Many years ago I had a friend, a girl, and for a time we were very close. Our backgrounds could hardly have been more dissimilar and yet somehow, these experiences had moulded us in a way that, what we had each become, had much in common. As a result, we could talk together for hours and never run out of things to say. And on a deeper level, there was empathy, a kind of mutual understanding that channelled the way we felt about the things we talked about in the same direction. We enjoyed our time together, felt reassured by it, self-justified by it, enriched by it. But there was just one problem.
We both loved music; and the pleasure we each derived from listening to music seemed to be compounded when we listened together; but she would only listen to classical music; and not just that; even her taste in classical music was narrow and specific. Tchaikovsky and Brahms were too superficial for her liking. Beethoven was too melodramatic. Stravinsky, she wouldn’t even discuss! And while she would admit to a nostalgic affection for Bach, having learned to play some of his piano works, she felt that, ultimately, he was repetitive. But on hearing something by Mozart, or Pergolesi or Scarlatti she would melt into rapture.
And that was okay, when I was in the mood for Mozart or Pergolesi or Scarlatti; but there were times when I craved a little Coltrane, or Marvin Gaye, or Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles; and you could imagine how well that went down!
I had always thought that having a broad spectrum of tastes would be a good thing; but the problem with it is that your chances of finding someone, let alone a group of people, with similar or even compatible tastes diminish as the spectrum grows broader.
And you might think that the solution to the dilemma would lie in diversification of your social circles. Instead of looking for one group of friends who share all your tastes, you attach yourself to multiple groups: the Brahms appreciation society and the Beatles fan club, for example. But that doesn’t really work out too well either, because you find that your loyalties become torn between the groups and their sometimes competing demands. Besides, unless you are prepared to commit fully and exclusively to a group’s area of interest, the die-hards in the group never totally accept you as one of them. You always seem to be on the fringe, a hanger-on, someone who couldn’t really be a true devotee of Mozart because he allows himself to be corrupted by jazz.
I’ve encountered this phenomenon in photography too. I sometimes look with envy at those photographers who have developed a style that makes them instantly recognisable in the midst of the throng. Their choice of subjects is often narrow; the techniques they employ have a consistency about them, like a signature; and their explorations of these subjects and techniques are as deep as the style-averse photographers’ explorations are broad. In fact, it’s as though they have found a language whose sounds and inflections resonate within them and they are content to speak exclusively in their language for the rest of their lives; yet they always seem to find something new to say, some new aspect of their chosen theme to explore; and there is a comforting feeling about knowing that when you turn to their work, you will find images that are both familiar and fresh. They don’t disappoint. They don’t “sell out”. They are reliable. They are always there for you.
But I find that I cannot make do with a constant, narrow path. I get bored photographing the same thing again and again. Perhaps this is a manifestation of my artistic shallowness; my unwillingness, or inability, to plumb the absolute depths of a subject and discover its very essence. But the truth of the matter is that I haven’t yet found a theme that is so captivating, so enthralling, so all-consuming that I feel compelled to forsake all others and consecrate myself to its exploration. So, I fear that I am condemned to forever flit from one subject to another like some demented butterfly, with a pathological aversion to categorisation, making no impact, leaving no trace, going everywhere but belonging nowhere; my capriciousness making me seem untrustworthy and insincere; at best, a divertissement in the annals of photography where I had erstwhile dreamed of leaving my mark. This is the curse of the eclectic.