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Author Topic: The 101 Cliches of Photography  (Read 118844 times)
russell a
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« Reply #20 on: October 23, 2006, 01:10:45 PM »
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In response to alainbriot, let me present a couple of case studies.  I will use my own examples so not to ruffle anyone's feathers (to use a cliche) and to demonstrate that hardly anyone talks more trash about my images than I do.  

One cliche I had not listed yet:   rusting automobiles, other vehicles, farm implements, machinery

Here is my example: http://russarmstrong.com/gallery/Sargasso1/Frontal_Buick_a

And yes, this is a shameless cliche.  I took this along with a great many other shots at a location I call "Sargasso Farm"  (after the Sargasso Sea, an area of the Atlantic ocean where the currents are such that it traps ocean trash, compounded by the constant of matted seaweed).  The former orchard and surrounding areas of Sargasso Farm contained a 50 year accumulation of all the items listed as cliches above and more, intertwined with the increasingly neglected vegetation.  Although this accumulation was not what I considered my "sweet spot" as far as subject matter goes, the appeal to the "universal photographic eye" was too much to resist.  So I had a great time photographing there over several months - different seasons, lens, weather conditions, etc.  I had obtained permission and a signed release from the generous owners and was welcome to come and go at will.  The rusted Buick was a cliche in the viewfinder - I've seen these photos before, but my inclination was to leave no rust unrecorded. (The farm was subsequently cleaned of most of the accumulation.)  A bit of sharpening, a touch of saturation and it makes a quite good looking 24x36" print.  And, wouldn't you know, this has been a best seller in the appropriate venue.  It is still a cliche but there is an audience (nostalgia and cliches are close relatives) who enjoys it, so what the hey.

Case study 2:  http://russarmstrong.com/gallery/FandF/J_E_C_and_C_II_001

This is a shot, on the most elemental level, of my son, his wife, their daughter and my wife.  The photo combines some familiar elements:  the cloud-strewn-sky, interesting pattern in the pipe construction and the sawdust underneath, and the device of denying easy access to a narrative by partially hiding the human activity (Kertez was one of the first that I am aware of using it).  I belong to a photo club and lecture and judge at other clubs (so I know whereof I speak in that regard) and I took this image to one of the sessions with a guest critiquer and got the highly (to me) satisfactory comment "I have no idea what to say about this photo".  So, I subsequently submitted it to one of the annual art photo shows of some prestige (I know: "Compared to What") and received a juror's award.  Because of the stacked nature of the devices I think this photo evades being a cliche.  Obtaining a narrative that is not easily articulated in a frequent goal of mine and a way to help avoid cliche.  (Until such a time as we can list "obscure but curiously attractive" photos as another category.
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kaelaria
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« Reply #21 on: October 23, 2006, 01:27:20 PM »
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See, now this proves everyone's taste is different, along with what they call a cliche.  I like that Buick, and it's something I could see printed and hanging, and people paying for.  The other, just looks like a snapshot to me, nothing I would more than glance at, let alone want to pay for, print or hang (not an insult).

I have not had the opportunity to take any shots of such rusty cars or machinery, and would gladly do so at my first.  I would not at all hesitate and say 'oh gee, I shouldn't take this, I know it's been done before'.  It's just completely irrelavent to me.  If I like it, I'll take it.  If it looks good, I'll print it.  If someday I try to sell something, someone else may buy it.  

Someone else may have taken a similar shot, but you can't print someone else's at will, let alone sell it   I want my own!!
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KSH
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« Reply #22 on: October 23, 2006, 01:29:35 PM »
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One of the essays on this site that I keep returning to is this one: Been there, done that. I think it summarises quite nicely why it is ok to take pictures that may have been done before. At least I felt greatly relieved when I read it.

I know that this 101 is somehow meant to be tongue in cheek, but to me it comes across as aloof and prone to spoil people's fun in taking pictures. I have seen pictures that I felt were clichéd, but I am afraid that trying to avoid perceived cliché will lead to forced results.

Karsten
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alainbriot
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« Reply #23 on: October 23, 2006, 01:50:25 PM »
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The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking
new landscapes but in having new eyes.
- Marcel Proust
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A fine quote most appropriate in the context of this discussion.  

