Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Is The Tide Turning?

There has been a good deal of talk recently (by photographers whose work I truly respect) about the possibility that landscape photography has slowly been getting quite cliche, and that this process has been exacerbated by social media.

You know the type of image I am talking about.  They often tend to be wide angle, often (over)saturated, often (over)sharpened images made at sunrise or sunset in iconic locations. These are the type of images that tend to trend well on social media.  I don't have to try to verbalize the issue, as it has already been done extraordinarily well by others.  Here is some light reading for you about this (seriously, these are really worth reading):

"Cliche, A Four Letter Word" by black and white photographer Chuck Kimmerlee in his blog The Unapologetic Photographer. Chuck's work makes a personal statement even when made in the most iconic of locations and his thoughts about photography are ones that I deeply respect. I recently participated in a fantastic workshop with him, John Barclay, and Dan Sniffin.

"Closure" in Thomas Welborn's Hololight Journal blog.  Thomas is a photographer whose images sing about the Oklahoma landscape

"Photo Consumption, Conformaty, and Copying in Landscape Photography" by Sarah Marino in her Nature Photo Guides Blog

"Will the Real Landscape Photography Please Stand Up" by Ugo Cei in his blog

OK, go read those.  No, really, you should....then come on back!

So what are my thoughts about this? Perhaps there is not any strong reason you should care, but, heck, it's my blog so it's what I get to do!

I understand the logic in these posts and actually totally agree with them....but with a bit of a different twist:

Chuch Kimmerlee perhaps said it best during the opening hours of our workshop.  I paraphrase, but he said something along the lines of ".....see what it is that you can ADD to the conversation".  I like that analogy because it still allows for me to take the cliche image, in order to get it out of my system. Let's face it, it is hard to say no to the rising sun illuminating Delicate Arch.  I have never been to Arches National Park, but if and when I go, yes, I probably do want to get that shot (if I can manage to get there before the other fifty tripod laden photographers, that is).  If I don't, I will always wonder what type of image I could have made. But does the world need yet another photograph of Delicate Arch at sunrise......probably not.

But here is the important part (sticking with the conversation analogy). To me, making that cliche photograph is like the opening part of a conversation with someone you have never met. It is the "Hi, I'm Howard, what's your name.  Oh, where 'ya from, what do you do, and how long have you been photographing?" part. But once you get that stuff out of the way, if you feel a connection to each other you keep talking.  Maybe it takes an hour, maybe it takes a day, maybe it takes years,  but if you keep talking to that same person at some point you will know something about them that not many do. You will start to generate your own impression about what they are all about. And THEN, you can make photos that add something new to the conversation!

Making that cliche image can be like a 'warm up', getting to know the location in a superficial way.  Once I get by that I can hope to perhaps speak with my own voice about what a location means to me and add to the conversation.  Those images are the first step in what my teacher Nancy Rotenberg used to call 'going beyond the handshake'. But first you have to get the handshake out of the way.

What about the social media issue....about how these warm up images are so pervasive there?  So what, I don't pay attention.  You know that study where it was shown that, on average, people look at each picture in a gallery for only a couple of seconds?  Well, I think that is what you get on social media. The vast majority of people scroll through images quickly and like or plus or comment 'great shot' in a matter of seconds.  That doesn't bother me because my expectations of social media are low.  Do I like getting plusses and likes...sure, who wouldn't.  And you can give them to me here and here if you want. But my expectation is not that I am going to have deep and meaningful discussions about art, photography, and images on these sites.  Not to sound cliche, but it is what it is, and what it is is people scrolling through rapidly often expecting a quid pro quo.  Sure, on occasion there is a meaningful comment made by someone who you immediately feel you would like to speak with (that's how I 'met' Thomas Welborn and several other good friends who I have never actually met 'face to face').  And if you can get those people to visit your blog and spend some time with your images then the social media thing was well worth it. Better to have a smaller and more involved audience than a larger one that flits by, at least in my opinion.

So, in summary, I do hope the tide is turning. But I do also take those cliche images to warm up and start the conversation.  Perhaps they should be taken and not shown. I only hope that a significant number of the pictures I show are sentences from when the dialogue gets good.  Only you can judge that. And as for the social media aspect, I think that will always foster the trendy and the popular.

Just my two cents!

"Stone Trees" from my Scene In Stone Portfolio  © Howard Grill

"Stone Trees" from my Scene In Stone Portfolio

© Howard Grill


© Howard Grill