Lacking Originality

Lacking Originality, originally uploaded by bang*.

Day 140 / 365
So I finally got some time to head out and give the Fuji x100 a real workout today, off I headed to nearby Harrogate. Lucky me headed straight into the rain, now I said the fuji needed a workout but i’m not quite ready to test it’s water repellency just yet. Spotted this shot and despite the voice in my head screaming at me not to shoot such a cliche fired off a quick frame before walking back to the car feeling a little dirty for my lack of creativity today. However in hindsight it fits perfectly with what has been on my mind for a week or so.

I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the craft of photography lately, partly due to Mr DuChemin elegantly putting into words many of my recent thoughts & feelings on modern photography. I hinted at this the other day when I mentioned briefly my feelings on flickr and it’s general tide of fluffy kittens & rainbows. One statement I’ve recently come to take to heart is “If you frame up a shot and feel you’ve seen it before, then don’t press that shutter”. We need to push the craft of photography forward and stop shooting what we think people want to see (ie. what we’ve seen already that has been received with praise).

I don’t have any problem with using others concepts and putting your vision onto them but straight out shooting to look like someone else isn’t going to get you (or anyone else) very far. Surely we are photographers because we want to share our personal vision of the world with others, much like writers and painters. We create something which expresses how WE see the world, not how we think others want us to see the world.

Here’s the perfect image from a flickr contact of mine in which he expresses in his comment pretty much my feelings on the current state of many photographers work (and I’m not just saying this of photographers on flickr).

My best advice? Well if you do see someones shot and think “hey that’s cool, I’m going to shoot one of those.” then rather than just trying to replicate what they did, examine exactly what it is about the shot that you think is “cool”. Is it the light, the moment, the composition, examine your true feelings on the photograph rather than just trying to make a photograph that you hope someone else is going to say “Oh that’s cool”,”Great shot”, “Fav”. In fact better than that, unplug the computer and pick up a book of Cartier-Bresson, Avedon, O’Neill, Penn, Winograd, Adams, Evans photographs and spend an hour or so looking at them. Feel the power the physical photograph has that looking at a monitor seems to lack.

Sure I’m not saying every image we take has to be able to change the world with its power and emotion, I’m just saying it’s time we all took a moment to consider what it is we are really trying to say with our work.

I’ll leave you with a quote (it’s been awhile since one of these) –

I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term -meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching – there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster. – Ansel Adams

Oh, I do like todays photograph by the way, It’s just I expect more of myself.

110 thoughts on “Lacking Originality

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  2. “Surely we are photographers because we want to share our personal vision of the world with others, much like writers and painters.”
    What if, instead of wanting to share my personal vision with others, I wanted to explore my own vision? I think that many people who post photographs on flickr especially would fall into that category. They see photographs that they love, but its not enough to see the other photograph, they want to experience the photograph, because even if their attempt at recreating it doesn’t look the same (and it won’t) the process of trying to mimic it is their own, and the photographic memory is of their creation. (I didn’t mean for that to be a run on sentence)
    Due to the ease of modern digital photography, I think that many “photographers” are not even trying to make art. I think many are merely trying to figure out their own views, through the lens of a community that is all doing the same (thus connecting their personal expression to that of a larger community where they are accepted).
    I am reminded of this Bukowski poem:

    However, all of this is not to say that I do not think that as artists, we should not be pushing ourselves forward. But not everyone is an artist.

    Thank you for an engaging topic.

    • Hi, thanks for continuing the debate. I guess this is part of what compelled me to write the post. The thoughts I wrote are my feelings on the matter, I read a few of these comments and see others viewpoints and feelings.
      I guess of late I’ve been looking long and hard at my own work and have had a fairly strong feeling in my gut that I need to create photographs with meaning. I’ve spent hours pouring over the work of JR, Terry O’Neill, Steve McCurry, Irving Penn and Don McCullin. All different voices showing different visions but telling their stories in such individual ways. After seeing photographs with such bite and power I came back to flickr to post my 365 and was hit with a wall of trite images, made all the worse if one then views the inane comments some of these images receive. I see nothing wrong with viewing work you like and seeking to use those ideas and concepts for your own photographs and I agree not all photographers are trying to create art. I just feel that our craft is taking a beating from the technology side at the moment and while I harbour no hard feelings towards those who just wish to experiment with their personal view of the world through the lens, I do worry for those egos built by technology and the internet.
      True not everyone is an artist (or wishes to be an artist) but do we not all wish to be creative. Isn’t that the power of the camera, to attempt to show the world as you see it and in that case express your vision, not just press the cool filter button on the camera and then think hey I’m awesome.
      Thanks for your considered comment, food for thought indeed. Also thanks for the link to Bukowski.

