seeing. Usually this is based on a deep and enduring interest, dare I say passion, for something. For me it is the natural world, which I studied and then became a wildlife biologist before pursuing photography as a profession. Style is shaped by our history and culture, our up-bringing, our sense of place, our family and friends and so much more. Developing a style requires that you make something tangible based on your vision. There is no style if it’s only in your head. It comes from the photographer not the subject matter. Style is not simply the "look" of a few images. It becomes apparent across a body of work.
The keyword here is "work". It takes investment and struggle and perseverance and practice pushed along by a strong work ethic. There is no free lunch here. I like Malcolm Galdwell's idea (at least that's who I discovered it from) that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to develop a serious level of expertise in anything. Eventually, given the work and creativity, an artist's style develops, expands, matures and becomes unique. There are no short-cuts.
I'll end this little piece with a quotation from Alain Briot, "Achieving a personal style does not mean creating photographs that are outlandish, that rely on theatrics to be created, or that solely depend on bizarre content to be interesting. Style is relying on solid values and concepts. Style is creating a firm foundation from which you will create your work."