In his article On Trends, Jörg Colberg addresses, I believe, a common misunderstanding of what a trend is, that is, why trends exist and how we should use them. In his critique of “following trends”, which he rightly criticizes on a general premise that “following” a trend may bring instant recognition but, not necessarily, deeper meaning, he overlooks a more profound meaning for the phenomena that we call “trends”. What, just exactly, is a trend? It seems that in Colberg’s understanding, it is a sort of flash-in-the-pan, a quick idea which captures the public’s interest, only to be superseded by the next “trend”, like leaves of grass blowing in the wind. A superficial expressions which has only eye-catching value, to be discarded for those “deeper” meanings we all need in order to understand what life is about. It’s like mistaking the icing on the cake for the real need for sugar which lies underneath.
On the contrary, trends are interesting phenomena that emerge from sub-cultures on the fringes of our society, expressing, what we call, social upheavals, or more generally, deep anxieties and insatisfactions that brew on the outskirts of socially cohesive traditions and main-stream conformism.
Colberg, I believe, correctly denounces the “followers” of trends in as much as they simply ride the wave by imitating the formal aspects of the trend. But followers do not fully grasp the reasoning behind the trend nor why it is a socially relevant phenomena. That is why they simply imitate the more obvious connotations of that particular trend, be it a cultural trend of “how” to take or present an image or the more usual trend of a certain color worn in a certain way to declare adherence to a personal value that the trend, in some way, represents. But the question to always ask when a new trend arrises is not what it looks like, but what it represents.
Trends, as I’ve said, emerge from unnoticeable social upheavals that simply happen through the conflict of personal identity with collective identity. It is precisely through these trends, that the main-stream of society changes, adapting itself to new needs. Looking like a hippy was a trend, but the values expressed by the emergence of the hippy movement changed society in the Western world. Whoever simply dressed like a hippy, but didn’t understand the deeper significance, was simply a follower. A kind of fool dressed up to imitate what he or she thought was the essence of the hippy movement: what it looked like. In the same way, many photographers follow trends, thinking to be smart and have a better chance at “success”. Actually, they are only imitating the aesthetic appearance of what others are doing, without understanding the more profound meaning of it all. I think it’s this kind of “trend” that Colberg is speaking about, but I would like to encourage all to look deeper into the real meanings of a trend. That is, why does it appear now? What undeclared anxiety is it responding to?
In this way, not only do you understand the trend in a deeper way, but you might even find yourself agreeing to it’s premise. In that way you are no longer a follower, but a pioneer in a new way of seeing.