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.
ps - Jim, I'm looking forward to seeing your results from that 711!
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Anyone can appreciate a fine print. But it takes a real photographer to appreciate a fine negative.
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!
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?
Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh.
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."
Originally Posted by Max
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".
Ed Sukach, FFP.
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.
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I've been to Bodie a few times and I seem to spend all my time making close-ups of the wood grain in the buildings. Nice abstracts. I don't think I have any wide views of the place. Just isn't that interesting to me. Maybe a steeple from an odd angle or something. They do have photo workshops there where you can get in extra early and stay late to catch sunrise\sunset photos. The gift shop is where you'd sign up. Some examples of color sunsets\sunrises are there too if that's your thing.
Me, I want interesting rust on an old piece of metal.
P.S. May be going down to Carson City this coming week so I may stop by Bodie again. Will defenitely make it to Death Valley.
For Andy K. Protected? Yes, VERY. Since 1959. California state parks.
SO, cliche to one is an undiscovered treasure to another.
Or........ the easy answer is to shoot a cliche' and do it really well.
The easy answer is to not shoot where you feel is too cliche'.
I have to think that, for most of us anyway, the final goal of our efforts is a print. What would you rather see: a superbly executed print of a "cliche", or a poorly done print of something more original? I'll take a fine print any day. Besides: can Yosemite, or Bodie, or magnolia blossoms here in the South, ever really be too familiar? I'd rather think not, and just shoot them.
I'll agree with what several others have said: often the difference between cliche and not-cliche is small: a couple of steps either way, turn around, kneel down, shoot wide open, maybe a filter. Also, I think that true, in-depth pre-visualization can be a great help. Really look before you shoot, with the end result in mind: where will you have to dodge, where will you have to burn, what areas will cause a problem in the darkroom? Of the photos that I look at, the majority that are not successful are so because of simple errors in exposure and composition, not because of lack of originality.
"If You Push Something Hard Enough, It Will fall over" - Fudd's First Law of Opposition
Very good question Jim and I agree. Many, many famous locations have been done to the point of cliche.
However, I will build a little upon what Tom Duffy mentioned. I think the degree of cliche is attributable to the photographer. Last Spring, I got to see Michael A. Smith's work first-hand. Two of his photos struck me along the cliche theme. (These were both 8x20 B&W contact prints.) This first was his rendition of Bryce Canyon. It was the "standard view" that countless people have shot. Except, it was B&W with the most shimmering array of gray tonal values I have ever seen. I said out loud "why would anyone say this has to be done in color".
The second was some South Western desert buttes. "Monument Valley" I reverently thought and asked? "No" replied Michael, "I don't remember where it was". A nameless place and I thought I was looking at the classical Monument Valley scene. John Ford would have drooled!
Well, not everyone of us can handle the famous and obscure so well. But with this experience in mind, I now believe its still the individual photographer that makes the difference. Wasn't it Bravo who said "those who see through another photographer's eyes are blind"?
My first instinct was to say that 'yes' it's too cliched and you should resist the urge, but then I thought of the many times I've gone back to the same damned cemetary in town, even though it's been ages since I've produced a decent shot from there. Sometimes it's just being there that really matters and you never know when, for whatever reason, you suddenly see something differently and are able to capture it.
I know you are not asking for advice etc. but I find that I see things differently if I'm in a very bad or depressed mood.