Are some locations just too "Cliche"?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by jimgalli, Sep 29, 2004.

  1. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    Had the 711 in Bodie California this past weekend. I struggle with whether every scene there has been done 1000 too many times already. Do you get the camera out and do the same old scenes with the Model A and the '37 Chevy? We've seen them all too much already haven't we. How many times have you walked in some place with rustic pictures up and seen the same pictures of the same store fronts on main street Bodie.
     
  2. noblebeast

    noblebeast Member

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    I guess the simple answer (simple, but not easy) is to find a way to shoot a familiar location with new eyes. That's the real challenge in those cliche locations - to show them to people, and ourselves, in a way that transcends the familiar. In the book "Galen Rowell's Vision" he has a thought provoking essay about "image maturity." It speaks directly to the problem you had in Bodie - about how to get our vision and our photographs to grow so that the "same old subject" seems fresher.

    It seems like Bodie would also be a good place to try out the exercise in Les McLean's book where one sets out with a roll film camera and absolutely must make a picture every twenty-five paces. One really learns to find photographic potential in the least likely of locations. If you have a 35mm camera with a 36 exposure roll, it really becomes an interesting learning/training experience.

    Joe
     
  3. steve

    steve Member

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    I understand the problem, it a difficult mental exercise to get past. If you can approach the whole situation with expressing an idea or making an interesting picture rather than a "beautiful photo," - you're a long way toward solving the problem. Figure out how to express your personal viewpoint and your reaction to what you're seeing, as opposed to making a photo just to show scene.

    Hard to do. Sometimes I can't come up with a good answer myself. For those occasions (and depending upon my level of interest) I approach it a couple of different ways. If I'm not all that interested, or can't find something I'm reacting too - I just walk away with the idea I'll come back at another time.

    If I'm interested, but can't find a personal viewpoint to express immediately, I try and work through it. I often start at an overall view and then work smaller details different viewpoints, colors, light shadows, etc. After a while, after examining the parts, I'll usually get an idea of what really "makes" the subject for me and then work on photographing that.

    I guess you just have to believe the idea that there's an interesting photo right in front of you - just find it.
     
  4. arigram

    arigram Member

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    The greek islands are definately have been shot so much that you wonder how come they have survived the onslaught. So have the greek villages and their old folks. Dozens of books have been published but the vast, vast majoriy are just the typical glossy ultra-saturated color postcard kind.
    It is hard to do something original anymore, to capture a quality that Manos or Balafas hasn't already made their trademark style decades ago.
    But it is possible.
    Even the choice of materials can help. Black and White. Medium or Large Format.

    Actually, if someone has any good ideas to represent the greek space, they will be my
    official guests and I would be happy to be a guide and comrade in arms (in cameras?)!

    a.
     
  5. david b

    david b Member

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    Try living some place like Santa Fe New Mexico. Not only has every scene been photographed to death, but standing there are 4 more photogs making 4 more photos.

    Lots of fun.
     
  6. ThomHarrop

    ThomHarrop Member

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    I believe it become a bit of a tightrope act. You want to bring something fresh to the image, sometime people go so far afield visually that the image no longer has any sense of place. One must find a balance between the desire to feel unique and the needs of the work. Also, keep in mind that everything has been done. There are 100 million cameras photographing everything all the time. It is much more important to maintain your visual integrity and produce images that showcase your vision, rather than merely trying to create something different.

    A great photographer once said, "Without vision, people would be blind." Well, maybe he was actually just a great tautologist.
     
  7. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Eugene Richards workshops have had a similar exercise with a car -- drive five minutes, shoot, drive 5, shoot...

    Overshot scenes are especially useful for such exercises, if you follow Brodovitch's maxim: "if when you look through the finder and see a picture you've seen before, don't press the shutter button"
     
  8. david b

    david b Member

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    I saw a show in Houston of photographs that were sent to Robert Frank for review.

    One body of work was of a cross-country drive where the photog stopped every 100 miles and took a shot. It was rather clever and quite nice.

    Want to do a scene differently? Get on the ground. Put the camera 3 inches from the earth and shoot.
     
  9. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Do the Weston turnaround. He was teaching a workshop in Yosemite, and most were bored with the typical scenery. He told them there was a photograph where ever you look, all you had to do was turn around. He did just that and saw a leaf on the gravel. It became one of his lesser know photos, but still one that is usually included in his work. If he hadn't turned around and looked albiet at the ground, he would never have seen that leaf in the context he shot it.

    Arigram, what you need is someones fresh new perspective. Through the eyes of someone who has never seene Greece, or Crete. It is that wonder and awe people have at seeing a new setting that will help you see it in a new light.
     
