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Author Topic: Is it just me?  (Read 13342 times)
Geoff Wittig
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« on: August 28, 2009, 04:46:21 PM »
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I saw a post requesting information about the Glade Creek mill in West Virginia. It's certainly a very photogenic structure, particularly at peak fall color with the creek running. I mean, who wouldn't like a nice photograph of it?

Maybe me. It's obviously a subject that's already been done really well by a great many photographers. It's pretty far-fetched to imagine finding something new to say about such an iconic subject. And it's already at heart a piece of kitsch. The mill is essentially a 'folly' in the sense of having no function beyond the æsthetic. It was explicitly constructed to serve as a tourist attraction from components salvaged from three 'real' mills. It almost seems like photographing actors dressed up as cowboys at a dude ranch. "Faux authentic".

I started thinking these grumpy thoughts during the photo critique session of a workshop I took a few years ago. Many of the photos shown by participants had potential, and demonstrated sympathy for interesting subjects I'd never seen before. Yet the "ooh's and ah's" from the instructors and other participants seemed directed almost exclusively at images that were all too familiar. Yes, sunrise under Mesa Arch is beautiful; but I've seen that photograph a hundred times. It's become a cliché. Like the Snake River and Grand Tetons from Schwabacher landing, or the tunnel view of Yosemite at sunset, or...well, insert your favorite here. Certainly it makes sense to learn from the beautiful images we've seen; imitating them can be educational, sort of like "compulsory" exercises for figure skaters. But reproducing them from the same tripod holes quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns.

It's probably just me, but surely there's more to be gained from pursuing a personal vision directed at something unique or quirky than from reproducing a collection of other photographers' 'greatest hits'.

How do other people feel about this? Am I nuts?
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bill t.
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« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2009, 05:34:26 PM »
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Was wondering what's the best time of year to get shafts of light at Antelope Canyon?  Oh....sorry, wrong forum.

Archetypes, we human beans just LOVE archetypes.  Just ask Thomas Kinkade.  They're like old friends well met in an unexpected place.  The prizes at any photo competition will always be given the most recognizable US Department of Art Certified Archetypes.  Don't fight it.  And I'm glad to see you didn't make any snide remarks about Peter Lik's work.

EDIT...or, if you want a real screenfull just google "Carl Jung Archetype".  You will learn about preconscious psychic dispositions which in our case were formed by squandering our youths on Flickr and pbase.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2009, 06:22:17 PM by bill t. » Logged
Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2009, 06:00:10 PM »
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I hear you and agree completely.  Whenever I see yet another image of Antelope Canyon, I think, "Antelope !@#$^%& Canyon again!"  I'll never go there myself, because I'm sick and tired of it despite never having physically been there.

However, once in awhile I do like to see how well I can do at one of the "standard location" places; it's an educational exercise as much as anything else, and it means more to me than other peoples' photos of it because it was *mine*.  Mostly, however, I prefer to do my own thing.  (At Mesa Arch, rather than sunrise under the arch, I did sunset from a very different and more distance vantage point - not quite as saleable a photo as the standard Mesa Arch one, but I preferred it because it was all mine.)

Someone who knew I loved Yosemite gave me a photo book of Yosemite.  The author set up his tripod on the same "Half Dome View" bridge many days of the year, and did a book entirely of views of Half Dome from the same (overly popular) place; what a boring book!

In short, yes, I agree with what you say, most of the time.

Lisa

Slightly later P.S.:  Apparently while I was typing my response, bill's comment on Antelope Canyon showed up.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2009, 06:01:50 PM by nniko » Logged

kikashi
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« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2009, 01:31:04 PM »
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Quote from: nniko
it means more to me than other peoples' photos of it because it was *mine*.
Isn't that the complete answer to Geoff's question?

I'd like to take photographs of Mesa Arch and Antelope Canyon because they're beautiful places, because I'd like to have a shot to look at or even to put on my wall and because I'd rather have one of mine than one taken by someone else, technically inferior though my photograph is likely to be.

Whether I'd then inflict on others my version of an image that hundreds of other people have created is another matter, and perhaps what Geoff was getting at.

Jeremy
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bill t.
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« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2009, 10:22:27 PM »
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I think Geoff's question was, why do recognizable cliches impress viewers more than less recognizable but excellent photographs.  It's a well known effect.  