      • I definitely understand your feelings. I actually avoided flickr like the plague until very very recently (and only because it was the only easy option I had for creating portfolio style browsing on my own website). I agree that there are definitely a lot of people on Flickr with inflated photographic egos that are not deserved because of the ridiculous praise they receive in comments.
        I too am working on a 365 photography project, and am constantly trying to improve both my technical abilities and the messages that my images send. Its great to see that others are also striving to be constantly better both for themselves and for the viewer.

  3. Very few times I’m inspired by photographers. Yeah, many have incredible ideas or get caught up in seemingly perfect timing, but as an “artist” I’ve always just gone about things experimentally. Whether or not I’ve seen it before. I graduated from NMU’s School of Art & Design a couple years ago and I believe there was only one or two times I sorta “copied” or drew influence from others artists. Or maybe I have unconsciously. This also may be why my work is pretty much on the top end of mediocre …in my opinion, anyway. Often, I just work off whatever I’m thinking about or feeling. Or not feeling, which can work to my advantage.

    Good post, by the way!

  4. “Sure I’m not saying every image we take has to be able to change the world with its power and emotion, I’m just saying it’s time we all took a moment to consider what it is we are really trying to say with our work.”

    so true.

    Nice shot 😉

  5. “the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching – there would be a vast improvement in total output” – so true. Congratulations on FP!

  6. I’m in love with Black and White (Both Colour and Race). What you say is true, though.

    We lack what it takes for others to take our pictures, ideas or even thoughts and try and implement it in their lives. Instead of stepping up to the challenge and indulging in the unknown, we find comfort in pre-discovered.

    Great piece. Great Pic.

  7. Well said. I think that your principles of making something your own applies to many different fields, I know it can easily apply to my world of the music industry. I say get inspired, but don’t steal.



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  10. I’ve been thinking about the poetry I write lately. It’s all about nature. It’s usually never sad. So last week or the week before I wrote some sad poems. I was even contemplating writing a poem about war. Why should I write about sadness, though? I don’t have any in my life! Many classics are about deeper feelings than just happiness. That’s what makes them classic. But I don’t just have happiness, I have joy. So I’ve come to terms.

  11. The interesting thing about originality is it’s always in the eye or ears of the beholder. Were just the creators it’s not up to us to decide whats original!

  12. A good reminder as I head out this holiday weekend to do some creative shooting. I needed to hear this before I begin.

    “We create something which expresses how WE see the world, not how we think others want us to see the world.” That is the most important message for me because I do believe that this will happen if you are being true to yourself. It’s what I strive for, and it’s important to me that people see things from my point of view. I can focus on this when I am just out shooting for myself. That’s also when I have the most fun. And I do like looking at other’s photography for inspiration — not to copy — just like I do when I look at art/crafts/sewing from other artists.

    Sometimes, we do just “grab” a shot when we can because we want to do something and we know when we’ve cheated ourselves as well as the viewer. But sometimes, that’s how we get really lucky and something great happens (or almost happens, anyway).

    Great post.

    • Yeah I’m with you, if you are true to yourself (and your vision) then you are able to take inspiration from what we see from others and apply parts of that to our own work as it aids us in our visual expression.
      I think you touched on a point that I sort of missed in my initial post, my feelings here are mainly applied to my personal work, paid assignments also allow for personal vision but here a collaboration of my vision and others visions must form to create the final image. Under these circumstances it depends upon those involved as to the opportunity of original work. Sometimes it’s my job to steer the client away from the cliche, other times that decision isn’t mine to make. These second types of jobs are the ones which make my personal work all the more important and why I strive to create meaningful work in it.
      Enjoy your weekend, I’ll stop by the blog in a few days to see what you came up with, no pressure it’s just nice to see what people are working through in their heads.

