Individual style is a sensitive issue for artists. We are told that we must have a voice or an eye that stands out, yet when we finally develop one, some smartass comes along and says, “Oh, that looks just like so-and-so’s work.”
All of us learn how to do what we do by copying those who are bigger, faster and more experienced. I remember hearing Clive James, the Australian writer, talk about how one of his teachers made him write something each week in the style of another writer – Ian Fleming, James Joyce, Mark Twain and so on. James reckoned that this process of near-slavish imitation had been very useful in developing his own voice.
In the words of the 19th-century French painter, Edgar Degas, “the secret is to follow the advice the masters give you in their works while doing something different from them.” Easier said than done.
Near the end of his short life, the fabulous Indian photographer Raghubir Singh published a book called A Way Into India, which consisted entirely of photographs of or photographs made from inside a Hindustan Ambassador car. It’s a major and quirky work, a kind of photographic ode to a piece of metal. [This article was originally published by Scroll.in and can be read there]