The seductive power of cliches grinds on those who try to produce something beyond the norm, or even just a little different.  Successful artists usually merely quote cliches, although for the best of them the base cliche is one they themselves created...but even then they dare not stray too far if they want to keep finding gallery space.

The "mine" thing is different and limited to an individual.  We all suffer from it, or at least I do.  I try to recognize and ridicule that inclination in myself, sorry if I let it out a little too ungently earlier.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2009, 08:22:28 AM »
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Quote from: bill t.
I think Geoff's question was, why do recognizable cliches impress viewers more than less recognizable but excellent photographs.  It's a well known effect.  

The seductive power of cliches grinds on those who try to produce something beyond the norm, or even just a little different.  Successful artists usually merely quote cliches, although for the best of them the base cliche is one they themselves created...but even then they dare not stray too far if they want to keep finding gallery space.

The "mine" thing is different and limited to an individual.  We all suffer from it, or at least I do.  I try to recognize and ridicule that inclination in myself, sorry if I let it out a little too ungently earlier.


That's a big part of what I was getting at. I've attended probably 8 or 9 workshops over the last few decades; some of them were great, with inspirational instructors encouraging participants to get out there and find something unique to express in imagery. Others were like a firing squad: tripods lined up side by side for everyone to capture exactly the same image. I can see why someone might want to shoot their "own" copy of that sunrise under Mesa Arch, but it sure seems like painting your own copy of the Mona Lisa. Reasonable as an exercise, but it's certainly not art.

I'm not about to provide the complete definition of "art", but it obviously has to include one's own unique engagement with the world, and expressing something of that to others. You won't find that in a clone of an iconic image, no matter how well done. The landscape photographers whose work I admire (Charles Cramer, Christopher Burkett, David Ward, Stephen Johnson...) really seem to dig for a different take on things.

I live in a fairly photogenic part of the world (Finger Lakes region of NY State), yet I keep seeing the same four or five images over and over in local photo contests or books on the region. Grumble.
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feppe
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« Reply #6 on: August 30, 2009, 09:17:01 AM »
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Quote from: Geoff Wittig
I'm not about to provide the complete definition of "art", but it obviously has to include one's own unique engagement with the world, and expressing something of that to others. You won't find that in a clone of an iconic image, no matter how well done. The landscape photographers whose work I admire (Charles Cramer, Christopher Burkett, David Ward, Stephen Johnson...) really seem to dig for a different take on things.

It is a big assumption that most or even many people taking pictures of the Antelope Canyon with serious photo equipment do so to create "art." It's of course hard to say, but I'd speculate only a handful of the photographers there try to create art.

For the fast majority of us producing a pretty picture which is created by me is enough. Just because someone else took a picture of the shafts of light doesn't diminish its beauty.

But yeah, Antelope Canyon and scantily clad girls in abandoned houses are overdone
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tsjanik
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« Reply #7 on: August 30, 2009, 11:32:20 AM »
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Hi Geoff:

I think most people who have had in interest in photographs for more than a few years have similar responses to the same old shots of a well-known location,( e.g. Antelope Canyon) or images using a well established style (e.g. Muench –style landscapes).  It is normal and likely desirable for students  of photography (I include most photographers in the “student” category) to imitate photographers whose work they admire or to reproduce their own version of an image – I think it is part of the learning and sometimes maturing process.  What’s changed, and I am assuming you’ve been around for a few years, is the internet and the automation in cameras.  Modern cameras enable anyone to take a properly exposed and focused photograph and the internet allows the image to be posted worldwide in seconds.  In essence, we are exposed to a constant barrage of unedited student photographs.  In the past, we had to make an effort to see others’ work – go to a gallery, buy or leaf through a book.  Someone else had already done the culling and editing before we arrived; on the internet (or a workshop) we have to do that for ourselves.
As for the art or individual vision aspect, I won’t comment; I’m still working on mine, for now I’m happy if I get a shot that reminds me of something I’ve seen by Pete Turner, Ernst Haas, et al.

Tom
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JeffKohn
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« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2009, 10:29:53 AM »
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I think the longer you've been at this and the more photographs you've seen, it's inevitable that you're going to get burned out on some subject matter. As photographers in the internet age, we're exposed to far more images by far more people than was the case in the past. Also consider that pre-internet, outside of your local camera club most of the images you saw were good enough to publish in books/magazines or hang in a gallery, which is definitely not the case now. Anyone of any skill level can (and does) post their images online, so we tend to see far more mediocre or downright bad images today than was in the case in the past.

