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The Value of Cliche Photographs

This morning my housework podcast diet consisted of episode 649 of Chris Marquardt’s Tips from the Top Floor. He discussed cliche photographs and why we should make them.

Chris pointed out that, rather than being inherently bad, shooting cliche photography takes us along an incremental learning path to produce better photography in the future. These cliche photographs are learning experiences, whether they happen to be HDR (High Dynamic Range), rice noodle waterfalls or zoom focusing on exposure. Those tired old cliche photographs usually develop skills in the professional’s arsenal that lead to creative potential into the future.

I’m also inclined to think a part of the problem is that everyone is expecting everyone else to be a clone. Such people come screaming from the shadows to point out we didn’t obey the Rule of Thirds, or our photograph lacked sharpness. To this detractor the way forward is to shoot non-cliche photographs… like everybody else.

For the most part I’d agree with Chris – make pictures; a lot of pictures. That is being a photographer.

I’d start asking what defines a cliche photograph in the first place? Why is it bad? What are cliche’s strengths and weaknesses in the context of the work? Because if we never make a picture for fear of criticism, then so many pictures will never be made to push us forward in the work. Eggleston is at war with the obvious, for fuck sake. That man embraces the banal, the mundane, the ordinary. Eggleston never conformed. He just made his pictures.

At this stage of global connectivity we endure a bombardment of technically good photography that I’d call cliche. But I’d say embrace it. Follow your tongue or your eye or whatever differentiates your palate from the rest of humanity and try to find your voice. Think about what you have to say. And, yes, sometimes a cliche is a cliche because it speaks to the rest of us. That’s why it’s been over-used. A picture of a bad clown; a mirror selfie; a photograph of a beautiful sunset.

What many photographers could do with, in my humble opinion, is less of the Judgy-Judgerson and a little more of that shutter clicking enthusiasm that makes good pictures in the long run. A little less busy-body and a little more personal journey.

Shoot whatever you want with your camera. It’s your camera. Cliches are everywhere. And, seriously, cliches in themselves aren’t as bad as refusing to kill our darlings.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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