Thank you.
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Alain Briot
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« Reply #24 on: October 23, 2006, 01:54:27 PM »
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I know that this 101 is somehow meant to be tongue in cheek, but to me it comes across as aloof and prone to spoil people's fun in taking pictures. I have seen pictures that I felt were clichéd, but I am afraid that trying to avoid perceived cliché will lead to forced results.
Karsten
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Very true. Starting with cliches before moving to non-cliches is a common approach.  Making this process inappropriate can stiffle the creativity of many upcoming photographers.
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Alain Briot
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russell a
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« Reply #25 on: October 23, 2006, 02:03:38 PM »
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Very true. Starting with cliches before moving to non-cliches is a common approach.  Making this process inappropriate can stiffle the creativity of many upcoming photographers.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=81822\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

That's one school of thought - my experience with current arts education is that it follows what I term the "daycare center" model whereas my education was more of the tough-love model.   If creativity is so easily stiffled how strong can it be?
« Last Edit: October 23, 2006, 04:05:53 PM by russell a » Logged
russell a
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« Reply #26 on: October 23, 2006, 02:10:01 PM »
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I know that this 101 is somehow meant to be tongue in cheek, but to me it comes across as aloof and prone to spoil people's fun in taking pictures. I have seen pictures that I felt were clichéd, but I am afraid that trying to avoid perceived cliché will lead to forced results.

Karsten
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The photographers that I find interesting do not necessarily take pictures for "fun", not that there's anything wrong with that, but the ones I admire were driven and neurotic, bless their hearts.
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kaelaria
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« Reply #27 on: October 23, 2006, 02:16:10 PM »
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It's comes across to me that you think yourself higher than others when it comes to your skill, creativity and technique.  I think that's where you are butting heads with most of us.  We all produce fabolous shots here and there, to ourselves at least.  For many of us this is a hobby, and it's FUN!  Can it make others a living?  Sure!  In fact I wish it made mine!  

But regardless of application of our hobby, most of us are not looking down our noses at others, because certain shots are taken & enjoyed, or we follow a methodology different to some.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2006, 02:16:33 PM by kaelaria » Logged

russell a
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« Reply #28 on: October 23, 2006, 02:59:39 PM »
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It's comes across to me that you think yourself higher than others when it comes to your skill, creativity and technique.  I think that's where you are butting heads with most of us.  We all produce fabolous shots here and there, to ourselves at least.  For many of us this is a hobby, and it's FUN!  Can it make others a living?  Sure!  In fact I wish it made mine! 

But regardless of application of our hobby, most of us are not looking down our noses at others, because certain shots are taken & enjoyed, or we follow a methodology different to some.
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I'm sorry you feel that way.  Basically my objective in launching topics such as this is for entertainment.   If it turns out to be educational, that's even better.  I try to avoid looking down my nose - since doing so comes with the requirement to keep it clean and trimmed.
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mahleu
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« Reply #29 on: October 23, 2006, 03:39:49 PM »
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Back OT

Flower in the barrel of a gun
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« Reply #30 on: October 23, 2006, 04:29:36 PM »
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The photographers that I find interesting do not necessarily take pictures for "fun", not that there's anything wrong with that, but the ones I admire were driven and neurotic, bless their hearts.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=81827\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

This is besides the point because your 101 is not aimed at photographers who are driven and neurotic; the last thing that Diane Arbus ever needed was a 101 of clichés.

