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Wednesday, 03 June 2015


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Tricky subject. A cliche picture, maaaybe. A clicheed subject, I don't believe in it. Quickly: name three subjects which have not been photographed many times.

I think the cliche is often more in the brain of the receiver, if he is not able to look with fresh eyes.

All the more reason to look at *pictures* rather than subjects.

One photographer's classic is another's cliché.

It's probably just me... I'm sure it is. But I think discussions about cliches are, well, to borrow a phrase (making it a cliche), "Snore." One important rule I learned early on: "Everything has been photographed." Every thing. There is nothing new to photograph. Be it sunsets or waterfalls or people standing in front of red phone booths. Therefore, everything is a cliche. Every thing. Rather than looking at the THING you are photographing as the holy SUBJECT MATTER, may I so humbly suggest that it is, rather, raw material. Raw material, malleable and plastic, bendable to your own unique vision and approach. Raw material, like a tube of paint waiting to be applied to canvas, a slab of marble awaiting chisel and hammer, a hunk of clay on a potter's wheel hands at the ready, a blank page in a typewriter, fingers poised over the keys. Why do photographers look at the world as if it is predetermined, set in concrete and inflexible? If you go down that list of cliches posted earlier, what else is left to photograph? Nothing. If your approach with your camera to the world, every time you look through the viewfinder, is simply to utter a long list of, "No. Been done before..." you'll end up with a whole bunch of nothing. Nothing. Instead of looking for the 'next big thing' to photograph that's never been photographed before, instead go seek a new and unique way to work that raw material into something that is yours alone. To worry about how your vision compares to others, I believe, is to create your very own dead ends. Don't worry about what is 'cliche,' and instead turn off your brain and see with your eyes when you have camera in hand out in the world. (Turn on your brain later, during editing to be sure.) But I'm sure this is just me (and a couple others I know).

"Besides, the more you photograph something, the more likely the magic lightning is to strike."

Ah, finally, the rationale I needed.

"Take pictures that are personally meaningful to you."
Yes, this is my goal. If I get lucky and other people like my shot too, that's just gravy for me.

I think point 3 could be very dangerous. Obviously it's not just yet another picture of a tourist in front of {insert well-known landmark here} if it's a picture of ME!!! :)

Seriously though, here's an interesting thought experiment. Imagine that tomorrow a deity or alien influence stopped us all taking photographs. We would not somehow be "short" of pictures of sunsets, or Yosemite, or pretty ladies, or any of the other items on your list, would we?

We would, however, sorely miss the ability to capture events, be they personal, sporting, geopolitical or geophysical. And of course, in the personal lists, would be the events of our visits to {insert well-known landmark here}.

So here's an alternative view. It's not a cliche if it has meaning beyond pure representation of subject to at least one person...

Go somewhere where no human has ever been.
Measure light, frame and "clic".

Obsession with anything has never been good for my wallet or my relationships. I think point #3 is all anybody really needs. Trying to make art is a sure way to fail at making art, or so I've heard.

Two of your three suggestions cut towards the core of the issue, Mike. Developing a deep knowledge of your subject and having visual objectives in mind helps to insure that your images are meaningful to you. And that's the only audience the vast majority of camera owners really need to please.

Here's one last thought experiment on this topic. Consider the countless millions of sports event photographs made by professionals each year (each WEEK). The basketball player making the lay-up against grim-faced defenders. The race car rounding a turn. A soccer goal being scored. Every single one of those images is cliché yet news agencies spend millions each year to capture them over and over and over again. Why?

Just take the best pictures that make you happy and fuggettabout "cliché".

Get the clichés out of your system by deliberately going into cliché mode when you approach a new subject. Shoot the obvious image and then make your brain and your eyes work on getting better ones.

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