We Are Independant, Yet We Are Somehow The Same

Why does so much of our work look so much alike, even when we strive for it to look so different?

Given yesterday’s discussion I had to investigate. In less than 5 minutes last night, for no apparent reason, I was able to find about 20 of my images that look, feel, appear, strangely similar to nearly 20 images in the 2008 PDN Photo Annual. Thus, even in the face of working on new, experimental stuff, we are somehow the same. – click the ‘continue reading’ link to see examples of what I mean after the jump -

Here’s some quick examples – grabbed in just a couple minutes from my collection and compared loosely to other images in the magazine… No Photoshop, just a quick grab of what was easy and near…here’s a handful:

Raymond Meier

Chase Jarvis – shot thru some cascading water just 3 weeks ago in Dubai.

Yours Truly.

Gary Land

Steve Bloom



Will Van Overbeek

and even

Christopher Weidlich

Remember – all these in the same single issue of a magazine.

Chase Jarvis

Joao Canziani

Still the same issue…

And here’s a quickie of two other photogs from the same issue;

Tony Law

Stephen Wilkes

And the list goes on…

Strangely, sadly, beautifully, whatever. As much as we all work to push outside the box, we are all–in so many ways–inextricably tied to one another in our commercial work, our fine art work, our time, our editors, our websites, our contests.

As much as we hate this, we must admit it. Are we all trite? Hacks? Are we all visionless? No. Certainly not. We’re all human, I suppose. As unique and disparate artists as we all are or all at least try to be, there must be some pudding, or at least some social fabric in us all, that is very much the same–whether we like it or not.

[By the way, if this theme is interesting to you, go watch Errol Morris’ documentary film Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control. One of my personal favorites.]

35 Responses to We Are Independant, Yet We Are Somehow The Same

  1. Adam Swords May 29, 2008 at 12:19 am #

    Although the photographs you’ve posted here to bare some similarities, even without the name of the author, it is easy to pick out your shots from the others.

    Just because you pointed the camera at the subject from kinda the same angle, direction, distance, doesn’t mean that your images are any less unique than the others.

    In the past few weeks I’ve learned that it’s about having your own style – not necessarily just in the way you take a photograph either – but if it’s possible to line up a whole bunch of photographs that roughly follow the same brief and be able to have somebody pick out your images for their “look”, then I think you can successfully say mission accomplished.

    At the end of the day, we’re all photographers and inevitably we’re all going to end up shooting the same thing every now and again, but it’s the way we conduct ourselves and approach making pictures that will set us apart.

    As exciting a time as it is to become a photographer, it’s going to mean that many more will be taking the same steps as us.

    But do we just sit back and admit defeat because there’s always bound to be somebody that’s better than us, right? So why bother?

    Because you can’t win the cup if you aint in the race.

  2. Danno May 29, 2008 at 12:36 am #

    All this means is that you need to SUE SUE SUE!!!



  3. claude May 29, 2008 at 1:59 am #

    I agree, it is still easy to pick out yours without seing the names…
    Iguess thats what makes us distinguishable as artists, even if we do the same things, we still each bring a diffrent angle and set of experiences into the game, we don’t see the world the same way (look at the feel in some of the pictures you compare above, yours always seem to have that sort of power, determinism and joy of life thing going on, while others are more pensive, maybe depressive…

    btw, I guess the girl in the pool will be delighted to be compared to an elephant… :-)))

  4. Jay McLaughlin May 29, 2008 at 2:29 am #

    For me the work is all very different, but features some of the same elements. That’s fine. The important thing for me isn’t actually the idea anymore…

    As far as I’m concerned, there are that many people doing photography that anything I think up has been done before by someone, somewhere. Nothing is new.

    The trick to being creative is developing a style and then using your style to shoot that same content in your own way.

    Just my take on it


    PS. Make sure your swimmer doesn’t think you’re comparing her body to that of an elephant!!! ;)

  5. Emile May 29, 2008 at 2:33 am #

    By definition ‘concept’ implies a certain abstraction from the actual implementation of it. Therefore, artists applying a similar (or same) concept 20 times will lead to 20 vastly different results.

    Portraiture might be the ultimate example: its no more then a concept constantly repeated but not exactly leading to similar results is it? (comparing portraits of Platon, Leibovitz, Greenberg, Cartier-Bresson etc). Repetition of concept does not mean that the implementation does not come from within. Hence it still constitutes art.

    Large bodies of work from the great artists of the renaissance constitute the same concept. Namely the depiction of the divine (caravaggio, bernini, michelangelo)

    One might even ask: if a concept is not worth repeating then perhaps it was not worth doing in the first place?