  13. This is a bit jumbled, but here it goes. Generally, I agree with you. There’s a lot of the same thing over and over. There are also a lot of people that post any shots they take, whether or not they’re actually quality images. When going through the Explore pages on Flickr, there are always a few photos that make me wonder how they were ever featured. Same with some of the photos that used to be on the homepage. Each to their own, I suppose. On the other hand, there are some very talented people on that site. I’m preferring RedBubble more and more these days. Anyway, back to your point. I think imitation can be a good way to pick up a new skill, but I’d add that it would be better to come up with a twist to the shot someone else has already done. I’ve also wondered this: are there really any truly original images anymore? (that’s more of a hypothetical/philosophical question than anything…not meaning to be snarky)

    • “I’ve also wondered this: are there really any truly original images anymore? (that’s more of a hypothetical/philosophical question than anything…not meaning to be snarky)”

      That’s something that I was going to touch on but left out for another day. As the saying goes there aren’t any original ideas out there. To this I can relate but say it is where our creativity comes in, we (as photographers, writers, musicians, painters etc etc) are walking on the shoulders of giants. Those masters who have gone before and beaten out a path which has our respective crafts where they are today. Where we come in is that we can now take cues and pieces from those masters, we create our work using their ingredients. It’s just that we need to combine the parts we like best and which fit our vision to push forward our art.
      Thanks for your thoughts and joining the debate.

  14. Congratulations on being freshly pressed Mark, again! (I think that is how I came across your blog in the first place). Being FP forced me to read the whole post and I am glad I did. I am in a in process right know of trying to do exactly what you suggested with my photography. There is a photographer whose images I just love and I was thinking to myself not to think about the content so much as to how it was lit and how it made me feel and try to find my way of bringing that into my photography. Reading your blog got me in the frame of mind to start thinking about this again and try to incorporate this into a wedding I will be shooting this Sunday. So thank you. I also enjoyed your tweet about the 2 stop exposure compensation guy, way to save his day;).

    • Glad that my little mini rant is helping remind some people to think (if only for a little while) a little harder before taking the shot.
      Enjoy shooting the Wedding, take a few risky shots that you’ve been thinking about, not so much for the Bride & Groom but for yourself.
      As for saving that guys bacon, I hope he learnt a lesson on knowing his gear and puts it into practise before taking his next job, but I’ll let karma decide.

  15. Thanks for sharing the quote. Always believed that its not about the camera, but the eye. Recently i was browsing through a “popular” photo blog. Bright and shiny flowers/interiors, blasting with colour. And every post carried a photo of the photographers’ feet in different settings – on the road, in water. That certainly was the end of imagination. Your post just brought that home.

  16. The thing I found on my recent roadtrip was that not everyone has an eye. I looked at the pics my other half took and realised there was no real subject. It was click and point. There was no composition and no focus. The shot above for example, an everyday slice-of-life shot of a zebra crossing on a wet day with a pair of legs. It tells a story and because it doesn’t show the whole person or scene, and is BandW, makes you imagine things. For me, it was Abbey Road, but then I’m a thousand years old:) I LOVE photos and wish I had the hutzpah to use the camera on anything other than Auto!

  17. I’m contemplating taking up photography. I don’t know how to approach it. This post was enlightening; I look forward to reading more.

  18. Creativity is indeed fruitful in growing and emphasizing one’s art ritual. I believe people imitate because they either like the idea or they are striving to learn the art. When you are imitating just for the sake of it, you are not an artist, since requirement from an artist is personal input and self guided insight. However, it might be OK for beginners to imitate some to get a hang of it, but your input is always demanded to earn identity and if it is brave enough, it will catch on.
    Nice piece, I bet you work hard adding your perspective to your work, good luck with that.

  19. I found your blog via Freshly Pressed. Thought-provoking post! I like what you said about not pressing the shutter if you’ve seen this image before. I have restrained myself lately in just such a way when taking pictures. I’m no great shakes as a shooter; l just shoot stuff on the street for fun, and buildings. But I have been saying to myself, “Wait, why do I need this picture again?”

    And yet…there is a primal pleasure in capturing images…and maybe there is a human desire to capture again and again what has pleased us…even if we are imitating the work of others, or of ourselves. Maybe we want to become others by imitating their work…or maintain the reality of ourselves by repeating what worked before.

    I am just pondering things here…

    Meanwhile, to get more concrete and less philosophical, I believe it was Garry Winogrand who said (and I paraphrase): “I take pictures to see what the world will look like as a photograph.” I often think of this as I shoot pictures myself.

