The Photographer as an Artist: Pop Star & Rock Star Approach

In this article, I want to discuss a concept of artistry that I have had on my mind for many years, but until now had never had the chance to put it into words. For those who do not know me, my first loves were the theater and choral performance. In both these disciplines, and arguably in most artistic activities, there tend to be two types of people, rock stars and pop stars. I do not mean these terms in a literal sense, but as a means to describe their approach and motivation in artistry. As a photographer, you and I are both artists, and being an artist means we are concerned with our work and develop approaches to how we create and share it.

Photographer as an Artist | Rock Star vs Pop Star Approach

Photographer as an Artist |Two Creative Photography Approaches

Pop Star Approach

First, I will describe popstars, because they tend to be the type of people who consider their artistry not just a passion but a part of their personality. A pop star is focused on keeping up with trends, and in some cases, they become trends themselves and then die out. Think of someone like Justin Bieber, who’s popularity had its peak and then plateaued. Whether they shine bright and fizzle out, or they manage to remain innovative consistently, the pop star photographer is exciting and innovative.

When it comes to photography, let’s consider what that might mean. This person might continuously be looking for new techniques to spice up their photos. For this photographer, something like a typical landscape photograph might be too tame. This photographer wants to combine the natural world and the digital through the lens of the camera. An excellent example of such a photographer is Peter McKinnon, who always manages to create new and exciting content.

Before you think that a pop star is a negative approach to artistry, I want to be clear when I say this is not true. Yes, the pop star is someone concerned with trends, but it does not mean they are devoid of creating great art. Often, sensational hits become hits because of their artistry. Pop stars are suitable for companies who need someone to attract a lot of attention for their business. The pop star is an artist who can draw a lot of interest quickly, but they might struggle to maintain that momentum later on down the line.

The pop star photographer is someone who would most likely strive on something like Instagram. They may not be photojournalists, but they are without a question, great and exciting creators.

Rock Star Approach

The rock star’s approach to artistry is different than the pop star’s approach. Unlike the pop star, the rock star is more focused on creating art that expresses who they are instead of doing something that is considered fashionable. The rock star is not better than the pop star, just focused on different artistic goals.

When I think of rock stars, two main artists come to mind: Neil Diamond and Alan Jackson (a country star, but as I said before, this is not literal). Neil Diamond and Alan Jackson are artists who create consistently thoughtful artistry that speaks to them, and their fan base tends to remain pretty loyal. This is not to say that Mr. Diamond or Mr. Jackson were not tremendously popular at one point or another. Still, they are less concerned about catering to popular opinion and more focused on creating art.

The rock star photographer might be more traditional in their photos or have a specific focus in their photography. This photographer might cater to a particular audience or subject. For instance, photographer Kunihiko Tsuji from Japan specializes in photographing bullet trains. Or the National Geographic photographer Art Wolfe who travels to exotic places and meets exciting people. Although a rock star photographer may not have crazy special effects but has a consistent reputation and audience.

A rock star is someone who’s work remains timeless and is not subject to trends. And a rock star does not get the masses right away like the pop star, but their fans are often life long and loyal. Their weakness might be staying slow and steady, but they shine when it comes to creating artistry that lasts long. Some of the most memorable photographs in some of the most famous publications come from rock star style photographers.

The Long and the Short of It | Photographer as an Artist

In the long run, rock stars and pop stars have something in common: a love of artistry. The pop star is more interested in the bells and whistles; they are the Ferraris to the rock star’s ’65 Mustang, amazing cars with different things that make them appealing. When you go out and create great art through the camera’s lens, think about what you want to say and who you want your art to reach. Remember, there’s no wrong approach to artistry, and you might find you have both a rock star and a pop star inside you.

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Graham Ohayon-O'Shaughnessy

I love to photograph the amazing world around me and tell stories through my work. I currently use a Canon 5D Mark ii and Lightroom CC to edit my shots! I hope that we can grow and learn together!