  6. Chase Jarvis May 29, 2008 at 7:33 am #

    Brilliant. I couldn’t be happier with the comments here. Confessions aside, I actually thought I’d lose some of you, but nothin’ doing. In your own words, each of you’ve have (save Danno ;) gravitated exactly toward the point I was leading to…

    While so many of these images ARE similar, and while there are so many similars to all of our images – mine, yours, hers, his – OUT THERE, every image should carry it’s own flavor.

    In this case, I’d join you all in arguing that my images are indeed distinguishable from each image they’re paired with, and moreover identifiable with a common thread. It doesn’t always work out that way, but ideally it should.

    We might some times fail and at other times succeed, but since all the raw building blocks for creating a photo are so similar (models, locations, cameras, lights)–at the risk of losing our photographic or artistic identities–we should always strive to put our personal stamps on everything we create.

  7. Chase Jarvis May 29, 2008 at 7:36 am #

    BTW, Jay, great point in your PS. – FWIW, Sarah has an AMAZING body and I wouldn’t dare suggest otherwise ;)

  8. SMax May 29, 2008 at 7:43 am #

    Well something I didnt see noted was the fact that we all live in the same world. Yes there are endless possibilities and variables, but they are still contained in the same exsistence. I don’t believe it should be read as a comment of unoriginality, but a comment that we (no matter what your background or locale) have more in common then the things that seperate us ( I know very cliche point).

  9. ricklohre May 29, 2008 at 7:55 am #

    Chase, your last two posts really got to me. If I wasn’t still in a different time zone mentally I could probably take a better swing at a comment….here goes anyhow…

    There was a time when I was about ready to just throw in the CF card.

    I saw so many other people “beating me to the punch” or felt after surfing around in the community that I was just “dup’ing others shots.”

    Then my wife grabbed me by the shutter finger and told me to take another look…as we talked we came to the same consensus. While similar, every shot I was comparing mine to were not the same.

    Style, POV, Setting, Lighting, model, location choice etc…those all combined offer a countless set of variables that affect the final shot.

    While your momma might make a mean Gnocchi…it will never be able to be compared to another. Why? Cause you’re momma made it her own special way :)

    Just like our images!

  10. Anonymous May 29, 2008 at 8:50 am #

    I have to say that the examples you have given here proof to me how different we are. Similar subject matters but completely different approches. And as subject matters go you could as easily have used a photo of a sky and compared it to another photo of a sky and say´d these are the same.
    I mean – people and water, underwater, apartment buildings making a pattern, a car from the side, basketball…very common ideas and the examples show excactly how different we are, how different our vision is.

    Snorri Gunnarsson

  11. Trish Snyder May 29, 2008 at 9:13 am #

    I suspect Carl Jung would have something to say about this. Not sure what… but something.

  12. JQ May 29, 2008 at 9:22 am #

    Chase, the only similarities I see here are subject matter. We all have access to the same elemental chart but it is the choices that are made during interpretation that set images apart. I think the key is to remain true to your own personal interpretation or style. You have posted several different images of your own here but they can all be discerned by your style and treatment of the visual despite the differing subject matter. If that wasn’t the case I don’t think you would have clients hiring you and other photographers reading your blog for information as well as inspiration!

    The ones caught inside the box are those that sadly don’t trust in their own style. We all have to learn photography and usually during that discovery we are inspired by certain photographers. I believe emulating someone else’s style can be part of the learning process. However, at some point you’ve got to grow wings and leave the comfort of the nest.

    Yes we are all connected. You and I both share the same web host but because of a difference in style(or flavor) I don’t think people would confuse our imagery.

  13. James May 29, 2008 at 9:25 am #

    Reminds me of all the talks I’ve heard about being your own individual; everyone one of us is unique… yes, let’s all be different — together.

  14. Chase Jarvis May 29, 2008 at 10:06 am #

    @ tall kids: I dunno if you were speaking sarcastically or not, but I’ll take you at your word. We actually should perceive it exactly as you lay it out here. It’s not a melting pot… more of a salad bowl.

  15. Richard Cave May 29, 2008 at 12:15 pm #

    There are plenty of images that look the same. However the artist use of colour,light and emotion are defined by how the artist has used his tools at his disposal. The execution of the idea does not matter, it is how the final output is derived.

    Timing is also crucial, photography is just like fashion it has its seasons and trends. What appears on the catwalk tommorow will appear in JC pennys in a few months later. What is the difference between the two items?