  10. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    David--I'll be one of those photographers in Santa Fe next week. Hopefully I'll not be shooting the cliches.

    Last year, my wife and I took a meandering tour through the Southwestern USA, visiting many of the cliched photographed areas of that part of the country. I told myself I wouldn't shoot those same pictures I see in the travel brochures. I shot virtually all black and white. At the Grand Canyon, I took pictures of a couple having sandwiches with their Cockatoo. I shot pictures of a little girl sleeping in her mother's lap. At Zion National Park, I shot pictures of people shooting pictures of the scenery and walking on the hiking trails. In Moab, Utah, I shot a picture of a tree that resembled a nude female torso. Along the highway, I shot pictures of trucks and billboards. In Santa Fe, I shot pictures of a cop on the plaza, a man walking a dog, cat and white rat (really) and a lady talking on a cell phone in a restaurant. I shot pictures of shoppers shopping and sellers selling (lots of that going on).

    When I got back home, I printed over forty photos and arranged them in a little book that documented the trip. It was my reaction to the touristy photographs I had done in the past that were all technically excellent and all completely superficial. Since then, I keep telling myself the same thing, "Avoid the obvious." I hope I keep listening.
     
  11. mark

    mark Member

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    It is funny that you should bring up Bodie as cliche. I did some research on it and I definately say that, aside from the web sites I looked at, I have never seen a photo of bodie. SO, cliche to one is an undiscovered treasure to another. The easy answer is to not shoot where you feel is too cliche'. The hard answer is to shoot the same from a different perspective. Has anyone shot from under the cars looking out?

    Freeman Patterson has an exercise where you have to shoot photos in your bathrrom. I think it was twenty five. Another one he has is to throw a hoop into the air and you have to make a photo of what is in the hoop when it lands. Both are real PIAs but they force you to look from every angle imaginable.
     
  12. Doug Bennett

    Doug Bennett Member

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    I don't think it's worth thinking about. Taken too far, you'll never shoot anything, because in reality it's all been done before.

    Also, there are two things at work here: one is the thought process about "it's been done before." The other is the direct experience of the photograph. I'm all about that direct experience. When I see a print that:

    - is from a negative that was properly exposed;
    - is thoughtfully composed;
    - is well printed on fine materials;
    - is well mounted and presented;
    - is hung in a favorable spot with good lighting;

    then "it's been done before" is low on my list.

    I guess it may also make some difference whether you're shooting to please yourself, or to sell prints. If it's selling prints, then definitely don't worry about. My best sellers are my most trite shots. What to do? Cash the check.
     
  13. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    The way I see it, you gotta get it out of your system, take the camera out and take the shot, but once you print it ask yourself if it is really a fresh view of the subject, if it is not, then just save the print, say you been there, done that and move on. It is what I did when I visited Page, AZ. Took a couple of shots of the slot canyons, and moved on....of course, the shots were exactly like the million I have seen before, but it was still good to get it out my system just to see if I could do it. To tell you the truth I nejoyed just visitng and leaving the camera at the hotel. Funnily enough, the best shot was of the lake from the hotel......
     
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  15. Max

    Max Member

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    But what sets those photos apart from the millions of photos of these subjects that have been done before? A companion picture of the overdone shot that you didn't take? :smile:

    I'm not trying to pick on Lee here, but I agree with Doug - it has all been done before, but it hasn't yet been done by you. Or if it has been done by you, and you still feel drawn to it, it hasn't yet been done to your satisfaction, or by you at that particular time, etc.

    That's where the originality comes from anyway (IMHO).
     
  16. wfwhitaker

    wfwhitaker Member

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    I wonder what it would be like if Weston had gone to Greece instead of to Mexico....
     
  17. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    I think it really depends on your audience and their exposure. OK that sounds a bit grand, but places are only cliché if you or those seeing them have seen similar shots 000's of times before.

    The classic around here is the postcards and grockles (tourists) always have to have the shot of the seagull on a statues head. Here we laugh our heads off at people taking the shot but the person taking it can go to great lengths to get the angle where they can point and shoot. Errrm there again I've even seen a few Leica users doing it (give me the beauty and I'll take real shots).

    I'm a great believer that no matter how many times it's been done before as already posted it's not been done by you and hopefully you can put your own style into the shot.
     
  18. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    Enjoying the discussion. The best answer so far is Will Whitaker's chair photo. Great "other" shot Will.

    http://wfwhitaker.com/gallery/chair.htm

    BTW the Eastman improved #2 was a pleasure to use.
     
  19. Deniz

    Deniz Member

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    I agree completely, i like getting them out of my system.. Cause ifi don't it will bother me and eat me alive..So just take the picture and move on, its up to you if you want to print it.. Nothing wrong with having the photo in your files..

