There is a long history of regional music styles influencing one another as musicians adopt, assimilate or incorporate distinctive rhythms, instruments or musical phrases into their own music—a sonic melting pot, if you will. This tradition seems, like most trends, to have accelerated in the Internet age with music lovers and musicians being exposed to a global collection of music on their iPod. Two examples of this phenomenon are Vampire Weekend and Thievery Corporation, both American bands who borrow heavily from a broad range of musical backgrounds to create new songs that are creative, fresh, and most importantly, distinctively their own signature style.
I’ve yet to find the same cultural cross-influences in photography. In fact, most photos around the world share a similar aesthetic and style. In musical traditions, 4:4 timing rules in some circles, while polyrhythms rule others. In photography, it seems, the rule of thirds is a global phenomenon.
Take these three professional photographers’ portfolios, for example. They’re selected from a Google search for portrait photographers in their native lands. While the subject matter reflects their geographic location, it’s difficult to tell whether the photos of Malaysia were taken by a native Malaysian photographer, or a visiting American—something that would be easy to discern from listening to two musical performances.
The similarities exist with amateur photographers as well. Here are three Flicker portfolios. See if you can ascertain their country of origin from the photos alone, without looking at their profiles.
My hope is that in coming years, as many photographers continue to think of their photography as less a representational art form and more of an illustrative in nature, we’ll see these subtle geographical differences manifest in a broader, more diverse landscape of photography. This would benefit professional photographers competing in a global marketplace for images by more clearly showing the distinct cultural and geographical influences that shape an individual photographer’s eye. All photographers would benefit from a richer range of styles to choose from to communicate their artistic intent.