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Thursday, 04 June 2015


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Like I always say.... Be the water, not the wave!

"Everything has already been photographed."
That's what I say to myself when I'm uninspired.

That "sound barrier" illustration is very apropos for me. Hanging in front of me is a much older (probably taken on film) poster photo of an older aircraft breaking the sound barrier. Between air conditions at the time, film qualities, the differences in quality from film bodies to digital, lighting... the two images are very different. There's stuff to like about each image.

If you don't like airplanes as a subject, chances are neither one will appeal.

- They are all the same.
- They're all the same, but each one is different from every other one.
Smoke (2/12) Movie CLIP - Auggie's Photo Album

I have two observations. I live near the Atlantic Ocean in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. At least three days a week i walk three to four miles on the beach. Even people who live here ask me why I always bring a camera. "After all it's the same stretch of sand, every day." Well, it isn't. Every time I go out the wind and water has rearranged the beach in myriad ways. So yes, I have photographed Ponte Vedra Beach and no, it hasn't been photographed.

The other observation is just a quote from Garry Winogrand that sums up why I photograph. It goes something like "I have a burning desire to see what things look like photographed by me."

If you were not able for some reason to photograph that sunlit field today and so went back tomorrow, you would not, could not, take the same picture. Something will have changed, in the lighting or in the view.

Even if absolutely nothing had changed, you could not take the photo you could have today, because tomorrow you will be in a different frame of mind.

You can take pictures of the same subject day after day, and each photo will be different. Even if you made them to a standard pattern, there will be differences.

Yes, so true. And so well said. Thanks.

While it is fine to generalize that everything has been photographed, what applies to all art in all forms is that we have overharvested the low hanging fruit. There are no more easy things left, one will have to be both creative, and resourceful as time passes. Or, in the case of photography, lucky. A lot of great photos are the result of being in the right place at the right time.While one photographer may have searched for some time for a line of model T's, another may have just been walking, saw the cars and shot.


Other observations on this topic:

Many subjects have not become cliches. Look around.

Remember a few of the photo books by photographers whose work speaks to you. Likely many of their photographs are not cliche at all. And the others are usually taken deeply enough, to Mike's point in the other article.

Excellent post Mike. Coincidentally, I was just eyeing my copy of Alan Watts book and pondering re-reading it. Thanks for the motivation.

P.S. Actually I have already photographed June 6th, 7th and 8th, 2015 but can t show them yet....it was an enlightening experience.

I have two ways of looking this potentially discouraging thought. One is that I photograph stuff that's specific, and from that point of view, hasn't been photographed before. Much as you argued above. It's today and tomorrow, here and now, my family, my town. Generally similar to stuff that's been done, but specifically unique. The other is that even if it has been done before (like Kodak picture spots in Yellowstone), it's never been done by me. And even if it's been done better by 1,000 other people before me and 1,000 more after me, their photos still aren't mine. Mine will remind me of my trip better than theirs will. If I ever get around to going on a safari, I guarantee you my photo of a lion will be far better than anything Andy Biggs has ever taken - not to your eyes, but to mine, because every time I look at it, I'd think "holy cr*p ... I actually SAW that lion !" I guess those are two types of photos - photos that I take as personal memories (the latter) versus photos that I take because I love photography (the former).

I think the answer to this question is yes, but that is not the same as saying every picture that is worth making has been made. And, part of that value judgement is that you took the picture instead of someone else.

I spent some time a few years ago dabbling in astrophotography until it got to be a bit too much of a time and computer sink (I'll get back to it when I don't have to program computers for a living anymore)... this is the definition of an area where almost everything you can capture has already been captured by someone else and they probably also did a better job.

And yet it's still worth doing, because it matters that you happened to capture the photons in your particular camera on your particular night. And not just because that night you might actually catch something new (one night I caught a supernova in a distant galaxy, but did not notice it until I read about it on the Internet). It's still worth doing just because you did it.

The only thing is, you have know how to be realistic and not show the picture to others unless it's actually good.

Here's a shot I like a lot, even though it's pretty bland. All those galaxies.


You can't photograph the same river twice.

However, if you're sufficiently thoughtless, you can produce endless essentially equivalent pictures of that river.

In Zen philosophy, the mindset you describe is called "beginner's mind"--the ability to see something as if for the first time. A jaded mind tends to produce photographs that reflect that mindset: commonplace and boring. A mind that sees the world as full of wonders will produce photographs like Kate Kirkwood's. (Not exactly the same of course, but reflecting a similar sensibility.)


It was probably photographed before.
But I have not photographed it. Its new
to me. And if I'v done it before I might
photograph it again but it will be somehow


How timely! I disagree based on a post from a friend of mine who works for Zeiss. He's just installed a 3D x-ray diffraction microscope at a client and posted some photos on facebook.

Things that are far away from our eye: either the microscopic that we can't see or just far away from our planet -- that's what we haven't photographed.


I'm taking an online class in portraiture. Each week, we look at the work of a famous expert, which leaves me feeling jealous about the people they get to photograph. I'll never get to photograph, say, Christopher Walken.

While I know lots of people with faces as interesting as Christopher Walken's, a portrait of someone I know personally doesn't have the wide appeal of a portrait of someone famous. (Not that I wish to compete with expertly made photographs of Christopher Walken!)

Rather than feel jealous, I think I'll just celebrate the opportunity to photograph people who are important to me and accept that those portraits are for me.

I agree with your point, that we have a blank slate.

I'm now already ending my 3rd year of college. I've been snapping and photographing things of this environment as much as I can. My long term project.

Thanks to this, I can see the evolution of the environment; Which is very relevant socially.
People which were strangers have become close friends, others have parted, and through the series of photos I can see the evolution of things.

Many of these people have candids or have become another element of the composition in my shots. I'm sure that they don't have such shots.