    The Ansel Adams quote is provocative. Maybe if making pictures were harder, there would be less superficial images. Or perhaps not. I remember once looking at my grandmother’s photo album, at a picture she shot in the 1930s of her kids on a roller coaster. What a great picture it was! Probably snapped with an ancient Brownie. She was just grabbing a photo on a Sunday afternoon, but the picture had such vitality and color that it could have hung with recognized masterpieces. None of her other pictures were so good. So, the ease with which photos can be taken can also work in our favor, and show how a housewife in 1930s Brooklyn, New York, however fleetingly, can function as an artist spontaneously.

    Not every picture will be a great one, as is evidenced looking at the proof sheets from which famous images have come. The small variations can make the difference between cliche and freshness. This is obvious, and I’m not saying this like it’s anything profound that others don’t know.

    Something else I read in a digital photography manual has stuck with me over the years, and I’d like to share it, although I don’t remember who the author was (I was skimming the book in the gift shop at the International Center of Photography in NYC): “Cut out everything but what you love.” Frame the shot to focus on what gets you most passionate and excited. That is the phrase that has guided me in my own pictures for several years, as well as in other creative work. When you take a picture (or, say, select photos for a layout), CUT OUT EVERYTHING BUT WHAT YOU LOVE. In a sense, this is the basic principle of editing anything–pictures, stories, poetry, music. To find the bold essence of the thing.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. By the way, although I don’t think your picture above is a great one, I understand why you took it and it definitely pleases the eye. The patterns and movement are appealing. So why not take it? And maybe an additional reason to take it was to get yourself thinking to write this interesting post! Thanks.

    • Thanks for joining the debate, this is perhaps the most considered response I’ve received on the blog thus far. As such let me think through your interesting points.
      “there is a primal pleasure in capturing images”
      Susan Sontag writes with great intelligence on this matter in “On Photography”, her point that photography has become one of the principle devices for experiencing something rings true. How often do we see others and ourselves live out our lives through the viewfinder, missing the moment in order to capture it. Also the voyeuristic nature of making photographs is considered in her writing, the pleasure that one can gain from almost stealing moments from time. I don’t wish to dissaude people from making photographs because they enjoy it, indeed to many those photographs will provide years of joy as they look back at them. It’s just to the people who feel the need to then put some of these images into the photographic world as pieces of art, or pieces of photojournalistic value.
      or maintain the reality of ourselves by repeating what worked before.
      True we may feel the need to repeat to maintain ourselves, I feel though that this can only lead to a stagnation of our respective art.
      Oooh i do enjoy a good discussion on the philosophy of photography and art every now and then.

      True that the Winogrand quote would point to a simpler almost carefree approach to photography, but looking through Garrys work it becomes apparent to the viewer that yes indeed he did take photographs to see how the world looks in a photograph but he did so with consideration of composition, timing and great visual expression. He took moments from the everyday but expressed them in a new and mostly humorous way.

      Not every picture will be a great one, as is evidenced looking at the proof sheets from which famous images have come.
      Again true, however the moment/image was seen by the photographer initially and they then worked and moulded what they saw in the viewfinder to create that final classic photograph. Here I will admit that although the statement that if I’ve seen the photograph before I won’t press the shutter, it doesn’t mean I won’t reconsider my approach to capturing that subject, I may well capture that initial frame and then continue to capture consecutive frames as I narrow down exactly what it is I want to see and how I wish to see and express it. This is my personal creative process, the viewfinder is my canvas and I often make sketches before my final image is realized, many times I can look back at all of the photographs made from one shoot and see how I’ve worked to create my final image. Which comes to your point from the book of cutting out everything but what you love. Many photographers forget this very point, the become so involved in making sure everything they want is in the frame that they forget to remove that which isn’t relevant. I consider my composition to be almost simplistic, clean and uncluttered, it’s just the way I see and I think it is an important point to bring up. For people to be original, or at least creative, they have to become more considerate of what exactly the essence of their work is.

      Again many thanks for your two cents (although it feels of a much higher value) also thanks for what is probably one of the most honest responses to the photograph (to my mind) yet. I get that people may like it and to them I’m grateful for the praise, as I say I do kinda like it, it just doesn’t make me proud. I felt a little bit of a fraud for the ease of which it was created and the almost lazy way in which it filled the brief for my 365 project.

