The World Doesn’t Need Another Ansel Adams

«Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.» – Oscar Wilde

We all have our heroes. We all have our role models. Be it in arts or in other aspects of life. And that is all fine. The hardest part, though, is to break ties with those heroes. Particularly in arts. To find our own voice takes courage and determination. It takes consciousness and willingness to do those first stumbling steps on our own. Finding your own voice may take some time to develop. But there is no way around it if your want to become true to your own vocation, if you want to become a true artist. It’s just like the child breaking ties with its parents to become a grown-up himself – or herself.

As artists we have all copied others at some point in our creative training. That’s but natural. We learn by copying. One of the great artists may have been the inspiration for our own pursuit of artistic development. And we may have gained momentum by this artist’s vision. But there comes a time to break away. There comes a time to stand on our own, because we don’t want to remain copycats the rest of our lives. That is when your artistic vision starts to develop, and that’s when you start to develop your own artistic style. If you don’t make this initial break, you will always stay in the shadow of your heroes – and nobody will ever care about your arts. No success of any other artist will help you become successful yourself, no matter how good you are at copying their way of seeing, their way of doing and their way of expressing. If you are as good as Ansel Adams doing what he did, no one will ever see anything but his influence on your work – if at all they will cast a glance on your work.

In his book «The Accidental Creative – How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice», the writer and creative consultant Todd Henry opens the last chapter with the title «Cover Bands Don’t Change the World». The same could be said about any arts – our arts. If we don’t free ourselves from our heroes, we will never be able to impact anyone with our arts; in fact it will hardly be worth the term art at all.

Henry continues: «It’s my desire to continue to strive to find my own voice and to weed out all the places where I’m being “cover-bandish”. This can be very tricky because it often means turning down more work than I accept, but my hope is that the original value that I bring to the clients I chose to work with will create raving “fans” who want to continue to work with me and trust me when I develop new products or ideas.»

Back when I started out pursuing a photographic career one of my heroes was Ansel Adams. I thought his black and white landscape pictures spoke directly to my heart. I was very impressed with his way of bringing out details and tones in all parts of the landscape and his dramatic visual language. He inspired me to learn about the Zone System – and needless to say, my pictures started to look very much like his – if far from as good. In my case breaking loose happened by itself, simply because I lost interest in landscape pictures and moved on to other fields. Of course I found other role models, but then I was already more conscious about my own vocation and my own way of seeing.

Last week the blogger Marina Chetner referred to a quote by a bigger than life photographer, which I would like to copy (no pun intended) from her since it’s very relevant to my point:

Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even if it’s clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work. – William Klein.

A little diversion; last month the magazine Wired had an article about 10 photographs one should ignore. One of them was no other than Ansel Adams. The writer Blake Andrews wrote about him: «Adams created some remarkable images and he wrote the book (literally) on photographic technique. Yet on the whole he’s probably done more harm than good for photography. How many young photographers have fussed over which zone to put the shadows in while the light fades and the photo disappears? More importantly, how many perfectly exposed black and white vistas of snow-capped peaks or rivers snaking into the background do we need to see? Yes, nature is majestic. We get it. Saint Ansel showed us, and he did it better than you ever will, so move on already or we’ll score your performance as a negative.» Point made, I should add.

To sum up my point then: The world doesn’t need another Ansel Adams. It needs a genuine you.

120 thoughts on “The World Doesn’t Need Another Ansel Adams

  1. Dear Otto, how nice what you wrote… and how important too… I think the most difficult thing is to be ourselves… You shared such beautiful thoughts and quotes, I agree with you dear Otto, Thank you so much, with my love, nia

  2. I spent a lot of my time in college trying to find “my style”. It was very frustrating. At some point I realized that if I made it, then it’s in “my” style. After that, everything became easier. Excellent read and great points to remember. Thanks!

    1. Style is tricky, because if you consciously try to make it happen, it will not. It will come, though, if you stay true to your heart and vision – and stay patient.

  3. Well put, Otto. I am still trying to learn how to take better photos, that really show how I see the world. I hope I don’t ever stop learning.

