Photographic cliches and New Years Resolutions

Somewhat unlike me, I've been sitting on a couple of "blowing off steam" posts for a while now. From time to time, the number of repeated photographic cliches and the endless attempts to promote mobile phones as useable picture taking devices gets to me, and I feel the need to "express myself" "robustly" "frankly" and "candidly". In other words a rant!! Below are two such which I present, unexpurgated. 

Self-censorship doesn't sit well with me, but I thought I would give these posts some time to see if I still thought the same way. I do so here they are.

"The best camera you have is the one you have with you."

People trot out this trite cliche all the time. Usually in some attempt to justify their use of a camera phone or poor quality compact. It might make more sense if it was "The best camera you have is the one you CHOOSE to have with you" Because thats the important part, choice. If you carry a rubbish camera, you'll get rubbish pictures, so why not always carry a decent one?

Some people are easily satisfied. You only have to look at what people post taken on their iPhones or some other low-quality picture-taking device. And as far as I'm concerned, if thats what makes you happy, it says a whole lot about you. Now, I'm not going to tell people what to use, thats up to them. But if people think an iPhone image is OK, and call themselves serious photographers, then I might ask what they have been smoking.

There is really no excuse for not taking something that is capable of decent reproduction out with you, if you are indeed serious about photography, unless you are one of these idiots who are more concened about whether or not you can put it in a pocket. And again, if thats what concerns you the most, see above.

"Always carry a camera"

 Why? I don't always carry a camera. Why would I want to? If I don't am I going to miss some significant moment in the history of the earth?  Probably not, and if I do somebody else will probably take it anyway. Thats not my job or my purpose. Endless snapshots are not what I want to capture with my camera. I can live without recording the more banal moments of my life and if I do see something interesting, do I necessarily have to record it? Why not use my eyes and my memory?

"The decisive moment"

No such thing, in my opinion. There is a school of photographic critic, who seems to think that some shot on the street image is an illustration of the wonderful timing and compositional skills of the photographer. They ascribe them impossible powers, as if somehow they assembled the almost perfect combination, by sheer talent and force of personality. Somehow these photographers, presumably with eyes in the back of their head can make an assessment in a millisecond of just what makes the "perfect" picture. Shame our eyes or our brains don't actually work like that. It also fails to take into account how the process of taking pictures in fast moving situations work. We all (and I mean ALL) to a large extent trust to luck and hope we have a decent shot. You only have to to look at contact sheets of some of the worlds best known images to see just how "decisive" the photographer was. More like the decisive moment, plus a few more just in case.

Plus who says its the decisive moment? and therefore a moment that renders everything else as irrelevant. In most cases we haven't seen the moment before or the moment after, Or 5 minutes before or three days after. There are billions of moments in any day when events, people and objects in the world combine to produce fantastic compositions but almost all of them will go unrecorded and disappear into history without ever being captured by a photographer. Plus whatever happened to the Photo-Essay?

And then there is of course the somewhat difficult matter of just how "spontaneous" some of these "decisive moments" are. There are lots of questions about some of the worlds most famous pictures, and I'm in no position to comment on the veracity of those that people question. However many of Bill Brandts "social docmentary" shots were set up using people he knew. And there are certainly questions about some of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bressons pictures. The famous shot of raising the flag on Iwo Jima is another example. Doesn't mean they aren't great pictures, and there is more to creativity than just pressing the shutter at the right time, because if there isn't that makes us little more than trained monkeys.

One of my intentions with this blog, apart from entertaining people for a few minutes every day is to constantly question photographic dogma and the cliches that seem to get repeated as nauseum. We all have to make our decisions as to what works for us, what we want to use, and how we want to use it. I believe that photographs are in our heads and not out there in the world, and that we make them rather than take them. 

Great photographs aren't waiting like big game and for us to track them down, great photographs are created by photographers who visualise something different, something nobody else has. This can happen in an instant on a pavement or over time in a studio. We don't "miss" great photographs, we just haven't created them yet.


New Years creative resolutions from Dpreview for mobile phone photography. Surely the most significant resolution for mobile phone photographers (a bit of a non-sequitur but there you go), and one that would improve their work instantly and significantly should be "I must buy a real camera"

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.

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