The urge to be different

A macro shot of identical looking flower in Singapore cloud forest.
A macro shot of identical looking flower in Singapore cloud forest.

We all urge to be different than the rest of the crowd; an urge that is mainly cultivated by our contemporary lifestyles and social interactions. In our efforts to be perceived differently, we try really hard to lend a distinct personal touch in everything that we do and in the way we portray ourselves in the society.

We have always associated a very distinct style with all the popular artists, and all the popular artists always attribute their success to their distinct style and personal vision. If you follow any successful artist's interview, you'll find that one of the most common advise that they give to the new and upcoming artist is to find their unique style, personal touch and inner voice. In photography, it's almost always about finding your 'vision'; a cliched advise that often leads me, and I assume most others, into a whirlpool of self-doubt and confusion, because my vision is something that seems to have always eluded me.

What exactly is this personal style and inner voice all about? Restricting ourselves to the topic of photography, is personal style all about using a consistent grunge or vintage filter to give all your photos an old-school feel? Or is it getting up-close and personal with an ultra-wide angle? Is it something so shallow as a superficial layering of a some easily-replicable 'technique' that one can achieve with a few clicks in post-processing or a mechanical repetition of some process in the field? And if it something like that, then I feel that this entire concept of inner voice and vision is highly vulnerable to imitations, and hence in the long run will lose its uniqueness sooner or later!

Brands proclaim to be different. Photographers try to assert their unique styles. Singers desire their voice to be different. Sportsperson want to have their unique flair noticed by the audience. We are never happy to be part of the herd. We often deride it with the term 'herd-mentality' and 'average'. We simply want to be different from the rest and continuously strive to be different.

But in reality, very rarely do we feel that we are truly unique. Now, what is it that really stops us from being unique?

Probably, this is the bane of being civilized. Our need to be different may well be unique to our densely populated societies. However, in a stark contrast to our urban tendencies, nature dictates that most animals be perceived as a part of a group, its surrounding and be one with the nature - camouflaged as we call it. Nature urges us not to be different, but to merge and be a part of something bigger. Doing anything contrary would be fraught with dangers. Camouflage protects, being part of something bigger protects.

And it is this protection that we seek that stands in our way of being really unique. It is our reluctance to consistently deviate from the norms and averages that derails our journey on the path of self-realization and finding that unique inner voice. I believe consistently is the key word here. Wanting to be different is a strong desire, but actually being different is not a quick and easy process.

Developing our own unique style is a slow and evolutionary process. It happens as you go through the motions with slow, careful and deliberate actions, consistently doing what you truly feel should be done. It happens when make a photograph by being in the moment - present and sensitive to it - not just by attending.

But remember, being different is not a physical manifestation that can be achieved by a unique combination of color, contrast and composition. Rather, being different is an emotion that can be achieved only by genuinely feeling different. The photographs are just an external manifestation of internal emotions. And it is only when you sincerely listen to your inner voice - the emotions and sentiments that the frame arouses in you - that you will be different.

In fact, when your actions are intrinsically driven you work will be nothing but different. Simply because very rarely a given frame will impress and evoke the same emotions in two different individuals. Well, the resultant photography will not only be different, but also more gratifying that does not seek any external validation.