the Proto Photographer

Photography, without fear of the cliché

Amateur Photography

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[photo credit: Aaron Kaffen @]

For most photographers, revolutionary work is as exhilarating as it is rare. By revolutionary, I mean to say that they’ve added something to the canon of photography that’s truly new and that sets them apart from the millions of photographers that have preceded them.

For amateur photographers, this kind of work is no less exhilarating, but, I might posit, is far more rare. Regardless they remain undaunted and shoot away at the ether waiting for their own moment of photographic revolution. And it’s in the spirit of that pursuit that they’ve learned to revile and vilify the banality of the cliché.

How, after all, can we be expected to uncover the new and heretofore undiscovered range of photographic expression if we’re taking pictures of the same tired subject matter that folks have been churning out for decades?

“Grainy black and white photos of punk shows? Seen it.” “The Eiffel Tour shot from the Parc du Champs de Mars? Just search for it on Flickr.” “Women leaning suggestively against random vehicles? Have you seen a magazine rack in the last sixty years without one?” In our quest for uniqueness, we shun these time-tested subjects and focus, instead, on more groundbreaking fare.

I can’t say that I totally disagree with this kind of content snobbery. If you’re simply recreating what others have already done, then the art of photography has been lost, and you’re working solely on technical acumen.

But in my own work, I’m finding a growing admiration for clichés. I’ve looked for opportunities to play with iconic ideas and warp them around my imagination. Or maybe just tweak them in subtle ways that only affect you in the subconscious.

It could be that I’ve accepted, with a few years under my belt, the reality that there’s nothing completely new under the sun. More than that, though, perhaps there’s an accomplishment in owning clichés. Maybe a mark can be made in the lineage of imagery, just by taking something so universally recognizable and bending it to your will.

After all, it’s easy to surprise someone by doing something they didn’t expect. It could be a greater effort to catch someone off guard with something that they thought they saw coming.