    1. Hey Reggie, we never stop learning and don’t ever stop being creative and photographing what you love! The more you practice the better things will get and much easier as well. Just have fun and enjoy every bit of the photography world! I have a friend that she went to the Savannah, Georgia school of arts to major in photography. The last project she did to graduate was amazing!!!! It was herself photographed through a mirror and just what she did was AMAZING! Well, her teacher told her, I think that you should look for another type of art medium, cause you are not meant to be a photographer! I was like, WHAT!.. That ruined her life for many years!! NOW SHE IS GETTING BACK into the photography again, BUT DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU DIFFERENT!!! Always think of this story! Good luck..

      1. It is unfortunate that sometimes schools or art institutes become inhabited by stagnation and people with blinders. Of course it should be the other way around. I am glad your friend were able to break out of the spell of that teacher.

  4. It is so great when the training wheels come off, and we coast along without realizing we’ve found our own voice! As always, great advice. Now if someone will help me find the dragonfly that the wind blew to who-knows-where! I was adding a final detail to a painting! Z

  5. Love the topic…and yes, finding your own vision is a long and sometimes, painstaking process…I remember when i realized that I had finally created my own style, no matter what subject I was shooting, I started to see a definite pattern, a certain reliance on geometry that is germane to my sense of order…lately I’ve been moving outside those lines with a series I called Phantoms…but underneath the lines are still there…I looked at your portfolio where it seems like you play with perspective…enjoying your work and your blog…thanks

    1. Even when you have found you style, it’s not a static characteristic. Whenever you move outside your box you bring you style along and start to develop it further.

  6. The more you work, the more your own style will emerge. It will emerge even faster if you are alert to little quirks that happen along the way and incorporate them into your technique if they please you. What it’s all about is making art that pleases you, not necessarily anybody else. If it makes you happy, it’s your style. If it doesn’t, you haven’t found yourself yet. Solution: keep working.

  7. Wow, I love this post and I’m 100% on it!!! I belive that ” WE” need to create our own style and not be afraid to transend what we see through the lens or any other type of art medium. I don’t agree that is hard to be ourselves at all, I believe that being ourselves is what set’s you apart from the rest! I like Ansel Adams but their are times that I photograph some type of landscape and I turn it into blk/wht and people tell me, wow that is so Ansel Adams, and honestly I get PIST! LOL LOL..Just because I’m not trying to be like him at all!!!! I also believe that you can’t cater to everyone in the world, some will love your images, others will hate it and so on. You stick to what you believe, your style, your compositions, your ideas and you will be so much happier at the end! I respect so may peoples photography that is not my style nor I like, yet that is who they are and that is their creative eye! I don’t need to understand it for me to like it and that goes as well with my work. I shot from the heart, cause I love what I do. I don’t shot for anyone but for me and it along the process people love my work, then I have accomplish my GOAL!!!

    1. As long as with work from our heart, as artists we are good. And yes, when you do so, it will always be some that love your work and some that hate it. We can’t be discourage by the later.

  8. Another great post Otto. We can always admire these great photographers without trying to emulate them. It is enough to be happy with your own work.

  9. Another impressive piece of writing. I recall, 40years ago, being impressed by a number of photographers who were making the headlines on the exhibitions circuit in the UK. I learnt a lot from them, but thankfully I never wanted to ape their styles. When one starts to take images for one’s own pleasure instead of to suit trends, styes or the judges, then one can start to build one’s own approach to image making.

  10. I agree that everyone should have a voice, but I don’t believe that’s everyones voice is meant to create. Some peoples voices are meant to add on to another’s creation. We are not all inventors but we all can play apart in getting them discovered. Yes, it is impossible to reinvent using someone else’s identity but it is possible to show your by trying. I am a man that believes when someone is introduced it takes a team to allow them to be know. “One voice created by many”!!!!

    1. I am not sure if everyone’s voice is meant to be heard. But I think everyone has a creative voice potentially. Some of us just need a spark to get it going – and find that area where our creativity can thrive. I believe everyone will gain from exploring their creative abilities. And yes, you are right, creating together can make a complete different drive.

  11. Wonderful advice. This is a lesson my mother, a professional artist, drove home. We were always taught to find, and march to, the beat of our own drummer. I can’t say at this point, my work really identifies with anyone’s in particular. My photos are of just stuff, but your advice applies to any activity or media, I would think.

