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Many people think vision and style are the same. They’re not. What’s the difference? Vision is what you have to say; style is how you say it.

Confusing one for the other or focusing on one and not the other can be disastrous.

Just because your images look different doesn’t mean you’ve said anything or said it well. No matter how dazzling something may look, when style becomes a substitute for vision ultimately the viewer leaves unsatisfied – though they don’t always know why. If you confuse style for vision it confuses your viewers. And when you use a style that’s inappropriate for your vision it distorts the way your work is seen and it’s likely that you’ll be misunderstood.

You don’t have to make your images look different to say meaningful things and say them in your own authentic way. Sometimes less is more. Less style, more vision. Stronger styles make the viewer work harder to see past the surface of an image and find the deeper meaning within it. Strong styles work only if they complement a vision – then both become stronger.

Vision and style are related. Hopefully, vision drives style. Vision gives style meaning and purpose. When style reflects purpose it deepens the whole experience, making statements more deeply felt. Style can create meaningful connections between the subject and the way an image looks and even between multiple images. Subtle shifts in style throughout a body of work and even an artist’s lifetime have the potential to communicate even more meaning.

Style is easy to identify because all you need to do is make formal statements about what you see. You simply describe how the things in an image look. When describing style you focus less on the things you see and more on how they look. You state what your eyes actually see, the visual building blocks of an image not the content those elements are used to represent. To do this well, you need to learn a little vocabulary to formally describe images in ways that others will understand, but there’s an added benefit, learning that vocabulary will help you look more carefully and see more things and relationships between them. Line, shape, volume, color, texture, scale, range, and compositional patterns are the fundamentals; you can make finer distinctions in each of these categories. Some aspects of style describe relationships that are visible between multiple images such as the number of images used, their sequence, its pace and rhythm. Style can be extended to anything you do in a particular way, not your actual practice (she used a camera) but the way you practice it (she always moved in close). The ways you do things communicate your attitudes and so imbues what you make with meaning.

Vision is harder to identify than style. This is where you move from taking pictures of things and start making pictures about things.

It’s part plot; your subject, events that happen to it, actions it takes, reactions, and consequences.

It’s part theme. The theme is the big (or main) idea and subthemes are smaller (or subordinate) related ideas. It’s what the work says about a subject. It’s the overall message and the underlying messages. This is the least literal often least visible aspect of work and it’s often where the most soul can be found.

It’s part you … the patterns you see and create, your relationship to your subject and the images you create of and possibly about it, all the associations and connections you make between it and other things, the things you choose to show and not to show, your emotional reactions to things and events and even their appearances, the reasons why you care and why we should care.

If the style of your images is appropriate it will help us see your vision … in a very particular meaningful way.

You don’t have to figure out your vision or your style before you start making meaningful images. Whether you start with no idea or a good idea, it’s likely that you won’t know the full meaning of your work until you make it. An essential part of the process of creating images is figuring things out. Show your process, not all of it, just the interesting parts, the ones you decide are meaningful. What you finally make doesn’t have to be perfect, finished, or even fully resolved; you just have to do it well enough to create a compelling experience. And to do that, you have to figure out a few things, perhaps only the most important things, about your vision (what you have to say) and style (how you say it). Then make more images and figure out a little more. Keep repeating this process enough times and you’ll find your way, your vision and your style, If you hold nothing back and give it everything you’ve got, you will be amazed by what you discover.

Read more in my Creativity resources.

Learn more in my Creativity workshops.

Revelation XXIV

I create and curate a lot of content on creativity, art, and photography.

Here I’ve collected some invaluable resources for finding, energizing, and deepening your creative vision.

You’ll get a great taste for the content on creativity we offer in our Digital Photo Destinations Workshops.

Seth Resnick @ B&H – Seeing Color & Enhancing Creativity

John Paul Caponigro @ TEDx – You’re Created To Be Creative

John Paul Caponigro @ Google – The Creative Process

John Paul Caponigro @ Austin Talks – Find Your Way

Gregory Heisler highlights the importance of doing things your way.

Gregory Heisler @ Creative Live – Embracing Your Uniqueness

David Duchemin writes soulfully about cultivating your vision.

David DuChemin – Your Next Step : Authentic Work

David Duchemin – Finding Vision ?

David DuChemin – Chasing Photographic Style

David DuChemin – Vision And Voice

Hungry for more? Savor this book.

Thomas Moore’s – Original Self

Want to find out more about my creative process?

Check out my ebook Process.

The big take away? Creativity is an evolving process of discovery. If you simply engage the process with an open mind and a willingness to try new things, you’ll be uplifted by the surprises it holds for you. And, with mindful practice, you can start to influence the courses your creative life takes to make it more likely that you’ll get the results you desire most. Dream, act, fulfill them.

You’ll find more content like this in my newsletter Insights.

Sign up for my newsletter Insights here.

