“I think we need to talk,” your “great love” says one day. There is something that’s been worrying me for weeks and I want you to be completely honest with me. Who’s that gorgeous girl in that sunset on your desktop? Are you cheating on me? I thought your love was me, architecture. More than furious, I’m disappointed. But as if that wasn’t enough, how the hell am I supposed to explain to people that you’re into landscapes or gorilla mothers and camels all of a sudden? Yes, I’ve seen you drooling at the zoo the last two weeks. Pervert! I’m done with you once and for all. And here I was so naïve to think I was the one.
Monogamy or polygamy in photography? Should you be loyal to your one muse or experiment with different genres. Recently I asked myself how healthy it is to master one genre or focus on several ones. In order to give you a little more insight as to why I’m offering you this fresh plate of food for thought, I’d like to describe briefly how I discovered my true love.
After I bought my first camera in 2011, I spent roughly two years chasing every passion out there. Architecture, landscape, portrait, macro, animals – I captured them all. These completely different creative endeavors were a lot of fun at first, but after two years I was devastated that I wasn’t able to pour all of my heart and soul into any of them. I was about to give up, but wanted to go out with a bang and started a 365 project on January 1st 2013 that changed my life forever. After the first two months I stumbled upon the love of my life somewhere on the streets of Düsseldorf: Street Photography. Ever since that cold February in 2013 I’ve gone through thick and thin with it, grown to love it from the bottom of my heart and somehow chose the path of monogamy. But is that really better than polygamy in photography, thus pouring your eye, heart and soul into multiple genres?
There are people out there who are only focussing on one specific genre and there are others who aim to master all sorts of genres. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong, because photography is a matter of the heart and whatever makes you happy makes you happy. No matter what it is.
If you have the ambition to become a master of a certain genre, I’d suggest this: once you start out with photography, try all sorts of genres. Ideally, you try them all to find out what fascinates you the most. Maybe you can boil it down to one or two genres that you want to get better at. The fewer the better, because the more focus and time you can spend on a certain genre. It takes quite a while to break through the wall of mediocrity in genres to reach an interpretation and style that sets itself apart from others. If you focus all of your energy and passion on just one genre, you twist and turn it so much that you simply create unique shots. If you divide all your passion on 8 different genres, every genre obviously gets 1/8 of your passion. However, spending your time with 8 different genres also gives you 8 different sources of inspiration for your photography. If you’re passionate, you may even remix these genres with each other and become even more innovative than someone who merely focuses one on.
But what if you also have the ambition to get known for your photography?
In my opinion, in this flood of millions of photographers it’s easier to become famous with one genre than five or eight.
Focussing on one genre certainly takes you quicker to your very own distinct signature, which people remember and sets you apart from others. People rather say “that minimalist architecture guy” than “that landscape, street photography, animals and sunsets dude” as far as I’m concerned. That’s why brands like Unilever and Mars create all sorts of sub-brands. Mars produces the Mars chocolate bar, but also dog food called Pedigree. They both may have the same standard of quality, but are totally different as a product. It’s always easier to associate one product or photography genre with a certain name, than 5-8 different ones. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it isn’t highly probable and certainly demands more cognitive effort for the consumer (read: viewer).
Should you now narrow down all your genres to one or even expand your photography to multiple genres? To be honest, I can’t give you a definite answer to that question. I can only share my experiences and observations throughout my career so far. My personal conclusion is that genre monogamy has worked out well for me so far in photography, but that doesn’t mean that it may be the perfect fit for you. At the end of the day, it’s always your photography driven by your passion that determines your creative journey. Even if scientific research revealed that choosing multiple genres would be more efficient, I wouldn’t change my journey. Although you may calculate certain things in photography, it’s still a matter of the heart and will always be. It has a number of written and unwritten rules, but they are never as important as your own. You are the king or the queen of your own creative kingdom called your photography.
Even though I found my personal answer to this question, I’d love to hear your opinion. Do you only focus on one genre or are you expressing yourself in different ones? Has your strategy helped you or maybe even quite the opposite? I think this is a very interesting, but also essential question for every photographer out there. There’s certainly not a right or wrong answer in general, but probably a right one wrong for your journey. Whether you ambition is to master 10 genres or 1, it doesn’t matter in the end because as long you pour your eye, heart and soul into it, amazing things will always happen.