I hate it when people bash trends. …but I hate it when people bash anything, really.
When it comes to trends, though, the true colours of people tend to manifest themselves. Trends have a great way of bringing the nonsensical and irrational out of some people. Some people don’t like a popular thing because it is popular in itself. Some people think that hating on something makes them different, unique, special. It makes them feel better about themselves because they aren’t following a crowd.
Some people are fucking idiots.
The topics of positivity vs negativity, internet trolls and misery-loving aside, being a contrarian does not make you cool.
If you’re an asshole about not ‘giving in’ to trends, overtly bashing, judging, shaming and putting other people down – guess what? You’re not unique, you’re not different. You’re an asshole.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the innate desire of wanting to standing out; to be like the quotes and not follow the herd. But stepping on other peoples toes to get there and not seeing the trend waves for what they are is short-sighted and narrow-minded.
/end ranty intro
Everything you love was popular at least once
Mcdonalds and fast food, Netflix and your favourite TV show, Bali and every other hot travel destination in the world.
In fact, art and any creative field relies on the perpetual wave of trend after trend in order for to remain relevant. It’s how it evolves. A quick look at classical art history shows a progression of trends over time, from Renaissance art to Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Modern, Contemporary – these are all macro trends spanning a significant period of time, each with their own micro trends ebbing and flowing throughout that period.
Even in photography we have this sub-relationship of macro and micro categories and movements that sit within the wider scope of what we define as art.
And so, understanding and reading the waves of trends that come through your time is important, as you’re contributing to the wider movement of whatever period you’re going through right now – whether you like it or not.
So hot right now
Although I don’t really like it, I can appreciate why people love the #hypecourts movement that’s going on right now. I tried it once. Didn’t really care for it, but its interesting to see why people like it and what attracts them to it.
Is it because people like @hypebeast? Are they really that much of a taste-maker that they can decide something is cool just by making a sub-account and featuring people? Is there something to this movement on a socialogical level? Do people like hypecourts in general because there’s a big appetite for sport? Is it because most of these shots are aerials that no one has really seen before? Do people generally like the colours associated with popular courts? Do people like the lines, shapes and geometry that comes with it?
It’s questions like this – even though I’m not that big a fan of the movement – that are more interesting than being an contrarian asshole, judging and bashing everyone who hops on the train.
It’s far more useful to take the perceived insights you gain from asking the right questions and getting a pulse on what defines ‘good’ right now. And that might be a very uncomfortable statement for some people.
But here’s why it’s true.
Imagine a landscape photo – a scene of a grand vista with the sun rising over some mountains. Great. Now, throw in a lone, silhouetted figure looking outward towards the scene and suddenly, your image becomes 5x better.
Imagine a scene of windy sand dunes leading to peaks that lie against one another. Now, throw in a woman in a straw hat facing away from you, looking out, and suddenly, your image becomes 10x better.
Desaturated flat-lays of food, a woman in an elaborate bed set up next to a window in a hotel, a red jacket in a moody, grey icelandic landscape, a man-made rock pool in an ocean setting, a skateboarder down a windy road, the surrounding buildings of a dense urban lookup, a hooded figure down a dark alley, a symmetrical sprawl of highways taken top down.
These ‘trends’ are actually a big part of the fabric of our visual language right now. They’re the lexicon that’s relevant today. They’re how you ‘speak’ our visual language, and it pays to expand your vocabulary in any language you pursue.
Of course, I’m not advocating you go out and shoot only those things. What I’m saying is that when people talk about ‘good’ images – where composition is table-stakes (in which different composition techniques in itself was once-upon-a-time a trend – another topic for another article) – the subject and context matter of today matters.
When people talk about art and vision and story, trends are component parts in helping building those ideas for today. When you break the conventions of current trends – when you’re different, and you push yourself and you find something new – you create the visual language components of tomorrow.
This is where the point to which understanding the classics and putting your own spin on them usually results in a strong image – the combination of mostly today, with a little bit of tomorrow. Conversely, the images that really stop you and make you think “damn, this is different” are the ones that have more components of tomorrow, whilst still being grounded in the language of today.
Over time, more and more of those common components of tomorrow get inspired by and used by others, they take off, they become more popular, and then they become trends. If they’re strong enough, the trends then become the fabric of the visual language of that time period; they become the ‘today’ for that time, and thus the cycle continues, forever and ever, as it has since the beginning of art.
That’s the nature of visual language at a micro level, which over time reveals itself to how we will define the macro period in which we’re currently in.
And that’s really how it has always been – in every creative field, in every time period, ever. So next time you see a trend, embrace what it is and see if there’s any value for you in understanding it. If there is, great, apply it to your own images, and integrate it into the lexicon of your own visual language. If not, that’s fine, accept it for what it is and move on.
Eventually, your vocabulary of understanding will grow – and this is one big part of the puzzle that leads you to having better ‘vision’ and to being a better photographer.