  12. Great and inspiring post. If I wouldn’t have a child hanging on my leg right now, I’d be out with my camera.
    Copying someone you admire is a great way to learn, but like you said, there comes a point when you need to break free. At the same time, however, you cannot force your own style either. It has to be a natural process or it will be frustrating, unfulfilling, and most likely not successful. I guess, you just need to let go of your inhibitions and experiment. Go with your gut and pay attention to what attracts you and speaks to you creatively.

    1. Thanks for your points. It is indeed OK to learn from other as it is necessary for your style to find its way through a natural process.

  13. My first band was a covers band … it’s how we learn. It’s a funny egg this creativity … this personal style. In my experience it’s not something that just pops into existence but one that develops over time … almost retrospectively … about the same time people start telling you they could pick one of your works on style (or content) alone. When this happends to me I am on the one hand pleased that the work has come into some life of its own but on the other hand quietly terrified that I’m simply producing the same old stuff … devoid of the creativity that provided the initial spark.

    1. Indeed the constant dilemma of any creative person. When does my style become an obstacle for continues growth? I believe as long as you are actually aware of the possibility I think you are moving on and developing your vision.

  14. Once again Otto, you nailed it! Everyone has a voice as individual as they are and they need to find it and shout it from the rooftops! Ansel was Ansel and his work was and still is amazing. To see someone copy him is much less than amazing. To see something that you have not seen before or has something unique about it is an accomplishment these days. I always feel so relieved after reading your posts! It voices my thoughts of so many years now. Whew, thanks for another great post.

  15. Very well put, Otto.

    I started off trying to photograph perfect images of flowers like other great flower or nature photographers, now I take less-than-perfect images that speak to me or show the role of light in the composition (which is what really interests me). I’m just starting to find my own style.

  16. Loved this one, Otto. You have a way of making all creative activities part of a whole endeavour. Yes, we all need to evolve into our own selves and create our niche in that field to avoid being copy cats or even plagiarists.

  17. >> The hardest part, though, is to break ties with those heroes.

    I totally agree! Each year I take on something new in photography, technique or image editing.

    Professional workshops – Really, if $ wasn’t an issue, there are a lot of wonderful places I’d like to go to to shoot. But then again, how many people have shot the same shot? Hey, I’m not against workshop & can be a good skills building experience.

    1. I wouldn’t worry if somebody has shot the same shot before, because they really haven’t. They didn’t shoot with your vision and you way of seeing things. You will inevitably bring something new into the equation – big or small. Sometime ago I wrote about this: Everything has already been done

  18. A great point, and one that applies not just to photography, but to writing.

    There is no copying true expression. That is its allure. The perfectly formed photos or sculptures or writings of the masters — each beautiful in its own right. Each unique. And yet, I would imagine, each influenced by some other great master. It is in defining the line between influence and imitation, that we can find our own true voice.

    1. There is almost always a fine balance between influence and imitation. I have friends – and colleagues – that don’t want to see work by other artists, afraid it might “ruin” and influence there own vision. On the contrary I think their attitude is limiting themselves. We can all learn from each other, which is not the same as saying we thus imitate one another.

  19. From heroes, to role models and legendary idols, all with their own place in history. Thank you for the reminder that at some point we have to put down the crutches and be brave to take the first step out on our own. At first it’s scary and lots of pain, trembles and tears, but it is this kind of encouragement that helps keep us strong and motivated. Thanks! 🙂

  20. hello, sir otto,

    oh, i suppose most of our learning begin by copying from somebody we think is great or has done way better than most. then, slowly, over the years, we come to terms with our own voice, vision and style. it ain’t easy and we don’t usually recognize the points where we can say for sure we’re making great or original progress in our creations (if it could be called that). but we plow on until we see some light, as they say… the brain recognizes patterns and makes new ones, too. ^^

  21. Very true, I think fashion photography is one of the biggest culprits in this area. Same sort of lighting and poses etc. The important thing to learn is how to understand your camera and light. Get these fundamentals right then you have the tools to express your originality. I think a lot of photographers are afraid to try something different because maybe it goes outside of the ‘norms’ of photographic style and art. I always say, create the pictures that appeal to you, there are 7 billion people on this planet, not everyone will like what you do but you can bet that there will be those who do.