With the general public, these scenes will always be popular. After all the reason they're overshot is because they have such universal appeal.  I'm actually surprised to hear that these subjects win contests though, I would think judges would be pretty cynical about overshot iconic locations.

I do think feppe and Tom raise some valid points. As a photographer, visiting and shooting these locations can be a very enjoyable experience even if you don't create original, groundbreaking art. Shooting the same scene as one of the masters can be a humbling experience, when you realize how far your own attempt falls short of what's been done before. It can also be a good exercise to try to get beyond the iconic compositions and shoot something a little more personal or original. Admittedly this can be pretty difficult at some locations (Tunnel View in Yosemite springs immediately to mind). But I still think it can be a worthwhile exercise for a developing photographer.

I've visited and shot some pretty iconic locations in the past few years, including Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches/Canyonlands among others. Much of it might be fairly standard fare, but I think maybe I got past the cliche in a few instances; and even if I didn't create original art I did enjoy the experience, and feel it's helped make me a better photographer.

But I do see the original point. I wouldn't enter a picture of Half Dome into a contest, and I wouldn't select images from iconic, overshot locations to hold up as representative of my best work. But I do think shooting those cliches is part of the process of finding my own style/voice.
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russell a
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« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2009, 03:36:09 PM »
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From my perspective, there are hardly any subjects that haven't been photographed to death.  I don't have any ready examples.  If you know of any, please don't hog them for yourself, let me know what they are also.  Preferably by private message.  
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bill t.
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« Reply #10 on: August 31, 2009, 04:14:56 PM »
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Quote from: russell a
From my perspective, there are hardly any subjects that haven't been photographed to death.  I don't have any ready examples.  If you know of any, please don't hog them for yourself, let me know what they are also.  Preferably by private message.  
Couldn't find anything on the google maps, every likely spot was completely covered by thumbnails.

I just heard that beginning September 1, 2009 Antelope Canyon will be closed to photography for the next eleven years to allow for photonic recovery.  Apparently cell phone cameras pushed it over the edge, the shafts of light were so dim last year you could barely see them.
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Paul Sumi
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« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2009, 04:34:41 PM »
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Quote from: Geoff Wittig
...but I've seen that photograph a hundred times. It's become a cliché.

I cheerfully admit I've photographed a number of landscape cliches, to try to make images which convey what I saw and felt.  Let's just say that I'm further ahead technically than artistically, that practice makes perfect and leave it at that.  

Nonetheless, as prior posters have noted, the fact that the cliches are made by me and not some other makes a big difference.

A rhetorical question: exactly when does a location become a cliche?  To use one of Geoff's examples, was Tunnel View NOT a cliche for the first 500 photographers, but the 501st guy or gal was SOL?

Paul
« Last Edit: August 31, 2009, 04:40:11 PM by PaulS » Logged

PeterAit
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« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2009, 05:04:23 PM »
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Quote from: kikashi
Isn't that the complete answer to Geoff's question?

I'd like to take photographs of Mesa Arch and Antelope Canyon because they're beautiful places, because I'd like to have a shot to look at or even to put on my wall and because I'd rather have one of mine than one taken by someone else, technically inferior though my photograph is likely to be.

Whether I'd then inflict on others my version of an image that hundreds of other people have created is another matter, and perhaps what Geoff was getting at.

Jeremy

Different photographers have different goals. Do you (like me) want to take beautiful and interesting photographs that please you? The you're likely to repeat a lot of well-photographed subjects, but so what? Or, is it important for you do something totally new? Good luck, then! This is, IMO, a major problem in certain parts of the photographic "art world." The perssure to do something totally new is strong, and much of what gets oohed and aahed over by the critics is dreck - but new dreck!

Peter
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Peter
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bill t.
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« Reply #13 on: August 31, 2009, 05:06:06 PM »
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Quote from: PaulS
A rhetorical question: exactly when does a location become a cliche?

OK, IMHO the sickness only starts when one deliberately and even passionately PLANS to go take a well known cliche shot.  The sin of cliche is magnified by premeditation.  It is not so much the choice of cliche itself that offends in these cases, so much as the failure of the imagination.  It is a less serious sin to simply go to a known cool general location with the intent of taking some good shots, but with nothing particular in mind.

