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Wednesday, 06 October 2021


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I love Agha's list of bad photos. I've only ever shot most of them. The problem is, what's left to photograph? ;)

I am an amateur but I don't pursue the taste of others nor attempt to second guess them. I just come up with the same clichés all on my own.

This is a most worthhile post, particularly finding the serious but fun M.F. Agha credo. Your post has some timeless, yet for me timely, reminders as I am putting together this evening an exhibit for a local college gallery about authenticity of expression in art and photographs. cliches', imitation and derivation don't mix with authenticity very well. A worthy start for the "new TOP'.

In the same vein, I appreciated your recent highlight of the Bruce Barnbaum book, which I purchased through your link and found very worthwhile.

The new schedule seems to suit you well. This is a great post compelling all of us to trust our own vision over our perception of the visions of others.

Thank you for this, even if the advice to "Dare to be different, Be yourself" presents me with a conundrum best illustrated by the difference in the ways in which Lee Friedlander did both in his shadow self portraits which he publicly shared on one hand, and the work of Vivian Maier who also did both as shown by her mirror self portraits which both she chose not to share.

I've often been told that I'm different but I still haven't learn how to be myself. It seems a lot easier to take Dr. Agha's advice in his Oath and learn how to know which photographs I should take "never again" which gives me permission to take them as many times as is necessary for me to learn the lesson :-)

In my 50+ years of photography my style has been shaped by reading hundreds of picture books and magazines of all kinds but usually of high quality work. I'm not embarrassed to say that includes Nat Geo, although not recently. A friend said once that my work was like Nat Geo photos and I was very proud of that.

This has imprinted many, many images in my mind so that when I see scenes, many times I recall my stored images and the first photos I make will be cliches, imitations (in the flattery sense).

But then I recall the advice of someone to get the cliches out of the way first, then do your own thing. Ringing in my mind are the words, Isolate, simplify! Work out how I can find what really attracts me about the scene and concentrate on that.

And I avoid shooting what everyone else shoots. I'm not a snapper. Many times I don't even bother taking my camera out, and especially not my phone.

I have photographed funerals for families since 2009. It’s liberating because with very few exceptions ( e.g. Koudelka’s Gypsy work) no other photographer has spent much time photographing them so I have no one to copy or compare myself to. Better still, the conditions are often appalling. Often terrible light and I am unable to position myself properly for fear of disturbing the proceedings. The difficult conditions force creativity.

Yeah, man.

In my own area of interest I see day after day that photographers are herd animals.

But probably every great photographer has been a sharp student of past and contemporary work by others.

And it takes time to develop originality, it being hard to loosen a bit the bonds of one’s period and place in history.

Lately I´ve seen those glass globes for sale in ads on Instagram, marketed with saturated pictures of misty morning pastures turned upside down. Every photographer needs one sooner or later, it said. I haven´t needed one yet, but who knows? I might need one in the future. Speaking of clichés and IG, have you noticed the many distant rip-offs of HCB´s puddle jumper? With well shaped ladies in black & white. Kitschy AND cliche´!

I will not take a picture that mimics another photographer’s work.


[That's really funny! And well done. I would have gotten the reference immediately even if you hadn't mentioned imitation. --Mike]

You might find the recent book by Jason Fulford, Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph, published by Aperture, an interesting expansion of the M.F. Agha "Oath." It's both tongue in cheek and serious at the same time. As the author says in the book:
"Rules can be useful, until they aren't. Things are subjective. There are no nos. You could even think of this as a challenging shot list."


This is beautiful, profound and practical advice for artists and I'm with you 100%. But on the other hand, there are markets for clichés and opportunities for people who can produce them, and there's nothing wrong with earning a living or pocket change or getting your jollies that way.

Even for artists, as you say, clichés can be useful benchmarks for acquired skills or techniques (or even as confidence boosters). The flip side of that is that they can be useful challenges to creativity and originality. Or why not combine the two? Copy that cliché, and then break it.

At the end, Agha lazily avoids cliches by not photographing at all. I think the discussion a while back about the "tap on the shoulder" is relevant here. If you see something you want to show others, photograph it. Don't worry about showing how clever or technically proficient you are. Concentrate on how best to reveal the aspects of your subject that appeal to you.


(If you like your eggs larger, click on the photo.)

Dear Mike, with all due respect, for me The Atlas of Beauty (judging from the samples) is a big cliché, very appropriate for this post.

A Google search on "Dare to be different" (in quotes) returns, according to the Google counter, about 5,550,000 entries.

It's hard to be different.

'I will never again photograph plaster casts of Greek statues ...' :

Damn. I just did that. This afternoon. In the Victoria & Albert Museum.

But then - disregarding rules regarding clichés is a form of cliché avoidance. So that's all right then.