    1. If you start to think what the rest of the world will think, you are on a losing track. The “norm” is an inhibiting criteria.

  22. Bravo! We all need to find our own voice so our soul can sing. Very well written post, Otto. One can apply this to just about any expression of ourselves in our lives. Thank you!

  23. Your point is so well taken, Otto. I’ve actually had a few thoughts myself about Ansel Adams-worship. I appreciate the photographs and adore the beauty, but at the same time I’m not always moved by them. And the bigger point is to “be yourself” without strangling on comparison. It’s certainly true in art, I believe, and it’s true in general. A bit off topic, but I overhear people compare my two little granddaughters and I want to scream! They are nothing alike…and each is unique. The self-talk and doubt will start soon enough, and then we need to spend the next few decades shedding that. I loved this post! You’ve really given a kind, insightful and overall very helpful challenge! Debra

  24. What better encouragement to explore one’s own talent and capabilities? I recently had to remind myself, “Don’t be afraid of the camera.” I sometimes put it up on a pedestal. Imagine!

  25. Great post! With this new era of photography, aesthetics has evolved from older models to our era. We are now living in an age of digital captures and editing works. Photographers such as Ansel Adams or Diane Arbus worked according to their needs and time. Now we have to reinvent their legacy with new tools and cameras to create our special way of seeing the world or in some cases to show our vision. What we never have to forget is that art, in any discipline, should move our souls.

    1. I don’t necessarily think we have to invent a new aesthetic because of new technology. But we do have to push the borders all the time, whether we should old fashion film or contemporary digital.

  26. Eh, I can’t say that I have ever had a hero, in art or anything else… Sad probobly. That bit about not needing another snow capped vista I ALMOST take offence with. Sure, I see their point, but who are they to say what the world needs? If I want to take a photo of something I find interesting, I sure as hell am not going to think about what anyone else is going to say about it! Sure, shots have been done a million times over. So….

    This is my Snow Covered Vista, there are many like it, but this one is mine.

    As far as being yourself goes, good advice. I think it’s fear and uncertainty that holds people hostage. Who cares what anyone else say, just shoot!

    1. I think the writer of the article is only performing his work in accordance with what his heart tells him. Which means that some will get offended by it and some will like it, as has been stated before here. It’s not an absolute truth in any way. Of course you should shoot snow covered vista if that’s what you want. No matter what anyone says.

      1. Yeah, pretty much. I understand. It’s funny though, I was just thinking today that there was so much from these “old pros” I really don’t agree with. Eh, maybe a good topic for a blog post I guess. Thanks again for the thoughtful post!

  27. Otto, glad you shared the quote, as it was shared by someone else before it got to my blog post. You make excellent points here. What is the top photo of/

    Just some musings: I am all for being inspired by photos that I am drawn to – it doesn’t matter who took it, but the more powerful thing is how it comes across to me. Consciously, it is great to experiment with compositions etc that may be inspired by other artists. Ultimately, one’s style is an evolution and I am all for learning from the masters, but not ‘copying’ them. Just as I like this quote about writing, it can be applied to photography, “Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” Annie Proulx (I also believe it is a fine teacher of how ‘not’ to write). Hopefully, I have made some sense here 🙂

    1. As said before, we learn by others before us, and nothing wrong with that. So the quote by Annie Proulx is absolutely relevant – and your comment certainly makes sense. By the way the photo is from a prison in Malawi, it show two prison guards.

    1. As I said to doephotog about the Wired article, one doesn’t have to agree – I certainly don’t when it comes to the comments about Cartier-Bresson. I still think it’s opening up my mind to other ways of seeing and not the least learning about how the world can be perceived beyond my own little view.

  28. Great post and encouragement for all in this generation of art, digital photography and what is to come.


  29. Thank you for this post. Many times before you shared the same thoughts with me in some of your comments on my posts. And every time I replied with the same line “thanks for the indspiration”. Today also I am going to say the same. Thanks for the inspiration. I do not want to create something, which someone else already created. So I always try to work on something unique; it’s the process of giving birth to an idea that is completely new, which I enjoy the most. And your words always give me the vote of confidence in doing so.
    I do not know much about Hitlor in detail as a personality; but his one quote always motivates me; that is- “Every one should be respected, but noone should be idiolized”. I feel it’s so true- at the end of the day, I have to create my own mark on this planet by walking with my own shoes, rather than walking with someone else’s shoes.

