Let's use the Voice or American Idol as an example. The judges talk all the time about contestants who take a song and make it their own. They're singing another artist's melody and lyrics, but they're doing their own interpretation, making it more interesting and showing off their personal style and abilities.
I look at Clay Blackmore's work and I'm so proud of what he's accomplished. He worked with Monte Zucker for years, but managed to take the best of what he learned from Monte and mix it with the very best of all the great contemporary masters at the time and then "seasoned" it with his own style, making him one of the very best today. He learned from the very best and then incorporated his own techniques. Even more important is the fact that he's never stopped learning and looking for new ways to bring in today's technology.
A long time ago I used the quote above in another post and it got some terrific feedback. Thanks to Cort Anderson, Terry Clark and Donna Keidel, here are some additional thoughts on photographers and the "echo process"!
From Cort Anderson:
I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately as some friends are talking about going back to film and shooting with toy cameras and doing some very abstract work in Photoshop. Even though I have never shot with a toy camera I have a strong "Been there, done that" feeling about what they are doing.
They talk about the experience of shooting with the cameras and shooting film. If I want a film experience I can dig out a 128 mb card to shoot on and wait a week to look at the images. If I want the toy camera look I can slap on my Lens Baby or hit one of a gazillion different Filters/Actions in Photoshop. It feels like I am going against the trend by wanting to take what I do and get better at it. I want to be best at what I shoot and print.
And from Terry Clark:
While these folks are shooting some nice photographs, they look like all the other toy camera images you see and are not nearly as good/creative/unique as the work they do with a DSLR. I feel like they need an intervention or twelve step program to get them back to what they do best.
Style is a way of seeing images, it comes from the heart, soul and eye of an artist. Technique is a way of image treatment. Can a technique alone become a photographer's style? A lot of people are "going back" to film, or in some cases, using film for the first time. The shear essence of film does not make a true style. A bad picture is still a bad picture no matter what medium is used or how many Photoshop actions you throw on top of it.
And from Donna Keidel:
Go Cort.... You can't get better if you don't keep investing in your own style. It's called artistic process for a reason.
There are so many opportunities for you to develop your own style and signature, but it takes work and patience. The key is to learn as much as you possibly can about the craft. Build a strong network. Attend every workshop you possibly can. Watch every video, webinar and read what other photographers are doing. Last on this list, just look at pictures in magazines and on line in galleries. Terry says it best, "...it comes from the heart, soul and eye of an artist."
You've got to be a "sponge" for ever technique and skill set you see. Out of all of that knowledge will come your style, a look and feel in your images that helps make you different and sets your work apart.