Also, your story about "Sargasso Farm" does sound as if you had a lot of fun shooting there. Which is perfectly fine. I can relate very well to what you say about the "appeal to the universal photographic eye", and we all are in danger of producing cliché pictures when we give in to that appeal. But I don't believe that you can avoid it by saying "Don't  take pictures of sunsets because a sunset is a cliché". And I do believe that it does not foster someone's creativity to tell him or her not to take pictures of something. A true master of photography may be able to take a picture of a sunset that speaks to you in an unclichéd way in spite of millions of other photographs?
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howiesmith
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« Reply #31 on: October 23, 2006, 05:50:11 PM »
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Just for fun, I googled on Van Gogh self portraits.  More than one.  I suppose all those after the first were cliches and should not have been done.  Or are there seperate categories for self portrait with hat, without hat, with two ears, one ear?
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russell a
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« Reply #32 on: October 23, 2006, 06:17:32 PM »
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But I don't believe that you can avoid it by saying "Don't  take pictures of sunsets because a sunset is a cliché". And I do believe that it does not foster someone's creativity to tell him or her not to take pictures of something. A true master of photography may be able to take a picture of a sunset that speaks to you in an unclichéd way in spite of millions of other photographs?
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When did I say not to take a picture of x or y?  In fact, what I am suggesting, and now saying, is that the existence of numerous examples of photos that exhibit the same or undifferentiatedly similar subject/treatment, makes it more difficult for a photographer to create another photo that  does differentiate itself from the historical record.  I acknowldege that there are many photographers, from hobbyists to professionals, for whom this distinction does not matter.  For those for whom differentiation is a goal, the historical record - increasingly available at a click on the internet - becomes more crowded each day with individuals who have captured images that one might have preferred were one's own exclusive domain.  So while it is still possible, differentiation becomes increasingly difficult - indeed, to the point that it may be rational to question if such a quest is a reasonable goal.
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Dale_Cotton
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« Reply #33 on: October 23, 2006, 06:24:46 PM »
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The underlying problem here is that we have a state of the art created by tens or hundreds of thousands of avid photographers. Da Vinci and Rembrandt didn't have to contend with that kind of competition or that sort of status quo. Vermeer died a pauper with maybe a dozen other painters in competition with him for the next commission in a bustling town of thousands of noveau riche. Fast forward to century 21 - there are 6.5 billion people on the planet and counting. Any given medium of expression is going to go rapidly saturated - all possible permutations are going to be thoroughly exploited in the time it takes Mr. Jones to pop into the loo.

Not convinced? Look at the history of art/serious painting and music from 1850 to 1950. (And were there even a single billion humans alive back then?) Like a supernova star exhausting its supply of easy hydrogen or a capitalist economy running out of exploitable fuel, ever more exotic and expensive sources of combustion are going to be systematically tapped, exhausted, and abandoned. Painting went from classical realism, to Impressionism, to Cubism and Fauvism, to Dadaism, to Expressionism, to abstract in an ever-quickening chain-reaction (with a dash of Neo-Primitivism thrown in just for a change of pace). Art music went from neo-Mozart to the Romantics to the Impressionists to the atonalists to the arhythmic atonalists in the same span of time. Once the god of Individual Expression, the supremacy of the Ego, was set up for worship everything else followed in an inevitable progression.

The situation in art photography as (I assume) practiced by the majority of people perusing this forum is even more dire. The constraints - essentially those established by the f/64 movement nearly a century ago - are extreme. Tight realism, a very narrow window of permissible self-expression, is demanded. Subject matter is restricted to naturally occurring events - and for many these must be further limited to Mother-Nature-only events.

So - yep! - it has all been done before ... yet, the only time any of this becomes an issue is when your ego swells sufficiently that it takes you into King of the Hill territory (and I plead guilty here). In that case you can either:

- Wait for a new technology to open up a brief window of new possibilities (handheld 35mm after a century of view cameras on a tripod)

- Or you can think in terms of working in a tradition instead of breaking ever-new ground (century after century of the tradition of the classical Indian raga passed on from master to student)

- Or you can follow your star so relentlessly for such a length of time that it leads you into still uncharted ground (Diane Arbus, for sure).

... None of which is meant as a knock on Russell's delightful 101 clichés. My point is that those of you who feel backed up against the wall by that ever-growing list need only whistle any one of several different tunes to resume strolling down the street at ease in the land of ItsBeenDoneBefore.
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russell a
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« Reply #34 on: October 23, 2006, 06:33:24 PM »
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Just for fun, I googled on Van Gogh self portraits.  More than one.  I suppose all those after the first were cliches and should not have been done.  Or are there seperate categories for self portrait with hat, without hat, with two ears, one ear?
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Generally one doesn't refer to subsequent instances of an artist's work that share stylistic commonalities as a cliche.  However, one could argue that works that seek to capitalize on the market success of earlier work and whose instances do not contribute novel elements to the oeuvre constitute cliches of one's own work.  Examples that come to mind are deChirico (who, late in his career, started faking examples of an [a href=\"http://www.artchive.com/artchive/d/de_chirico/conquest.jpg]earlier style[/url] of his that had become popular), Warhol, and Haring.  Unfortunately, VanGogh didn't live long enough for this to be an issue in his work.
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russell a
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« Reply #35 on: October 23, 2006, 06:38:29 PM »
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Dale:  Excellent!
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alainbriot
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« Reply #36 on: October 23, 2006, 07:26:10 PM »
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That's one school of thought - my experience with current arts education is that it follows what I term the "daycare center" model whereas my education was more of the tough-love model.   If creativity is so easily stiffled how strong can it be?
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=81824\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I think we are talking of different teaching styles.  As you saw I do not embrace the "tough love" teaching model.  This is a personal choice.  I am sure that you can find other instructors ready to "tear your work apart and then rebuilt it" as someone once asked me to do (I refused).  