    Cost, quality and timing JC penny is playing catch up constantly with the new wave of ideas.

    Want to be a good artist/photographer is to recognise trends and ride just before the wave. It has its inherent risks you could fall off the board or ride to the beach. A good photographer can ride all the way to the beach. But remember surfers never surf alone and your fellow buddies will be riding alongside producing similar work.

    It is the execution and the willingness to dare oneself to push further is where the challenge lies and that sir is where the talent is.

    There images may be similar but do they have that little creative sparkle that sets them apart from the ordinary.

    The only answer to that is to paddle out farther and catch a bigger wave. Are you willing to do that?

    Ride the wave and never look back as all you will see is the tempest crashing around you.


  16. Scott May 29, 2008 at 3:24 pm #

    Taking off my photographer’s hat and speaking as an engineer, I should point out that much of the world around us repeats itself on many levels.

    Take a quick peak at ‘fractals’ in Wikipedia:


    Note the third paragraph where they talk about aspects of nature that are ‘self-similar’, such as “clouds, mountain ranges, lightning bolts, coastlines, and snow flakes”.

    No matter what level of magnification you look at these objects, they appear similar to other levels of magnification.

    I’m not surprised that some (many) images taken of the world around us appear similar. I think as the volume of work (i.e., the number of photographs) increases, similarities have to happen, as a fundamental requirement of our human nature and of the natural world around us.

    To me, what is far more important is to have an emotional effect upon yourself as you take your photograph and upon your viewer as they look at your photograph.

    We are such visual beings(what other beastie developed colour vision?) that photography is unique it the opportunity it presents as a tool to affect us.

    Hmm. A tad more philosphical than I would have liked, but hopefully I am able to communicate my point (with no pictures!)

  17. rustafarian May 29, 2008 at 8:15 pm #

    wow, this is a really freeing and humble thought. thanks.

  18. Anonymous May 30, 2008 at 1:00 am #

    I was going to email chase a couple of weeks ago to mention Rankin in London had done some shots which reminded me of Chase’s work which was shot from below the talent .
    I look at it this way, everybody will have a different take on the same idea at the end of the day.
    What makes it all different is how we push out our own PR machine to get our work to the right audience and hope it captures a memory for them.

    e.g good lighting and great styling of the shot .

  19. Tony May 30, 2008 at 6:08 am #

    I love the somersault shot!

  20. Dov Viramontes May 30, 2008 at 8:22 am #

    Does this look familiar?



  21. Michael May 30, 2008 at 6:52 pm #

    Actually it’s funny that somebody mentions Rankin. He has a spread in the current issue of 125 Magazine and in the interview he said he wanted to shoot something that did not look like Rankin :). The question becomes if it is really important to have that one unique look/ style vs. being able to re-invent yourself again and again and again and …

  22. kirk tuck May 31, 2008 at 10:23 am #

    Someone above posted “sue, sue, sue”. I don’t get it. Will Van Overbeek’s photo of a person diving into Barton Springs predates Jarvis’s photo by four or five years!!!!!! Should Will be suing Chase. I don’t think so.

  23. Chase Jarvis May 31, 2008 at 10:37 am #

    Kirk – the sue! post above was most certainly tongue in cheek, in line with my notion that nearly everything is a reinvention or appropriation (content speaking) of something else.

  24. shawnpix May 31, 2008 at 11:58 am #

    Hey Chase,

    I think that even with the similarities, it’s the subtle differences that make each photo unique. Everyone is doing something different. Our minds tend to draw connections sometimes even where no connection exists. It’ll try to rationalize the irrational. The great thing though, is that you are seeing that maybe your work has some similarities, and maybe that’ll push you even further to challenge yourself and do something entirely new.

    Also, I have a question. Can you teach me how to do the “>>> CONTINUE READING : FULL POST + COMMENTS” thing? Last time I tried to do it on my blog, I was able to make the link, but it also showed the whole rest of the story on the front page instead of hiding it and saving it for the jump (or link). Any help would be great!

  25. Richard Cave May 31, 2008 at 12:23 pm #

    Shawn pix, me too go on Chase show us, I have the technical ability of a drunk octupus when it comes to blogs


  26. Anonymous June 1, 2008 at 4:06 am #

    The whole “someone else did it,
    so there isn’t any point in you bothering” religion ..
    .. is western in the extreme.

    It DOES NOT MATTER if someone else ran a race,
    YOU win the victory in yourself if you do,
    and YOU don’t if you don’t.