      • Thanks for replying to my comment. I didn’t mean to imply that Winogrand didn’t use careful composition, because I know he was a conscious craftsman. I just meant that you see some shots on his proof sheets that are close but not quite as good as the excellent shot that he chose to print as the exemplar of what he was trying to express. Of course, some of the other shots could be fine too, as is the case with any decent photographer’s proofs. But I like his idea of trying to see what the world (or a specific piece of it) looks like as a photograph.

        I was taking a walk over the weekend and shot a picture of a crazy unique sign in Times Square, strictly to have a record of it. I like to do shots like that, because they are interesting to see later on, just weeks or even years down the line. Nothing original, just reportorial, but I made as balanced a composition as I could, as is my practice.

        Later, though, I was walking by the front of a building which had some interesting moldings of mythological types of faces on the doorway, the type of thing I’ve taken many pix of before. After thinking about it, though, this time I passed. The composition wasn’t good and, like I said, I’d taken this type of thing before. Yet maybe I could have found something interesting if I’d looked closer or studied it that doorway more. But I decided to pass. I just felt like continuing my walk. No great loss!

        Anyway, these were just things that went through my mind after dipping into this debate and wandering around, as I often do, with my camera along. It’s great that you’ve struck a nerve and gotten people going with your post. I’ll have to look through more of your posts and pictures when I get a chance.

  20. Yes, your article is valuable to those seeing the world as potential art. By the way, the photo is super, so glad you posted it. I do watercolor art and my husband is a photographer who sees things others do not see. Often we both wonder at the art that gets “juried” in or posted and awed at as often it is in a genre that is already overdone. Well, always, the known is comfortable, but the known that is overlooked is rather magical. Thanks for your post!

    • I do enjoy the times when I get to work with other photographers or visual artists, seeing how each of us responds to what we see. It must be great to to have that constant reminder of individual vision.

  21. I’m sort of just beginning to understand what your talking about, and totally agree with you. I don’t know much about the business or the “photography” scene nowadays or its history, but i do understand originality, and feel its something thats becoming harder to achieve. My eye is trained in fine art and architecture and i let that dictate when i press the shutter, and hopefully what i find interesting to me, other’s will also. Im also fairly new to this blog thing but am enjoying reading post’s like yours, because I begin to get a direction as to where to go. Good stuff, my blogs here :

    • I love that you’ve taken it upon yourself to attempt to “figure yourself out”, I guess this is a path that many artists take. We experiment in an attempt to put something of ourselves into our work, by expressing my vision of my subject, I in turn figure out my own feelings of what I am seeing. In this way we begin to understand more about ourselves.
      Thanks for dropping by.

  22. Loved the post and thanks for some great things to think about. I also enjoyed reading the comment by hornytimetraveler. Really good stuff. I always want every image I shoot to be amazing but it just isn’t that way. When they do come, it is a wonderful feeling and it keeps me going for more. I love photography and being that is a career later in my life, still have much to learn and see myself evolving as a photographer. A process I’m sure will continue for the rest of my life, or at least I hope so! Thanks for your insights and thoughts. Very interesting!

    • I believe that as photographers our creative journey never ends, we never fully grasp the ability to express the fullness of our vision. The day my ability catches up with my vision is probably the day I’ll have to quit. This is probably part of my feelings at the moment also, the fact I’m finding it harder to create work I’m happy with is perhaps a sign that I’m progressing in a good way. As I evolve in my career I find a need to create more meaningful work, perhaps as part of the desire to leave something behind of value but mainly I feel as a better understanding of what my vision is and a much stronger desire to express it fully.

  23. very interesting concept of originality! i do feel the same about art and fashion. The general public only want to see that pretty and colorful and truly most artist arent in the that anymore but they are forced to produce art in that nature so they can get by. From just hearing the few artist statements from my class; it’s very evident that we are much more interested in investigating what is not pretty in the world. The tricky part is to combine the beauty of art with the ugliness of reality.