Just remember that the tearing apart side of this approach is relatively easy.  It is the rebuilding part that gives me problems.  Quite simply, what if the rebuilding doesn't happen and the student remains in a torn-apart state?

In my experience, teaching can be just as effective using a different, more human approach.  In fact, and also in my experience, teaching is more effective using approaches other than "tough love".  Why?  Simply because teaching starts by building self-confidence, not by tearing someone apart.  This is particularly true with teaching art which requires that one develops the ability to express personal feelings.

In fact, and going out on a limb somewhat here, I wonder if the "tough love" approach you recommend does not result in more "cliche" images than the self-esteem-building approach I favor.  The reason why I wonder that is because people whose self esteem is taken away tend to resort to formulas -cliches- because they look outside of their own experiences for answers since their own experience has been proven to lead to "bad" results.  People whose self-confidence has been boosted, on the other hand, tend to look within themselves for answers, because the outcome of their experience has been valorized, thereby making what is uniquely theirs come out, with a far lower chance that cliches will emerge.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2006, 07:38:22 PM by alainbriot » Logged

Alain Briot
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russell a
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« Reply #37 on: October 23, 2006, 08:59:17 PM »
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Alain:  ...and birds and small animals will gather in the meadow around the school and they will all sing together....

Yes, you are right about a difference in teaching philosophy.  But your assumption that tough love is a tearing down process does not match what I am thinking of as characterizing such an approach.  A strong teacher against whom one can rebel creates a more resilient individual than the current frequent practice of uncritical acceptance of the lowest denominator of performance.  A strong approach creates someone who has the capacity for self-criticism and improvement.  It provides a concrete example to the student of someone with passion instead of apology. It creates individuals who eschew cliche. After all it is not the dead weight of the masses that defines history, but the singular individuals who redefine it.  I refer you to Kati Marton's new book The Great Escape about nine Hungarians who fled Hitler and made an indelible impact on the world.  Two of the nine are Andre Kertez and Robert Capa.  One of the most influential music teachers of all time was Nadia Boulanger.  Among her successes was telling Astor Piazzolla to forget about European music and to compose tangos.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2006, 09:02:02 PM by russell a » Logged
Fred Ragland
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« Reply #38 on: October 23, 2006, 09:01:36 PM »
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I think we are talking of different teaching styles.  As you saw I do not embrace the "tough love" teaching model...People whose self-confidence has been boosted, on the other hand, tend to look within themselves for answers, because the outcome of their experience has been valorized (given value?), thereby making what is uniquely theirs come out, with a far lower chance that cliches will emerge.
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Many years ago I had a piano teacher who used a ruler to emphasize what to do.  My progress was amazing after changing teachers!  Reflecting back, there are many similarities between the requirements to become a good pianist and to become a good photographer.
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alainbriot
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« Reply #39 on: October 23, 2006, 10:47:50 PM »
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your assumption that tough love is a tearing down process does not match what I am thinking of as characterizing such an approach...One of the most influential music teachers of all time was Nadia Boulanger.  Among her successes was telling Astor Piazzolla to forget about European music and to compose tangos.
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That sure sounds like tearing down to me.  But then again I am not intimate with the nuances of tough love ;-)

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Alain: ...and birds and small animals will gather in the meadow around the school and they will all sing together....[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=81887\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]



Russell: and the little toughies will gather in the school yard and delight in being bullied and put down until they realize that there are more contructive ways to learn such as building your self esteem ...
« Last Edit: October 23, 2006, 10:53:25 PM by alainbriot » Logged

Alain Briot
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