    What happened to the whole
    knowing oneSelf
    pushing oneSelf
    realizing oneSelf
    understanding *worlds* of worth…
    thing we used to value,
    has materialism erased that from our race?
    ( has age-segregation?
    or artificial “education”?
    or is it the boob tube nanny we feed our children’s minds & meanings to? )

    Why set up a straw-opponent anyways,
    with the pushing of that stupid put-down,
    “someone else already done it.”?

    Worse, it is putting someone’s validity down with that straw-man!

    Bizarre, westerners…

  27. Blake B June 9, 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    As most people have already said, everybody has their own approch and style. Personaly I belive it gose beyond that.

    Gather 100 people together and have them all look athe same thing, from the same position and they will all see something different. We all perceive physical reality in a slightly differnt way. Thats what makes us all unique. That’s what gives us our individual approch and style.

  28. Danie Nel June 11, 2008 at 3:20 am #

    I think the term is Thumbprint. I wrote a whole blog entry on it as well. I think a lot of it has to do with Gestalt’s Laws of Perception. Proximity, Similarity, the sum of the elements does not equal the total etc.

    We are hard-wired by training, talent and events in certain ways that makes us prone to doing things sublimely similar in repetition. That’s where Freud kicks in as well. Then there’s Dr Phil which is the concious congnative adaptation part, ie us trying willfully to be different.

    I think it’s wonderful that we have these unique elements. Visual communication is a hugely interesting subject. See my blog entry on my own thumbprint phenomenon:


  29. shawnpix June 18, 2008 at 9:04 am #

    Now it’s happened to me. Yesterday I saw all the photo blogs abuzz with Jason Tozers images of bubbles. It was an idea I had in mind to shoot but haven’t found the free time to do it yet.

    Oh well, what can you do? I think for me the answer is I’m going to shoot it anyway and see what else I can come up with. How I can make it different, better, my own, etc.

  30. dartkanion June 21, 2008 at 9:19 pm #

    It’s all because everyone’s talking about being an unique artist, but face it – photographers are just guys that are lucky enough to make a living from pressing the shutter. Creativity became a meaningless buzzword representing repetitive train of thoughts, forced by the job market and software companies. The real creativity is about filling the void that wants to suck you in; doing something for greater cause – inventing new technology, solving problems and abstract thinking. There’s nothing creative about duplicating the reality in inferior manner. If you want to impress, wait for the virtual reality and create a new world.

  31. K Brown June 23, 2008 at 9:42 pm #

    People look at pottery and say ‘so”? Everything is always round…a pot a bowl a mug, you’ve seen one you’ve seen ‘em all.
    Photography can be seen in much the same way. It’s a :building-girl-dog-car-mountain-mug shot…they always look the same, big deal.
    These are the people who don’t know how to see, and they’re missing so much, they only see the thing, not the meaning, not the feeling, just the thing.
    Look closely at everything, nothing is the same.

  32. vedana.net June 26, 2008 at 12:26 pm #

    True! Here’s a post of mine along the same lines from a little while back. :)


  33. Anonymous October 22, 2008 at 9:55 pm #

    If you view photography as an art, then there is nothing else to say. Styles have always been copied, and in most cases, improved upon. The Greeks took from the Egyptians, the Romans from the Greeks, etc. All artists will eventually deviate from the model style; if not, they are not artists, just forgers. This just shows that you have become an icon of inspiration to others. You are now what most consider to be a “master”, so the next logical step in photography would be becoming a director. That being said, I am just finishing my degree for managing my studio. I do work on the side to help pay the bills. I think it is funny that local established photographers are taking my ideas from what few shoots I have done (e.g. lomo effects, super shallow DOF portraits, chromakey composites, etc).

  34. © Bogdan Nemes December 1, 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    i've been dealing with the same thing myself for a long time – in my desperate tries to get out of the box in my art – build the "perfect alien" form the "perfect foreign world".
    There are 7 billion people on the planet, but the most important thing is that we live in a world where we have the same known universe, with the same elements, and we're trying to combine these elements so that we can make a point, but there's one thing wrong – we're all using the same stuff! And for complete originality you need not to use these elements, and in photography that's kind of hard… It is also kind of hard to fold space and get extra angles, so if you think about it, too many photographers are sticked to the same elements and the same angles (people, buildings, cars, water, mountains, etc.) :) It's very hard to get something original, but getting things to look a little bit different is art! So you need to extend this earthly thinking a little bit further, and maybe one day you'll get the most original work you've ever done….

    (and one year after that you'll see it on several other photographers, but hey… at least you did it first!! :)) )

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