We are constantly advised to look at and study the work of other photographers... take those things we find interesting and use them to inform our work... all well and good but...

After you look at enough "other" work you begin to notice a disturbing pattern... there is a lot of work from a lot of photographers that has the same appearance. The subject matter is different but the visual appearance of the images are strikingly similar. Namely...

... colors are astonishingly well saturated - even the pastels are well saturated, if that makes sense.

... colors often range from mildly exaggerated to unrealistic. Some outdoor photos have grass far greener than has ever been seen, etc.

... the images have a visual smoothness that in many cases borders  on unreality. This is especially true in portraits where the subject's skin takes on a plastic quality. It happens in landscape photography when running water takes on a cloud-like appearance.  

... even in outdoor daylight photographs the lighting often ranges from flat to very flat.

... contrast is often based on color rather than tone.

And it seems that more often than not, photographers are selecting subjects that will fit this new visual paradigm. The problem is that after the initial impact of the visual characteristics of the image wear off, there is nothing else to look at. There is no story there. 

And the other problem is that we are seeing more adherence to this visual modality.

The late 1800's to the early 1900's saw the rise of the pictorial movement in photography (roughly 1880 to 1920). Part of that movement held that photographers should do whatever they could to have their work emulate painting. This approach gave rise to the use of soft focus, intentional exposure manipulation  and a number of darkroom tricks to accomplish that goal.

Group f64 and similar aggregations espoused the idea of "straight" photography through the 1990s but it certainly seems as though we have come full circle. Photoshop in particular gives the budding pictorialist more than enough weapons. 

The only problem is that in adhering to this informal visual standard - which is essentially homogenizing photography - we are defeating one of its supposed tenants... individual expression.

Just something to think about.