I can tell that it isn't a priority shared by my fellow 20-somethings. They aren't documenting their daily life, or not as I am.
What I'm photographing hasn't been photographed before!

Sometimes I stare into a snapshot and how it just materialized. I've had numerous planned images on my mind that never became, yet others appeared as circumstances settled in front of me.

A friend of mine told me to just let things flow and live the present, move as circumstance arise. More or less it tends to happen and it leads to interesting places (photographically, mentally or physically).

This series of articles since last week are very interesting, pity about my exams that don't let me do more than a quick read!

You are probably right in stating that everything has been photographed, but not everything has been photographed by ME! Until that time comes, I'll keep on a-shootin".

"More unique"? Gah! Where has our Mike gone?

Anyway, other than that I loved the post :) To quote Lou Reed, "The possibilities are endless..."

A wonderfully delightful perspective! Thanks, Mike.

I discussed this subject with friends some time ago and I said jokingly that to be original you have to go extreme or go for shock now. It is not enough to just photograph a beautiful nude. You have to stick a burning candle in someone's rear first. Surely one minute later we found several examples of just that; at least one was from a quite famous photographer.

The universe is said to be unfathomly big. So big that it would take light 13 billion years to get across it (and by the time light made it across, the universe would be bigger still). 13 billion is 13 x 10^9. A light year is approximately 6 x 10^12 miles. So that makes the universe around 8*10^22 miles across. 4.2 x 10^26 feet. 5 x 10^27 inches.
A measly 1024x768 web image at 8 bits RGB allows for
2^18874368 or around 8×10^5681750 possible image variations. If you were to print them and stack them, the stack would stretch from one end of the universe to the other 2x10^5,681,721 times (figuring 100 sheets to the inch).
Even in the likely event that I've messed up the math, I think there's plenty left to photograph. Even if only 1 out of every 10^5,681,721 possible photos is a potential keeper, that still leaves you a stack that traverses the universe. Twice.

Looked at the other way around, you can see the value in thinking this way. [...] That building that was torn down last month was never photographed adequately; go do it now.

What drove this point home for me was when a footpath was closed off shortly after I made one of personal my favorite photos there:


One of the nice things about photographing the urban environment at night, which is my primary focus, is that even if my subject has been photographed to death, it likely hasn't been photographed to death at night. Simply swapping am for pm can do wonders for a photographer seeking a new take on an old subject.

In fact, I'll wager that a lot of my photographs may well be the first photos of these areas to have been taken at night. That doesn't make them any good, of course, but it does go a long way toward refuting the notion that familiarity breeds contempt.

Meh, probably.....but not everything has been photogrammetrically scanned. But the facade from the Xantener catherdral has been scanned. 450 photo's are stitched together into a single 3D pointcloud and mesh containing about 6 million little triangles, fascinating stuf, and I didn't even use my drone (legal reasons). Now it's being turned into a full textured 3D model by a college of mine.

BTW new Ikea furniture will luckily be spared the indignity of being photographed....most photo's in their catalog (in fact 75% in the 2015 run) are allready 100% CGI.....and you could not tell the difference right!


Greets, Ed.

I'm not too worried about everything having been photographed. For the most part, I don't think photographs are as much about the thing in front of the camera as they are about the person behind the camera and his/her way of seeing.

Has Everything Already Been Photographed?

Wrong question. A less discouraging and far more productive question: What can I photograph today that I will not be able to photograph tomorrow".

I think this whole thing is predicated on the modernist idea that originality is the highest value. I don't think anyone was looking over Michelangelo's shoulder and thinking, "Putti are so over done." There is form and there is content. Tomorrow is June 6th, 2015... no one has EVER taken a picture of it. Try to see it with fresh eyes.

Cliché only matters if you have someone to impress. If you're lucky enough to photograph only for your own pleasure, then who cares? I enjoy looking at good photography, but I barely have enough time to take and work with my own photos. How am I going to have time to find all of the already taken pictures to know if I've done something new or not?

Amen, everyone - tomorrow has never been seen, today will never exist again. Besides, what do I care? I shoot because I wanna. My kids, my wife, my life - all worth 15k+ photos a year just to record what is wonderful and beautiful.

There are many pictures, but this one is mine:)

You have fantastic readers, Mike - the community response to posts like this bring truth to the early 80's Omni magazine articles of the new worlds and communities 'cyberspace' was going to give us. Less punk, sure, but more rewarding in many ways than we could have imagined.

Love Alan Watts, but you really should Google Heraclitus.

Somebody probably should write a book about Zen and the Art of Photography. But then, everything's already been written.

As it happens, I probably live within a metaphorical stone's throw of James Weekes, above, here in Ponte Vedra Beach. I don't walk the beach as much as he does, but I walk my dog, Bodhi, every day, always with a camera. It's always the same, it's always different.

Apropos of perhaps nothing, here's this: http://www.zenguide.com/zenmedia/index.cfm?id=303

Honored that you were able to use an isolated, out of context sentence of my comment to expand upon. I don't disagree with anything you wrote in your response; as is true with such statements that can be made on such topics (and I do reiterate that this was a lesson I, and I alone, had learned and not posited as a universal truth - ymmv), the opposite is just as valid. That doesn't alter a bit of what my entire comment had to say - for me (sorry if that's overly obvious, but it seems necessary given what happened last time).

One of my favorite books is on drawing, and I don't draw. I picked it up at a library book sale and shave since bought every book by the author and drove the 12 hour round trip to his garden in Warwick NY. I have also gifted many copies of his book, "The zen of seeing" "seeing drawing" it very much relates to what we do with cameras. Frederick Franck, a world humanitarian and humble artist and author. His garden is Pacem in Terris. http://www.frederickfranck.org

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