    1. Thanks for the inspiring comment. Idolization is the pit bull of the modern entertainment industry. It caters to the empty-headed dreams of their audience. When you talk about walking in your own shoes, I makes me think that it would as a matter of fact be painful to walk in somebody else’s shoes, while copying somebody’s work will actually by easier than doing your own work. The underlying concept still holds true, though.

  30. Oh Otto, this is a brilliant piece! Words of wisdom we should all live by. Sometimes I think we all forget to be the best “us” we can be in our pursuit for…whatever. Thanks for the reminder.

  31. I really do love reading your posts. Bravo Otto. Such wise words. Sometimes we try and emulate the ones we admire and I think that’s fine in order to start buidling a technique and learning but as you say at one point we have to find our own voice. The beauty of creativity is seeing a person’s own interpretation of scene or a moment…their own vision if you will.

  32. Powerful photo stopped me in my tracks and took my breath away.
    I think it is important that an artist find their own voice in photography as well as in life. I’ve noticed that I have been inspired be other peoples work and it encourages me to be couragous and to get out of my comfort zone. There are subjects I love to photograh such a wildlife and sceanic vistas. I’ve recently discovered buildings which I feel the love and joy when I’m taking the picture as I do when I’m looking at a wild animals. I have also found it challenging to get out of my comfort zone in writting about topics that are difficult for me. I am graeful to other artists who inspire me. You inspire me to consider taking photos of people and looking for the emotions. This is definetly out of my comfort zone. As I expolre out of what is comfortable I am Happy and feeling creative. I enjoyed reading this post.:+)

    1. There is hardly anything better than getting out of your comfort zone if you what to develop your creative abilities. So I am happy I am pushing you a bit here.

  33. Great post. Everyone has to be himself in what he does, photography, music, painting… but this is not easy. It means taking risks. It means hard work. It means make experiments and being able to discard most of them. Again, it is not easy. But, specially today’s with so many photos available everywhere it is the way to be unique. At least trying to be almost unique! Personally what I liked in Adams photography was not the technical quality but his interest in the nature which push him to take those photographs. There was a reason behind the photos. Unfortunately for too many followers the interest is just in the technique which brings to very nice photos but without a soul.
    We can see many of these in the amateur photo contests. At least this is my opinion. I’m not so sure “how” to read the wired article, I need to re-read and think about. Robert Frank or Diane Arbus cannot be ignored! Below is a link to an article which includes a comment about “amateur photographers … infected by the Ansel Adams malediction” by Fabiano Busdraghi, I think it is an interesting read.

  34. Blasphemy! ;-> The world should be filled with a billion identical copies of “Clearing Winter Storm.” Oh, wait, it already is. Being color blind, I have a soft spot for black-and-white photos. And film noir. I can see shadow techniques employed brilliantly the same way a million times, and they still thrill me. Clyde Butcher is a friend of mine… he’s the closest thing to Ansel alive today, I think.

  35. Most of us would applaud what you succinctly express. The difficulty is the next stage – finding one’s own voice.

  36. Hi Otto,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this post.
    I do agree with your point of view totally. Perhaps the root of creativity can be found within the various layers of our personality and also through the various way to explore and understand what do we want to achieve. Some might be tempted to document themselves before starting their art (photo/music/painting) and consequently might be influenced directly or indirectly by what they saw/read/listen …It’s totally legitimate but again as you said, we don’t want to see copycat artwork …In short,let’s avoid the copy/paste trend….
    Perhaps another crucial point in being creative is : having fun and give passion in what you are doing and finally being honest with ourselves ….Finally the most important is about not giving up and keep trying ..

