View Full Version : cliche in landscape photography
Thinking about the situation, perhaps it is too bad Fatali didn't knock Delicate Arch down in the process of his nighttime escapades. Not that I condone the des truction of natural beauty, but at least we'd stop seeing all those endless and trite, repetitive damn pictures of the thing, which has been so over photographe r it's ridiculous - enough is enough!. Maybe photographers would have to dig re al deep and come up with enough imagination to shoot something different ... but probably not. No doubt we'd just see more of the same worn out, tired, cliche s pots like halfdome and the Tetons. I sincerely believe that LF landscape photog raphy would be dead without the Nat. Parks and their in-your-face, kodak moment scenery, such is the lack of imagination and creativity (not to mention the comp lete lack of concern over the on-going destruction of the non-Icon scenery).
I am depressed ...
David R Munson
Maybe we should get rid of all the corn lillies, too.
I agree that folks could generally be much more creative in their image making process. I think it usually comes back to "how" versus "what" you photograph. As for the Nat. Park icons, don't knock them down, just harass the photographers!
I went to Yosemite last year for the first time. It is spectacular, and I'm glad that I had the inspiration of AA and Watkins, and even the street vendors of San Francisco with their color post cards of the Valley Overlook. Yes, I made my copies of the famous AA scenes (none of them nearly as good as his), but I also made my own kind of pictures: people relating to the landscape. A disabled woman in a wheelchair near the base of the falls while in the distance a group of teenagers are too busy with themselves to appreciate the beauty and irony. A guided tour stretching across the fields beneath Cathedral Rocks, looking more like a column of ants than human subjects. I await the opportunity to return to Yosemite, and hope to get to the Arches some day. Landscape photos don't have to be imitative, or even static.
Anthony J. Kohler
The same point can be made about any landscape site which is, shall we say (no pun intended) 'overexposed.' I live about two miles from Cathedral Rock, purportedly the most-photographed spot in Arizona. The number of similar to even almost-identical photographs of it around town is staggering.
But look at these spots as a challenge, not a problem. Some of these sites are so accessible, so publicized and so photographed that everybody knows of them - but can you make a photograph of that site which is DIFFERENT? I cannot imagine any site which has been photographed so much, in so many ways, that there is no vision, no view, left to get onto film. Sure, it is not easy or simple, especially when you don't have a lot of time to spend at any given spot. My pictures of Half Dome look just like everybody else's. I've got pictures of Cathedral Rock that look just like everybody else's, too. But I can envision a photograph of Cathedral, at least, which will knock your eyes out, and I see that as a project, a goal, which I can work toward. If it were easy, would we love it so much? If we wanted easy, we'd all be hauling P&S cameras instead of our beloved monsters.
It's just my own opinion, admittedly, but I don't think that there is any subject so overdone that there is no 'new' way to see it, no 'new' way to photograph it - and by the same token, when you are new to LF, it is also a triumph of sorts to go to, say, Yosemite (as I did) and take a photo which looks enough like one of Adams' that you can say to yourself, "THAT'S how he did it." The only problem with retracing someone else's footsteps is if you consider doing only that to be good enough. It may not be an end - but it's a marvelous way to learn, and if it was good enough for someone that special to do, it certainly is good enough for you to learn from.
If you are depressed go see a therapist. If you don't like the cliches don't look at them. It isn't that photographers lack imagination, but that they lack insight or maybe they are just awed by the big & obvious scenes.
There are many terrific landscape photographers who don't make cliched commercial lanscape images: Mark Klett, Robert Adams, Jack Dykinga, Stephen Shore...
I once attended a workshop given by the film critic Roger Ebert. I will never forget when he told us "Subject matter is neutral. For a moviegoer to say something like 'I don't like foreign movies' or I don't like action pictures' are ignorant statements. What they really should be saying is, 'I don't like BAD action movies.'"
In other words, any subject or genre is neutral; if the photographer (or filmmaker) has something to say about it and says it well, then the work is good and will be meaningful to others.
On the other hand, here are a few iconic subjects that have become so associated with one photographer that you'd better be aware of that when working with that subject. Half Dome is perhaps the quintessential example.
I forget who the artists were, but some great pictures have been made on the subject of certain landforms vis-a-vis their iconic nature. Was it Len Jenshel who did the color picture of the woman in a scarf with Yellowstone Falls on it, standing in front of the Falls themselves? Was it Jerry Uelsmann who made "Full Dome?" Somebody correct me on these....
I don't mind the photos of the icons, IF the photographer did it their way rather than "What is the best location to take a picture of...?". Or, those who go and do nothing more than copy what they have seen others do, from postcards to Ansel. Going and shooting to get the feel of what Adams and others did is fine as long as it does not stay there. Go beyond what has been done and make the place yours. Way too many 'postcard pictures' taken (and shown) by photographers who should be able to do their own thing. It is easy to look at the icon photos of Ansel & others & want to go to the location. If you take the same or basically the same image, do so as a learning experience. Then go & shoot your own vision. If you can't do this maybe you do not have your own vision. Everyone gets the same photos from time to time just as many people can come up with the same great ideas or inventions simultaneously. It can be a good experience coming up with an excellent image & later discover an Ansel, a Morley Baer, an Eliot Porter or some other great photographer took it years earlier but you did not see that before shooting yours. Yours is original to you even if shot before. Going to copy is an exercise and just as in sports, exercise is fine for you but not for others to see, they want to see the performance.