    • Often those things that we believe to be pretty are in fact only deemed pretty because we have already been told they are. In the early days of photography it was believed (and still is to some degree) that by photographing something a certain level of importance or value is imparted to the object or person (paparazzi?), and so naturally if it’s important then it must be beautiful otherwise why make a visual record of it?
      In regards combining the beauty of art with the ugliness of reality, many times I feel that it is often more showing my viewer the beauty in what they perceive as the ugliness of reality that I wish to do. I think many photographers have a similar vision hence why we strive to express out vision, from the war photographers capturing the beauty of simple moments of peace during conflict, to humanitarian photographers capturing the joy on the faces of poor & desperate when something as simple (to us) as a running water tap is built for them. We strive to tell the world “Look, Look here, it isn’t all horrible and ugly, look at this beautiful moment”
      Thanks for adding your voice to the debate.

  24. Pingback: The old world in a new light. « bang | Photography

  25. WOW! Seems we have ourselves an interesting debate here.
    I’m finding some of your comments very interesting and thought provoking. I almost forgot to head out and shoot todays 365 shot as I’ve spent most of the day thinking through this whole subject again.

  26. I think this idea of identifying components of things we appreciate (instead of just attempting replication) is interesting. I am no means a photographer, but it seems like this can be applied to so many artistic endeavors and beyond. Thought provoking post!

  27. Pingback: Lacking Originality (via bang | Photography) « Joshua Santos

  28. …”stop shooting what we think people want to see (ie. what we’ve seen already that has been received with praise)”…So true and accurate. This is an amazing analysis.

  29. Sometimes the cliche is one’s own. Lately I’ve been realising I re-take my own favourite photos too often. I know I need to push myself. I just don’t know how. So your advice to look at photography on print rather than online is perhaps one way in which I can begin noticing new elements.

    The best photography always happens when we don’t look for it.

    • The best photography always happens when we don’t look for it.
      I’d say I’m more along the line of thought that we are more able to create higher quality work when we don’t place expectations on ourselves. Here is the problem with seeking something new in our work, if we head out the door with the thought in our head that we need to create something beautifully creative and different, that expectation itself becomes too limiting.
      The old adage “Lighten up and shoot” is where I often come from, which may seem to go against the “don’t press the shutter if you’ve seen it before”. However I personally find the two go hand in hand in my creative process.

    • …yet I feel it’s often hard to draw a line between imitating oneself and drifting towards cliche on one hand and pursuing an idea, a project, trying to fathom this idea’s or project’s posibilities on the other.

      Just a thought I’d like to add to this very interesting debate; since I am not a native speaker, I hope this comes over right.

  30. To an extent I agree with both you and cap’n stephel. There is a lot of photography that looks the same out there (I am certainly guilty of it, anyway), but as someone who has only recently got into photography I find it really useful to ‘imitate’ the style or technique of others. I find that once I can produce a similar image to that of others I have the confidence that I can use that technique or style and can then adapt and change it and use it differently, which can sometimes result in more original images, so it’s a sort of process for me.

    I find originality hard sometimes, I don’t know if that’s because I’m not trying to be as creative as I could be or because I see all of these clichéd images all the time and think ‘I wish my pictures were like that’ and so can’t think outside that frame of reference. I really do try though, your post and some other comments I’ve had from friends along the same lines have made me want to become more original and create my own style, so for that I thank you.

  31. I have to say that whilst I agree with your overall sentiment that there needs to be more originality and that Flickr is having a standarising/sanitising effect on creative output I must take issue with the quote you choose to end with.

    I particularly disagree with the view that as technology makes taking photographs easier and more affordable, in other words as it becomes democratised, that this is bad for quality as you then get all these average joes going out and having a go and that denigrates photography in general. In a sense I find it a bit elitist.

    The analogy with watercolours or etchings is also a bad one, yes it takes a degree of skill to produce these, but this ignores the huge schism between the kind of everyday chocolate-box watercolour images of sail-boats and twee countryside scenes on one hand and and on the other conceptual art which is genuinely challenging and boundary pushing.

    Technical skill has nothing to do with it. Take music as well- in particular punk in the 1970s Technically poor musicians, but managing to produce something (at least back then)of refreshing originality.

    Also there is an element of wanting it both ways, on one hand you want people to stop copying and try something new, but on the other you want people to use source material of other photographers. The issue here is that there is a feeling that copying (or drawing inspiration) is not bad per se it’s just that flickr is bad. Again there is an elitist element here.

