Monday, September 10, 2007

Thumb-print

I've been thinking about the "thumb-print" phenomenon in the creative industry and how your work carries a certain sublime signature trademark, recognised instantly by those who know your work.

I've over the years sported a serious of flash-in-the-pan thumb-prints, but mostly I think these were personal trends, discoveries, or simple leanings, that permeated my work at different stages. I have lately noticed a certain amount of similarity, not tangible enough to define, but noticable nonetheless, in my creative work. Especially in portraiture, landscapes and commercial portrait work.

One or 2 of my clients hold their own ideas on my thumb-print, some quite confidently, but I'm not quite convinced yet. Is it something one should pursue? Or should one be neutral, as a commercial photographer, almost askewing thumb-prints to be more commercially adabtable? Even as I'm writing this, I know the answer. One can't ignore your thumb-print or leanings, as these define your work, and ensures you are not a clone of the commercial photography genre as a whole.

One would almost then begin to wonder whether a thumb-print should be actively pursued, or rather left do develop in its own good time? I would think leaving it (if you do the amount of work I do anyways) to develop, as stimulation is more than enough. If you are however a amateur, and don't shoot that often (I shoot up to 5000 - 6000 frames a month), maybe you should spend time shooting to develop. I've been doing photography as a hobby and career collectively for 17 years now, so I've had plenty time to develop skills and be in loads of situations that challenge my creativity.

Another random thought comes to mind, and that is that a thumb-print most certainly isn't just a sum of all your photographic skills, but almost certainly would have roots in your personality and character. Even in commercial work there is room for expression. In fact, you'll be amazed to see the different result photographers come up with with wine bottle pack shots for instance! I am very phlegmatic by nature, but with an earlier history (and still some definite undercurrents) of melancholy temperament. Being phlegmatic helps me tremendously to deal with people in stresssed situations, or just generally helping everyone to chill while we're working, and this has an influence on my work. Even on landscapes. Rather than necessarily try and control the elements I'm much more proned to work with the elements in a shot. My melancholy nature however is the perfectionist that doesn't allow me to just let go, willy nilly, and has often prompted me to re-set up shots because I wasn't entirely satisfied, even if the client would've been. That part of me also allows for technical excellence, and the continual pursuit thereof. All this will show in a collection of images.

Then there is the one thing a lot of gearphiles would love to explore: the influence of the equipment you have. Early on in one's career not having everything at your disposal can aid your style. I for instance only worked with a 24-85mm lens for a long time! Your limitations make you creatively look at other means. The lack of a Pro7IIB pack made me look at off-camera flashes (long before strobist.com emerged), and also hard reflectors. These are just small examples, there are loads more. Today I have loads more equipment (with loads I still need to buy!), but some of those things I learned has stayed with me, and I haven't stopped using. There is a line from a cheesy 80's ninja movie that goes something like this: "Rule of the Ninja: The environment is your friend" alluding to the fact that if you look around, you'll find an answer to your predicament. In this vain of thinking I discovered some great tools:I still think slightly warm/cream coloured walls are the best portrait softboxes around, bean bag weights are unnecessary when you have all your penlight batteries in a plastic bag, a 10 guide number flash is great for lifting shadows in an interior, or plonking it in a lamp-shade with a slave if you hate tungsten casts, sub 80mm lenses make great portraits if you approach the subject right, if it's not wide enough then learn to stich, etc etc.

In closing, I've also adapted a way of thinking that allows the subject to guide me (be it a bottle or a person), whereas lots of photographers have success the other way around. Who knows what this thumb-print is. We can go into the laws of Gestalt, the theories of perception and whatnot, but is it something worth considering as an artist? I think so.

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