Ok: I'm in a quarrelsome mood & figure my philosophical rantings are as valid as the next guys.
I think A.A. had it wrong with his famous "the negative is the score, the print is the performance" analogy. Actually, the photographic subject is the score, & the final photograph is the performance. It is a distinction with a difference.
The great musical "scores" of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms continue to live on & provide listeners with emotional pleasure because they convey scale, excitement, proportion and melodic beauty at the highest level of human achievement. And yet these famous works are regularly tortured by amateurs, labored over by aspiring students & occasionally performed with insight by an accomplished few.
Does this mean that we ought to abandon these works for original or undiscovered genius? Should newness & originality be the test of musical validity?
I hope not.
The fact is, these landmark tourist traps are nature's equivalent to Mahler's grand symphonies. They are huge, dramatic exceptions to the more frequently flat(ish) & unevenful landscape of the rest of the planet. They draw tourbusses, not because A.A. "was here" but because everyone looking at them for the first time gasps in wonder & immediately thinks "I gotta get a picture of this."
But like the 6th grader sawing away on a violin, the majority efforts are feeble & weak. There aren't many Heifetz & Horowitz level "performers" amongst us. This doesn't reduce the depth or beauty of the visual "score." It doesn't mean that we should all abandon these sites & look for undiscoved beauty.
We continue to "play" the "greats" because they are aesthetically & emotionally satisfying. Even though I'll never stand at centre stage in XYZ music hall playing Mendelssohn's violin concerto, I can tell you that scraping away at that score, at home, on my violin, fills me with tremendous pleasure, and makes me listen in awe when I hear it performed by one of the greats. And when any of us has a go at Half Dome with our photographic instrument, we're not mindlessly following A.A. because we can't think of anything better to photograph (well, not always). We're lining up with our tripods because the vista out front is breathtakingly, stunningly beautiful. This is a "score" of unusual merit. It's why A.A. stood there, & countless thousands BEFORE him.
It's true that beauty is everywhere & we should look for it in places other than the usual spots. But lets not be surprised when 300 years from now violin students are still playing Mendelssohn & Beethoven & Bach.
I feel better.
Kevin M Bourque
Jerry Uelsmann just gave a talk here and he showed us a slide of "Full Dome". I laughed out loud! He also had one of a dolphin swimming in the Merced River. From his pictures, you would think he'd dress in black, smoke clove cigarettes and quote obscure philosophers. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he's clear- eyed, lively and non-pretentious.
Back to the topic, some scenes just demand that you take a picture, even if it's been done a million times. I don't have a problem with that; I've certainly done it myself. But, I reserve the right not to be impressed (especially if it's my own work)!
I doubt I could walk by Delicate Arch and not take a picture.
Kevin J. Kolosky
I agree with Ellis. Anyone and everyone who desires to make a photograph, as long as it has not been deemed illegal, should have that right to make that photograph, and to show it if they desire to do so. If seeing those photographs makes you depressed, I am sure your thereapist will simply tell you to quit looking at them. Kevin
I have to agree with Kevin. I love hiking the National Parks, and I love photography. Some things cry out to be photographed because they're just so damn beautiful. Anyone on this site who can look at the Tetons and not take a picture of them is a better man than I am (no offense to the ladies).
But what about when you do it by accident? I'm an engineer and a do a lot of preservation work. I love old bridges, factories, mills, etc. For a long time I thought I was the only loony photographing older and abandoned steel mills (my girlfriend still claims this to be true), but then I found an entire book by David Plowden on the subject. And it came out when I was a wee lad. Same for steam- powered equipment. And bridges. I have found at least a dozen photos where I, unknowingly, had to have been standing within feet of where he took his photos, some 20 and 30 years prior. Do I just give up and say Mr. Plowden did this better (which he did), or do I keep doing what I enjoy? The same can be said of Berndt and Hilla Becher, and a few others. Bless the internet for letting me show my friends that I'm not the only nut case out there shooting photos of chemical plants and rusty bridges. Luckily NYC has plenty of rusty things to shoot.
"- but can you make a photograph of that site which is DIFFERENT?" With apologies to Tony, I think a picture of Cathedral Rock done at night with fire in firepans making beautiful orange light would be imaginative as hell. Maybe get a sunset exposure first, then wait for it to get good and dark, then make your fires for that beautiful warm orange glow, and do a second exposure on the same frame. I can pre-visualize it and it's gorgeous! You guys are just pissy beacause you didn't think of it first.
Ok! Where is that big morsel with the hook in it!? If you don't like to look at iconic images, then don't. Half Dome looks exciting and powerful from very few vantage points. So does Delicate Arch. And Cathedral Rock. So if you don't like overly saturated colorful images of them, don't look. Simple. Me, I'll look every time.