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Shortly after the opening of my new exhibition Land Within Land, Scott David Gordon recently interviewed me for his podcast Austin Talks. He picked up on many of the ideas I shared during my gallery talks … and ran with them.

As he said, “If you are looking for a technical discussion on Photoshop and cameras to choose this is not the one. We had a fairly philosophical conversation about many subjects including defining a mission in life, being present, nature, spirit of place, creativity, play, and how to find your own way as an artist and a human. I love how thoughtful and specific he is with his words and wisdom. It’s no wonder he is a sought-after lecturer and teacher.”

I hope you enjoy our conversation!

Find out more about Scott David Gordon here.

Listen to more Austin Talks here.

“With a staggering eighteen Grammy-Award nominations, Take 6 is the most nominated Gospel, Jazz, Pop or R&B artists in Grammy history.

In the music industry, Take 6 is so universally recognized as simply being the best, that they have virtually owned Downbeat magazines readers poll having won Favorite Jazz Vocal Group 9 consecutive years.

Take 6 has received some of its highest praise from the music industry’s icons. Mega producer and longtime collaborator Quincy Jones, has described Take 6 as The baddest vocal cats on the planet. In their stellar career, they have been honored to perform with numerous music legends including Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, David Foster, Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Denyce Graves, The Yellowjackets and Wynton Marsalis among a host of others. The Take 6 style has also reached todays pop culture. Their musical style and tight harmonies have influenced pop groups from Boyz II Men and Backstreet Boys to *NSYNC.”

Listen to more inspiring performances here.

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Recently, I was leading a workshop in Joshua Tree National Park. We’d come to a place called White Tank for evening light. Perched high on a cliff, I looked down into the surrounding valley and saw a young woman wandering through magnificent boulders and fabulous cacti. She was drifting slowly, almost aimlessly through the scene with her right hand raised in the air – singing. As the sound drifted through the sun drenched evening air, I couldn’t tell if she was singing a children’s song or an African chant. She was utterly unselfconscious and seemed completely absorbed in the moment. Her moment helped me appreciate my own more. I wondered, “Why we don’t all give ourselves more license to sing?” Children do it. Adults often don’t. We compare ourselves to professional singers.We grow self-conscious. We become silent. We forget to sing. What if we spontaneously sang more? Would we come to know our voices better? What if we allowed ourselves become completely absorbed in the moment more frequently? Would we appreciate the passing of each moment more? Would we find ourselves appreciating the things around us more? Why wouldn’t we do these things? Are the reasons we give ourselves for not doing these things as helpful as the reasons we can find for doing them? Why not sing more? What is the truest sound for this moment? Go ahead. Make a noise. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be real.

Find more inspiration in my Creativity Lessons.

Learn more in my Digital Photography Workshops.

Talk To Yourself

September 13, 2010 | Leave a Comment |

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Talk to yourself. Don’t worry, it’s not crazy. We all do it. Speaking your mind can help you become clearer about what’s on it. It’s your choice, whether you decide to speak your mind silently in your head or speak your mind out loud, either alone or under the right circumstances in the presence of others. No one ever has to know how much you talk to yourself; they rarely know how much they talk to themselves. Everyone has an ongoing internal dialog. We see things, we hear things, we feel things, we do things, we react, and all the while we interpret what we’re experiencing. It takes years of training not to do this. Most of the time, we’ve become so accustomed to the familiar voice inside of us that we’re often unaware of what’s being said and who’s saying it. It seems natural to us. That’s just the way it is. But, in reality, that’s the way we are. If we actively listen to ourselves, we become more self-aware and realize we have many more choices available to us.

We may even come to realize that we have many different voices within us – aspects of ourselves that can be seen as being distinct from one another; a child, a warrior, a lover, a dreamer, a scientist, etc.  We can make the life of our inner community richer and more dynamic by encouraging these separate voices to speak in turn and even to speak to each other. Over time we may even discover that each voice has a consistent set of concerns and perspectives and knowing this can help us decide which voice to call on in a given situation. This imaginative exploration can be extremely revealing. We not only come to better understand ourselves and what makes us truly unique, we also come in contact with vast sources of information and understanding that we often leave untapped. The best thing about listening to our selves is that we come to realize we have many more perspectives to draw from and opportunities to choose from than we had previously imagined.

If you really want to learn a lot, put a neutral moderator in charge of these conversations. His or her job is simply to listen and observe non-judgmentally. Nothing shuts down communication faster than criticism. At times your moderator may direct specific questions or make a motion to move on to other subjects. Later, when all is said, you can weigh the evidence, draw conclusions, and make decisions about what’s to be done or not done.

We all want to be heard. When was the last time you wished you had someone to listen to you? When was the last time you listened to yourself?

Go ahead, speak what’s on your mind. Who knows? Other people may want to hear what you have to say.

Find more inspiration in my Creativity Lessons.

Learn more in my Digital Photography Workshops.


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