Photo cliches can be annoying, but in some way they are an integral part of the learning process.
I saw this YouTube video the other day, about photography cliches. On looking at the list, I am glad to say that I am only guilty of 11 out of 25 (I don’t sign or watermark my photos – duck that’s annoying). It’s comforting to see that I don’t completely fail an arbitrary list of cliches.
Not that I mean to be critical – I agree with the blogger. Maybe not arbitrary; subjective is perhaps a better word. And in a good way subjective.
If I were to add anything to the list it would be photos of your own shadow (guilty!). That was probably going out of fashion, but then I noticed that a Vivian Maier photo of her own shadow was heavily publicised, so I can only imagine shadow photos are making a come back. Also, using film for the sake of using film – that’s another cliche. The artistic quality comes purely from the fact the photo is on film and not a memory card. Yep, guilty as charged.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the list.
Photo cliches. Why do they happen? Lack of artistic integrity? Crappy photographers? Actually no, I don’t think so. I happen to think I have both integrity and am a good photographer. Yet I still cliche from time to time.
Cliches exist because they have been done so often. The photo subject matter is popular, so people want to be popular. If it works, why fix it? It’s a bit like a company using the same slogan ad infinitum into cliche. It works; it’s familiar and safe. Newbie photographers are more likely to adopt this approach – entering the field and lacking confidence. It is better to fall back on tried and tested. I used to do that a lot, because I wasn’t really sure what else I should be doing.
Sunset photos (6 on the list) are particularly prone to this. People like them. I like them. Why not offer people something they want?
Another reason for cliche is the fault of professional photography (by this, I mean those whose primary income comes from photography). Obviously, I don’t mean all pro’s, but rather the abstract collective sense. Professional photography is based around things like weddings, babies, pets, that type of thing. There is scope for artistic variation to be sure, but the expectation will be for some standard bride, groom and respective parents/in-laws shot; smiling baby; dog with head on owners lap etc. Technical aspects become very important and expectations exist. Even the equipment is vital – imagine everyone’s face if you started taking wedding photos solely with a Holga, and a Polaroid using Impossible Project film…(oh my god, someone do that!).
Technical aspects. Professional lessons have a lot of blame here. Their lessons are almost always based on technical aspects of photography rather than artistic expressionism. I know they might not feel that is their responsibility, it is in the power of the photographer after all, but in a photography world that harks on about the ‘pro’ standard, it is easy to forget the creative variance critical to photography as an art form.
This brings us to the central issue. 99% of photos are crap. Rubbish. Useless. Ancillary at best. To find those golden 1% is difficult. I don’t mean out there in the world – there are amazing photographers out there that blow my mind. What I mean is in the photographer themself. Most photos taken will be ‘meh’, some good, a few great, and just one or two that make you catch your breath. Perhaps it’s just me.
To get that high standard of artistic expression consistently is difficult. So it becomes easier to opt for cliche. I know fully well I am taking a cliche shot when I take one – indeed, sometimes it is a tongue in cheek thing. I do it because the opportunity is there and they are an easy means of communication (the beauty of smartphones and social media). Selfie’s for example, like the one I took for this post, are partly for effect, but also for benefit of family and friends living in other continents.
Having said that, my own creative zest seemed to be heading into cliche (at least that’s how it felt), hence my recent hiatus from digital. It’s about creative discipline – thinking more in the moment and worrying less about the technical aspects.
Cliches have a place, they really do (remember, popular), but it is vital to distinguish between technical versatility, and artistic expression. The former you can be shown, the latter comes from within. But even that bit of Karate Kid wisdom is a cliche.
Maybe just fuck it. Take some photos, and go for broke.