Photography offers a creative outlet in a world which can seem increasingly humdrum if we let it. But is there a risk that rather than sparking up our latent creativity, we simply record the mundane and move on?
It’s sometimes said that everything has been done before. And most of this has likely been copied, intentionally or otherwise. Of course, anything new and unusual is likely to inspire others to give it a try. Indeed, experimenting with reproducing an effect can be a good way to learn a new technique.
Sadly, given the speed of modern communications and media sharing, it doesn’t take long for the creatively different to become the latest in a line of clichés. The once-novel effect is seen everywhere and in its overuse becomes irritating and tedious. “Oh, not another sunset!” we groan, flipping quickly to the next page. Back in 1979, Susan Sonntag commented that “certain glories of nature…have been all but abandoned to the indefatigable attentions of amateur camera buffs. The image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; they now look, alas, too much like photographs.” How many more such pictures must have been taken in the intervening years?
Many of the photographic clichés cited are based around post-processing techniques such as colour-popping or HDR. The use of black and white to rescue an otherwise tiresome image seems to come in for regular scathing derogation. Images of pets and flowers seem to be equally slated (no hope for me then!) as does the production of record shots of landmarks and the use of ‘Dutch angles’ to fit everything in the frame.
But what does all this mean to the mindful photographer? It seems to me that many images which compel us to exclaim ‘Seen it!’, post-processing clichés aside, may have been created without a great deal of attentiveness. They fall into the category of ‘spot it and snap it’ pictures, snagged with minimum mental input in the easiest way possible. Don’t get me wrong, these record shots are great if what you want, or need, is to represent the subject objectively and accurately.
And when we begin to work with a subject, this may be what we produce at first. It is almost as if we need to work through these initial placing images to set the context, before we can look more closely. But have patience and stay a while longer, after you think you are done. This is when we may truly focus our mind on the subject at hand, begin to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I call it ‘being in the zone’. It is here that we find the essence of our subject’s nature, the special energy it has for us. We explore those aspects which are not revealed to the cursory glance and our creativity is awakened. This is when we make our best photographs, the ones really worth keeping.