OTOH if you just happen to chance upon a cliche, what the heck, go ahead take a few snaps.  That's how I got my first really good cliche, after emerging out of the tunnel at Yosemite.  My sin was not damming because I arrived at the location not realizing it lay along my innocently conceived route to the campground.  I'm so glad I went to a Catholic grade school.
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Nick Rains
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« Reply #14 on: August 31, 2009, 05:30:13 PM »
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Quote from: Geoff Wittig
How do other people feel about this? Am I nuts?

No you are not nuts but don't forget that people have many motivations to visit these famous places. The best one is just to 'see for yourself'.

The reason the so-called cliche locations are popular is because they are, in may cases, really extraordinary places. The photography aspect is only one part of the experience - a reason to go, if you need one.

It's like flyfishing - catching fish is often incidental to the sheer enjoyment of being outdoors in a sublime location. If being skunked spoiled your day then you have missed the point! Same in photography - your camera can be the catalyst for a visit and whether or not you end up with a good pic should be in no way connected to your enjoyment of the visit.

Visiting Antelope Canyon was a highlight of a trip a couple of years ago - it's simply a fantastic place to experience regardless of whether you are there with a camera or not.
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Nick Rains
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Gordon Buck
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« Reply #15 on: August 31, 2009, 08:21:13 PM »
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We gave this topic a good thrashing not so long ago and came up with, as I recall, a list of subjects that a photographer is not permitted to photograph:
http://luminous-landscape.com/forum/index....0&hl=cliche

(insert sarcastic but humorous emoticon here)
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LoisWakeman
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« Reply #16 on: September 02, 2009, 07:44:12 AM »
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I'm in with the rest here: yes, the same old, same old, does get wearisome to third parties - but also, one's personal connection to a photo probably overrides the wearisomeness for the person who took it.

I am guilty of enjoying looking at some of my own clichés, and very much doubt I have ever taken a truly original photo in the sense that no-one has ever had the same thoughts or ideas about a given subject. But part of the fun is being there and doing it.

Michael's covered this topic in a couple of essays: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/done_that.shtml and (less satisfyingly I think), http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/s...old_shot1.shtml. Another take - finding fresh images in a familiar scene - is discussed here http://www.luminous-landscape.com/location...nny-hollo.shtml
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #17 on: September 02, 2009, 11:01:55 PM »
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Quote from: russell a
From my perspective, there are hardly any subjects that haven't been photographed to death.  I don't have any ready examples.  If you know of any, please don't hog them for yourself, let me know what they are also.  Preferably by private message.  
I think I have a subject that isn't done too often, at least by photographers other than me. I have hesitated to post samples, because I am in the process of photographing it to death myself. Here are three from within the past week or so:

[attachment=16364:LRroadta...82959aBW.jpg]   [attachment=16365:LRtar_09...04919aBW.jpg]   [attachment=16366:LRtar_09...05231aBW.jpg]


Pavement (road tar), with repairs, occasional painted stripes, and utility covers. Does this qualify?    

These, and others, will be on my website within a couple more days.
« Last Edit: September 02, 2009, 11:03:21 PM by EricM » Logged

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BlasR
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« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2009, 09:31:31 AM »
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Quote from: EricM
I think I have a subject that isn't done too often, at least by photographers other than me. I have hesitated to post samples, because I am in the process of photographing it to death myself. Here are three from within the past week or so:

[attachment=16364:LRroadta...82959aBW.jpg]   [attachment=16365:LRtar_09...04919aBW.jpg]   [attachment=16366:LRtar_09...05231aBW.jpg]


Pavement (road tar), with repairs, occasional painted stripes, and utility covers. Does this qualify?    

These, and others, will be on my website within a couple more days.



Eric,

you should start taking photos of the big  Dig

 I never see one.

I like photos, and I take photos, maybe I will start taking photos of derty feet..

I like to go to the cape but I do not want to drive,  any ride from some one?

I think is just me.

Blas
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2009, 11:42:13 AM »
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Blas,

I agree: Dirty feet haven't been done enough. Go for it!

Eric

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-Eric Myrvaagnes

http://myrvaagnes.com  Visit my website. New images each season.
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