  37. Tack! Tack för ditt stöd och din insikt!
    Läste precis din text här ovan och jag ser att du har samma tankegångar som jag, vad beträffar konsten och kreativiteten. Alla, jag säger alla, måste följa sitt hjärta, skapa sin egen identitet och känna en stolthet över sitt arbete …copycats klarar vi oss utan!
    Jag uppskattar dina bilder och texter…du har funnit ditt uttryckssätt och din egenart!
    Du är en själsfrände, tack!

  38. Very insightful and encouraging post. Challenged me to explore the best in me. Thanks for sharing. Also accept my greetings on the occasion of Edward Munch’s The Scream making waves!

  39. I have been at a festival Nordic Light. And when we are sitting and listen to the woulds best photografer. Where we sit to listen to the world’s best photographers. There, they show their pictures and tell their stories. Some are so strong that they get the tears out. The pictures speak louder than words many times. One feels very humble when one hears such compelling stories.
    I think you have to find my voice in the pictures and it’s not that simple.
    Adds the link to the festival, where we have also seen pictures of Ansel Adam.
    Wish you a creativ spring.

    1. Thanks for the sentiment from Nordic Light. I have always wanted to go there, but so far time has not fit me schedule. I hope again for next year. Enjoy what I understand is one of the greatest photo festivals.

  40. As usual, such a wonderful, inspirational post. I guess it’s only human nature that we want to compare our work to someone else’s, but it’s also what usually leads to discouragement and depression when we don’t see the beauty in our own work… Thanks for this reminder!! I can apply it to both my writing and my photography!

  41. Men in dresses, interpreters that fit into the clothes of a nun, a rabbi or a Buddhist monk … When we nicknamed Merlin Nyakam “The Charmer”, it is not only an easy pun to do with his name. This wizard of contemporary African dance performed miracles. And the first of them is. mankind

  42. Super post, Otto. I feel the more you try to emulate someone else, or the work of another, the more you struggle, we have to be ourselves, but use, and admire others work, from a distance.
    I love the Wilde quote.

  43. I love your quote. Oscar Wilde is so brilliant and I often wonder, had he not been put in a prison with hard labour, what it is he could have achieved for the literary world. He was cruelly treated and he didn’t deserve the punishment he was given xx

  44. A talented man with so much wisdom to give. I agree that we should be ourselves at all times. It is easy to conform, to please others before following what we love, to be influence by the latest media fad and there things that may take us away from what is truly important. Wonderful post my friend. Just full of rich insights. Thanks.

  45. Very well put. In this world of mass media over-saturation, it is so easy for young people to become copies of the latest trend-style. Businesses and political ads are about imitating the most successful brand. In this age of the photo-app styles become ubiquitous and content become superfluous.

  46. Love reading your thoughts Otto! I agree wholeheartedly. We should all create and follow our own artistic path. Great image!!

  47. I enjoyed the read, but not sure how I feel about works from various artists that are similar. . . I enjoy it all even if it repeats. You definitely have given me food for thought. So much to consider . . .

  48. Thank you for another great inspiring post Otto. I’m soooo glad you mentioned Ansel Adams by name. Yes he takes good photos, but he’s not the only one who photographed the great outdoors in America, and when I look at his pictures I never feel “moved” it doesn’t seem as if there’s life there, whereas even Elliot Porter’s photos of trees make me want to weep.

    I think the hardest part of taking a good photograph – as in good writing – is to find our own voice. Once we have that and the confidence that we have it, we won’t need words for our photos to show what we’re trying to say. Practice practice practice…..

  49. Your images and insights speak from an amazing place. Thank you. Bringing change to the world is about getting inside those moments. Respectfully, Renee

  50. Loving your thought to the fullest! I’m a big fan of photography, and in the process of becoming a photographer. No exact words or genre that can define my original captures. My personal quotes to describe my own photography works, “Beautiful pictures can only be captured as long as your eyes enjoy what it sees.”- Dina D Kosasih.

  51. Very good point, and a very important one to remember as well. Thanks for sharing your helpful insights. It’s amazing how often new styles are revealed, and how many styles are yet to be discovered. I also would prefer to see something different – even if it is clumsy – it can be very refreshing.

  52. Oh, I love that Oscar Wilde quote! Never heard that. That’s just GREAT.

    And this post. It’s very reaffirming, a reminder to be just yourself – as yes, cover bands don’t change the world. Really good post, Otto.

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