Uniqueness - One of These Things is Not Like The Other

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about uniqueness, as it relates to visual artists - and my own work. As visual artists we need to eventually develop something that makes us different from everyone else. As students, we do all sorts of things in order to develop technical chops, including outright imitation, which is necessary and acceptable. When I was studying music at Berklee, we would transcribe entire big band arrangements (from cassettes!), copying every instrument. We were expected to refine our listening skills to the point at which we could hear each of the 4 or 5 trumpet parts and write them down.

Such an exercise is great for all kinds of reasons, but not for developing one's own style or creativity. Continuing with the musical analogy, writing arrangements that sounded exactly like Billy May may have been of interest to some bands but would not have made me stand out as an artist. Writing arrangements that the audience simply thought were stock arrangements of classics is not the basis for a career. There is nothing unique about the work.

Coming back to the visual arts, and specifically to photography, why would anyone ask me to create photographs for them that looked exactly like a dozen other photographers in a 10 mile radius, as technically perfect as they might be? What differentiates that work from theirs?

It could be that the client knows me. Obviously, networking is important, but it cannot be the only thing. Some would disagree, but every kind of business is different in this regard, and I think the arts, as a business, is always difficult. Given the turmoil that technology has created, that is especially true of photography today. Another reason that they might choose me is that they have heard of me by other means, such as social media. But again, there are many other photographers from which to choose. One could compete with those others on price, but that is a losing strategy that will have the photographer competing with the mall studios. Since those stores offer sittings for from $0 to $20, well, do the math. And then I would say, don't bother.

So if someone is looking for a photographer, or a photographer is looking for clients, why would the client choose photographer A over photographers B, C and D? On the face of that question, the answer is, they might, but not for any reason that is predictable or controllable. A needs to be A+x, where x is what makes him or her unique. Say I am looking for a TV. The store sells 4 models that fit my criteria. 3 are almost identical, aside from the fact that one of those three is a little cheaper. But the other one, number 4, has some unique feature, some ridiculous refresh rate (insert techno yada yada here), and is either the same price as the two others, or is even a little higher. (hint: I bought the more expensive one with the yada yada thing).

What makes your work unique?