Andy, from ATMTX Photo Blog, wrote an interesting article addressing the proliferation of photographs and the difficulty of creating something unique. He suggests that some people might experience difficulty in finding ways of creating uniqueness in their work though he refrains from going fully into defining what that might mean other than to write “rare equals unique”. You’ll need to read his article to understand where he’s coming from; but in the context in which it is presented, I do not wish to argue.
I dare say everyone would agree that uniqueness of execution or creative process is not a prerequisite for something to be considered art. Ditto where subject matter is concerned. Uniqueness in art or photography does not come from technique or subject matter but rather from what it represents or symbolises. The purpose of art is not merely to be pretty or decorative or even unique; its purpose as I see it is to awaken, tantalize, shock, confound, enrich, disturb, engross, baffle, question, enrage, uplift, enlighten, dumbfound, anger, illuminate, redefine, educate, remind… the list goes on.
This is not to say that uniqueness, however defined, is unachievable, just that it is, by definition, rare. I am quite certain I have never made an original or unique photograph in terms of technical procedure or genre, and perhaps it’s been a long time since anyone has but does it even matter? I would say, probably not. In any case, none of this is the kind of unique Andy was referring to.
What Andy suggests is that if we are after unique photos in terms of their specialness, in terms of value, then we need look no further than family and friends as our subject matter. Candid photos of family and friends are indeed special, precious and even unique; at least in the sense of Andy’s premise.
One of my regrets as a photographer is that I have little to no ability in this area. I have few photos of my children and of those, even fewer that I would rate as special not only in the sense of capturing their nature or their personalities, but also in a creative sense. On the Web, I have seen the amazing results that can come from parents who know what they are doing in this genre of photography. Some keep it simple and some go to extremes but regardless of their methods, I cannot help but feel rather inadequate. I agree wholeheartedly with Andy in that this is a skill worth mastering even though in my case it keeps eluding me.
Having said that, I do manage to make photos of my children that I like (the rarest of all photos) but they do not generally fall in the socially accepted mold of what is understood to make a family photo. Like the photo above, they often tend to verge on the abstract. They are candid in that they are unplanned but in the process of making them I tend to go beyond just tripping the shutter as in this example where I chose a long exposure to create a double-exposure effect. I did this on purpose and for a specific reason which I don’t need to go into but suffice to say that this photo is of great value to me and quite likely, me alone. And I’m okay with that because each time I make such a photo, I do indeed have something without equal.