Great Masters and Their Style


How do we subconsciously avoid imitating the style of great masters?

Answer by: Fawzan Husain, Phojournalist and Educator

To me, a weak mind is more likely to get influenced by the work of others. For argument’s sake, let’s understand why we copy during exams. My simple explanation is this… Either one has not studied the subject well enough, or one is finding it difficult to comprehend the medium. So the easy way out is to copy.

When I am in class, I show works by different masters to my students. I also make a point to inform them about their background, their understanding of the medium, the grit and the years of perseverance involved. I show them the works of Raja Deen Dayal, to Mary Ellen Mark, to Raghubir Singh. It’s a wide spectrum of visuals that spans over different
decades. For instance, Raja Deen Dayal was just after independence; Raghubir Singh’s iconic colour images was when we were shooting black and white film in India; and later on, we saw Mary Ellen Mark’s Falkland Road, which was extremely hard-hitting. They all had different styles. The idea is that one should not be severely inclined to any of this, but to have their own style.

The importance here is to build on the ideas of the masters. Develop new stories. I am going to share with you what Philippe Halsman wrote in his book Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas (1961), “But when imitation means stimulation which develops something that exists and adds to its elements, something that is new and personal, it is the kind of imitation that is responsible for the entire progress of our technology and civilisation.”

If you shoot in a certain way, it may not be obvious in the beginning, but over the years, people will start recognising that as your style. Keep an open mind, shoot the way you want to. I would advise you to learn from the masters, but don’t be heavily influenced by them. Create your own style. It’s easier said than done, but believe me, it will gradually happen.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Better Photography.