Why this big to-do about being consciously different? Look, most of us are amateurs. If I see something I like, I try to do it justice in my photograph. I do not stop to wonder if some famous person already did it. I do not agonize over how that person did it. I shoot what I like, how I like with no apologies. If we all had to constantly avoid what maybe was already done, we would be paralyzed. Landscapes have been done, portraits have been done, etc etc etc. I've done some wonderful pictures, and also a lot of garbage pictures. Just go with what you see and what you feel. To stir the pot, why is it that after the initial hoopla about some avant garde and original and courageous rule breaking "new superstar", this same sort of person usually does NOT stand the test of time, but instead looks hopelessly dated and ridiculous a few years later? Remember that famous painter who made big bucks off a painting of a Campbells soup can? I thought it was dumb then as a teenager, and I still do. Just being different is not enough, it is too much like flash with no substance, "all show and no go".
"Remember that famous painter who made big bucks off a painting of a Campbells soup can? I thought it was dumb then as a teenager, and I still do. Just being different is not enough, it is too much like flash with no substance, "all show and no go"." Except that he influenced a generation or 3, provided in icon of the 20th century, and if you came across an original tucked in your garage, it would sell for more than you are likely to make in a lifetime. That image already has, and will undoubtedly pass the test of time
Andy W. was the greatest Hack (Huckster) of the 20th century! Nothing but a pretentious, 3-card Monty, Swatch peddler.
This is an obvious troll, but the basic point has been seriously made by many people - if it's been done before, why do it again? Of course if anyone can find something that hasn't been done before, please let me know. I promise not to do it again, but considering the billions and billions of photographs that have been made since Niepce looked out a window and made a photograph, it would be very difficult to find anything that hasn't been photographed many many times already. On the theory of this post and many others like it, we wouldn't be able to make any photographs because in photography everything that can be done has been done over and over already. Adams wasn't exactly the first person to photograph the western landscape. It isn't what you photograph, it's how you photograph it, what you bring to the picture, that's important.
Personally, I think if you're going to criticize modern photographers for taking these pictures, you should criticize Ansel Adams as well. The viewpoints for many of his famous Yosemite pictures are so obvious that I don't think we should give him any credit for choosing them. I have much more admiration for Moonrise, Hernandez, NM. I consider that to be an artist defining photograph.
There are only so many sites that are truly splendid in their own right. They deserve to be photographed and seen. To take these photographs is to show reverence for nature's creations. They are not going to define who you are as an artist, but viewers will enjoy them. Most non-photographers haven't seen these views nearly as many times as we have.
You have said it better than I have read anywhere before. All should read it once more, as it states why many of us do photography, and are so frustrated by our results.
Thank you sir!
Listen you guys, you all have it wrong. It matters not what you shoot as long as you shoot. Forget about copy my work, I was not that good, shit if you guys shot half as much as I did you would wind up with hundreds of great images. I was a great darkroom wizard, and at best an average photographer.
Now listen, check out Mark Klett, now he is one hell of a great photographer. That boy has some imagination, style, soul, whatever. Look at my boy Sexton....not much imagination but sure learned the craft from a great teacher. Take Art Wolfe...please! Sorry I could not help it.
The bottom line is "START CREATING BEAUTY, STOP STEALING IT!"
Now, everyone go out and have some fun.
I am reminded of a previous poster's coment on "epic". Thoes shots are epic. Epic comes not from WD Griffith's long movies, but from the old poems -- often the same poem. My favorite epic is Orlado Furioso. Wich is the same story that was told by Tasso, Ariosto, some other Italian, Spencer, and arguably Virgina Woolfe. All the SAME story, just different rhyme. That's epic, that arch is epic and Half Dome is too. It is a subject worthy of the artist's best. As Milton would say "Sing hevenly muse". I wonder how many manuscripts of Roland moldered, and how many negitives of half dome got missfiled. But the same song comes down through the ages everytime someone goes by with a sheet of film. Dean
Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.
Ogoditsfinnagain Finnegan and again and again from under the earth... and across the wide berth.Don't mollycuddle him...
A screaming comes across the sky.You have heard it before...
to the previous two posters: Is this Thomas P. that I'm reading? Gavity's Rainbow? I've heard this is a good book, a vast lament over the insanity of modern society. Not that it has anything to do with LF photography ... or maybe it does.
Ansel said that the negative was the score and the print was the performance. He meant that the negative was static like the score to, for instance, a song. The original artists could come in and perform that score many different ways. (dodging, burning, boosting contrast, different papers, developers, toning, etc.) Someone else could take that negative and scan it, digitize it, work it in Photoshop, or whatever. This is what Ansel meant....this is what he also wanted people to do. He wanted future photographers to reinterpret his work. They made a video on him and at the end it couldn't be explained any better!
There is still one picture of XXXX (fill in cliched location of your choice) that I havn't seen --> There one that I took!!!!
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