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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Sustainable Prospects – Photographic Voice

What exactly do we mean by a photographic voice?  How do we determine what it is? And how do we find it?

My interpretation of a photographic voice is that it is my style.  It is how I see the world and how it is informed by my experiences and passions. It is what makes me who I am. And bringing all that is me to my photographic practice will enable me to show my photographic voice. A voice that is a defined and recognisable style that is uniquely mine.

“Don’t be swayed by fads or fashion – be true to your own vision. Respect the past and the history of photography.”

– Robin Broadbent (Scott, 2016: 42)

The idea of having an instantly recognisable style fascinates and excites me. The MA has so far been a journey of discovery.  In my time on the course I have seen my style and aesthetic of my work progress and develop.  My work has moved on from the early days of the course. Each day I see my work becoming more and more my own.  My style is developing and I am still learning who I am as a photographer.


Figure 1: Sutherst. Keywords for my Practice. 2017

I decided to write down keywords that I believe my work is about (figure 1). I think visually so chose the method of communicating these words to reflect that. I hope that I am always learning about my photographic voice and that it keeps developing.  In the mean time, my style is becoming clearer. Each time I pick up the camera and work with people, I learn something new. I am not the same person that started the MA.

At times I am my own worst critic.  I suffer with creative doubt and often wonder if I am doing enough to develop. In previous modules I have been very concerned with what other people think about my work and my effort. This module, I am beginning to let go of these negative feelings that are holding me back. And as the Broadbent quotes above puts it, I am starting to be true to myself and my vision.

So where will this journey end? I don’t know the answer to this.  What I do know is that I need to stick with it and take every opportunity that comes my way.  As Arno Minkkinen, a Finnish-American photographer, explained the key to finding our photographic voice is understanding his ‘Helsinki Bus Station Theory’ as discussed in a 2013 article in The Guardian.

“The secret to a creatively fulfilling career lies in understanding the operations of Helsinki’s main bus station. There are two dozen platforms, Minkkinen explains, from each of which several different bus lines depart. Thereafter, for a kilometre or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops. “Each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer,” Minkkinen says. You pick a career direction – maybe you focus on making platinum prints of nudes – and set off. Three stops later, you’ve got a nascent body of work. “You take those three years of work on the nude to [a gallery], and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn.” Penn’s bus, it turns out, was on the same route. Annoyed to have been following someone else’s path, “you hop off the bus, grab a cab… and head straight back to the bus station, looking for another platform”. Three years later, something similar happens. “This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others.” What’s the answer? “It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus”.  A little way farther on, the way Minkkinen tells it, Helsinki’s bus routes diverge, plunging off on idiosyncratic journeys to very different destinations. That’s when the photographer finds a unique “vision”, or – if you’d rather skip the mystificatory art talk – the satisfying sense that he or she is doing their own thing.”

– (Burkeman, 2013)

So, I will continue with the journey to determine my photographic voice.


Burkeman, O. (2013). This column will change your life: Helsinki Bus Station Theory. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2017].

Scott, G. (2016). The essential student guide to professional photography. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

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