(Good post on clichés generally, even if it was written a few years ago.)

I don't know what rock I've been under but I haven't ever come across that Lee Friedlander photo, which is great. It's just the thing I would take myself but now I can't because he already did.

It has taken me a long time to find my personal taste and style. Lots of bad copies of Ansel Adams in my past. Some that aren't horrible. Some you could even call pastiche.

But eventually with lots of images and looking at what I call the usual suspects my own sense of style as a landscape photographer has emerged. I don't really know how much anyone likes it (I get a smattering of likes at various places I upload) I hope that others do enjoy it but it's more important for me that I enjoy it.

I now have a bit of a portfolio at my link and I enjoy when people take a look at it.

If what you like is cliché or derivative, I reckon you’re in a bit of a pickle (I speak firsthand on this predicament, but I try not to get too sour). And then we must consider the trillions of photos taken every millisecond of the day across the ‘globe’; that list by Agha would be exceptionally long these days.

When you are young, photos of crusty old geezers tell the story of the wisdom of age. When you get to geezer age yourself they just tell the story of a man with terrible hygiene.

Kenneth Tanaka: "Pay attention to what you’re putting in that frame, and where you’re putting it. Everything in the frame matters. Forget 'pretty.' Does it communicate what you want to say or depict? Does it record what you want to remember in, say, years to come? That’s the main purpose for using a camera for most of us."

That's the quote of the week for me. :-)

I’ve given up trying to find my own ‘style’. The best thing is just to get on with it.

Kenneth Tanaka wrote in part, So as soon as someone mastered the basics or controlling their camera I would encourage them to concentrate of using it to communicate.

Which takes us back to a TOP post from a few months ago asking why the iPhone camera is so successful ... we use it to make a picture and communicate it to one and all. That is a feature included with all successful "phones" today and without which they would be far less successful.

It's not for me to advise anyone to eschew cliché, but please eschew showing it to me.

I know this is a lost cause, but can I just point out that "cliché" is a noun, and not an adjective?

Pointless, really.


The perfect next click after this article is the Instarepeat account: https://www.instagram.com/insta_repeat/

Virtually everything has been photographed so much in so many ways. No matter what we do, we will find thousands of photographs similar to the one we just took. It reminds me of what a 20th-century composer (William Schuman, I believe) once said to justify atonal music—something to the effect that all the good tunes had already been taken. We all are heirs to a hyper-accelerated culture where once a technique has been used a few times, it becomes a cliché. I think the best solution is to photograph what interests and moves you, in ways that interest and move you. And if what you care most about is being cool and avant-garde, maybe you’re missing the point.

It all depends upon what audience you are shooting for. As a commercial shooter I found the general public wants the cliché stuff and some expect it, and if you don't deliver, well you risk not getting paid. If you are shooting for your own idea of fine art, go for it. How many rock stars do you know? That is probably the number of fine art photographers that get rich for not shooting clichés.

Avoid photographing chewing gum: Eschew Chicle

I am so very tired of people trashing the idea of making images of subjects that are "cliche". First of all...have fun making a life of photography shooting only subjects that can't be considered a cliche. But that is beside the point. The real issue with this approach to critiquing work is that such admonitions freeze the new, aspiring photographer striving to be creative. It places fear-based self-doubt into their path of learning. It weighs heavy on the aspiring young creative mind. This criticism is elitism and is judgemental. It may make the person offering the critique feel powerful and superior but does nothing for the one being offered help. In fact, I claim hounding on the "cliche" as criticism is, in itself, a cliche. Nothing is easier when teaching than to throw that word around as if you are imparting some great inside. As teachers, we must for deeper and further in our analysis if we are to truly help our students.

Cliche subjects are cliches because they are interesting, fun, beautiful, meaningful, etc. I say...shoot the cliches....shoot them all and enjoy the process and learn all you can in doing so. But....and this is a BIG "BUT" and the key point......DO NOT STOP THERE!!!. Make the cliche the beginning of your creative process, not the end! Take it further. Consider the cliche the path, not the destination. Work the idea embodied in the cliche until it becomes unique to you. Make it, in some way (large or small) your own. You will succeed once you've morphed the cliche into something unique to yourself.....even if you're the only one who notices the unique difference you have added. After all, once you've made something truly for and of yourself, you have finally made art.

I believe, that when teaching those new to creative photography, this subtle shift in perspective regarding the cliche is empowering, freedom granting, and enabling. What else can one who strives to teach art do!?!?

That fellow Agha forgot to add ‘a line of shopping carts’.
I fool around with (emphasis on fool) photography. No theme, style, direction or tool (although recently I favor paper negatives). Too technically illiterate to learn how to post a picture on the internet all and sundry are saved from my efforts.

Yup. The requirement is to be innovative.

The same as everyone else.

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