    You may not want to reshoot it if you already have it but if you don't i say Why Not?
     
  20. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    Maybe I'm missing something here... but for a location photographed so often I have seen no photographs of Bodie... any on this site?

    Everything is new to someone...
     
  21. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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  22. wfwhitaker

    wfwhitaker Member

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    Thanks, Jim.

    I think a lot of this has to with our expectations, other people's expectations, our expectations of other people's expectations.... ad nauseum. The challenge is to break the cliche. Sometimes the task is daunting. Yosemite is a tremendous challenge, all the more ironic because there is so incredibly much visual stimulation there. But we've been so inundated and indoctrinated on what's to be expected of making photographs in Yosemite, that we often fail to break the cliche.

    It says a lot about who we are. If we respond in a cliched manner, we'll photograph in a cliched manner. Yosemite is "dense" in a mathematical sense: between any two photographs you can always find another photograph. The location is not the problem; the camera is not the problem. Aggie's suggestion of the Weston "Turnaround" is on the spot. It begins within.

    -Will

    ps - Jim, I'm looking forward to seeing your results from that 711!
     
  23. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    One of the best purchases I ever made was a book called "Voices, Circles, Echos" by George Drennan. I purchased it when I was fairly new to large format photography. My initial reaction to the book was one of disappointment. Talk about a "tripod hole" photographer! The intro to the book by Jay Dusard characterized Drennan as a "workshop survivor" and I think that was true in a negative way.

    As I spent some time with the book, however, I appreciated that he managed to get it published and that most of the "trophy" shots were done very well. Then I noticed the really important thing - interspaced throughout the book were the non-trophy pictures. His wife on a horse, river guides posed in a raft, etc. all taken on 4x5 tri-x. And they were very good pictures. They were worth buying the book for.

    I came away thinking that George had fulfilled a goal that I shared - to imitate the masters. I learned the lesson from what he had produced and didn't have to do it anymore. I also developed an appreciation for large format "people" pictures, and now consider that to be the epitome of large format photography. You can keep Weston's Pepper #30, I prefer the pictures of his family taken around his house. Manual Alverez Bravo, Nicholas Nixon, Joel Sternfeld, Michael A. Smith, Alex Soth are held in my highest regard. Thanks, George!
     
  24. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    Looks an interesting place Jim... it is also pretty amazing those cars are still there and haven't been scavenged... is it a protected site?
     
  25. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Thoughtful discussion here ... closely related to "Artist's Block". We have "seen something so many times before that we do not see it any more."

    However ... A student of a particular "Photo 101" class approached me for advice over coffee once. He said that the class had been given an assignment: "Photograph something never seen before".
    I had been thinking of exposing regular printing paper to ambient light, printing the totally black frame, and claiming that it was a photograph of a "Black Hole", (never seen before - now photographed, and STILL not seen, but it WAS photographed..), BUT...

    In the final analysis ... it is *VERY*nearly, if not completely, impossible to photograph something that HAS been seen before. One can stand on a street corner, try to precisely make two photographs exactly the same ... and they won't be. The sun will be in a slightly different position in the sky; the clouds could have formed, disappeared, or changed position; leaves on the trees could fall or have been repositioned by the wind... *No* photograph (before you really nit-pick, strobes will fire at slightly different intensities, light reflecting back to the subject will be different, depending on where the photographer is standing..), so in theory, and at times much more intensely than that, EVERY photograph will be of something "never seen before", and that will never be seen again. A photograph is unique in one respect, and that is time. We capture what we see in a very discrete slice of time.
    I've done it before - "This photograph is very good ... but if the light was from a slightly different angle"... Back to the scene ... wait for the light ... and no matter what ... it is different ... what I'm "seeing" now just doesn't WORK.

    I keep the time factor in mind. It takes, more than anything, discipline to ... I was about to write, "make us" ... but more properly, to EMPOWER us to "see", to break through the familiarity "shell of invisibility".

    "Trite" - no, not really. More often, "Too familiar".
     
  26. Francesco

    Francesco Member

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    For the last few days I have been going to the exact same spot to photograph here in Stockholm, Sweden. I probably have positioned the tripod 30 times around a 10 sq meter area. None of the shots look like it was taken in Stockholm, which is a very picturesque city indeed. If I had levelled the camera I could have taken some beautiful, scenic shots of bridges, spires and clouds. I chose not to because I did not "feel" anything for these type of scenes. There are others better at it than I when it comes to postcards, beautiful as they may be.

    Your photograph of Bodie shows me that it is place rich with subject matter. I would look at a place as a canvas rather than as a name. I would enter Bodie and take something which is not really Bodie but could be from anywhere or anything.