    Something you may find interesting is the concept of Grounded Theory. It is a social research concept, but the whole idea is to ensure originality by disposing, or at least minimising pre-existing concepts. On Wikipedia the best line which sums up the approach is

    “Studying the literature of the area under study gives preconceptions about what to find and the researcher gets desensitized by borrowed concepts.”

    So according to this philosophy just improving your source material will do nothing to improve originality.

    Sorry if I appear critical, and maybe I’m thinking aloud a bit here but the postmodernist in me thinks that the only way of being original in photography now is by being anti-photography – that is either just taking random shots (reality unadulterated by the photographer) or by ditching the camera and focusing on found images – the kind of photos which exist at the bottom of drawers

    Or even by using software to completley distort images. I really feel that with the availability of cameras there is no other way to achieve originality.

    • I appreciate your candor in response to the post. I don’t mind your criticism at all, in fact I hoped for some considered counter arguments, it’s only through debate that I’ll be able to work through these issues in my mind.
      I’m far from trying to come across as elitist, I love the fact that more people are stepping into the world of photography. I guess my thoughts were aimed more at those trying to express more of themselves through their work. I love the ease in which people can create and share photographs in the modern age, the field of photography has pretty much always been about the everyman and woman being able to capture the world they see and share that view with others. As for flickr I both love it and dislike it, it’s a great place for people to view photography, learn more about it, meet others interested in it and can even take you to the most niche areas of the craft. I guess the dislike comes from the fact that the community is now so large that it is suffering from the problems all social communities virtual and physical suffer.
      I guess your feeling for anti-photography would come into line with the lomography, hipstamatic, snapshot fields which seem to be getting a lot of well earn interest at the moment. A lot can be said for the simplicity of using ones phone to grab images of the world about you, however I still feel that the shots which really interest us taken in this manner are still created with an inherent artistic skill, whether trained in photography or not. This itself touches on the “originality for originalities sake” problem. Like the guy who strapped a digicam to his cats collar and set it to take an image every 20 mins or so. The cat now has its own gallery exhibition. Sure it’s an original concept, but I’m pretty sure without the back story of the cat the photographs wouldn’t stand alone as “exhibition” worthy.
      You do bring interesting counter points though, so thanks for joining the discussion.

  32. it looks gloomy…i mean, “gloomy”…like someone has been longing for something by walking nowhere…i don’t know, but that what i got when i saw this

  33. I think it is a good idea to consider things before you shoot, but it also seems to me that to try TOO hard to edit one’s photos prior to shooting them would rob us of most of the spontaneous and magical “decisive moments” that Henri Cartier-Bresson built his career & philosophy upon. He is quoted on the Wikipedia site as noting, “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” I would propose that to whatever degree you need to, you allow yourself the luxury afforded by today’s technology, shoot whatever you like in the moment. Then, if you need to, edit the trite or the subconsciously imitative out “on the cutting room floor” instead. It’s long been my opinion that what makes a good photographer is not his or her technical skill or subject matter, it’s the determination after the deed is done and the critical analysis performed that the image either achieves a desired goal or is a spontaneous serendipitous choice, worthy of sharing with the world, It used to be that photographers were limited by their financial investment in film & processing, and forced refine to economize with their vision. Perhaps that separated the wheat from the chaff quicker, and discouraged those without “the eye” from pursing photography as a profession or serious hobby. Digital photography no doubt opens up the field to more rank amateurs, but talent and originality will still rise to the top.

  34. This would have to be the first blog I pop into having just posted my recent photos of . . . Yosemite. While it was awesome being there it was such a difficult subject to photograph – Ansel Adams left such wonderfully large footprints. And how to catch the perfection of the stillness? I did my best as far as recording the moment, because it was there and so were we which I remember feeling shabby about at the time.

    To walk some of the streets of San Francisco, LA and NY however is to find art in
    the truly shabby and that is always exciting. To me anyway.

    I love your photo and as blck and white as it is, the shades of grey are fully illuminated silver.

  35. It lacks originality only because it’s been done before (for the Beatles’ “Abby Road” album cover). And this, arguably, is a definition of “originality”: doing something that’s never been done before. But imagine if you could time-travel, and beat the Beatles to it! It has actually been proven, using a Concord jet and an atomic clock, that time travel is a reality. Only problem: Nobody has broken the light barrier yet, only the sound barrier–thus time-travel today is measured in microseconds. But in the future…perhaps someone will!

  36. Pingback: Monday 30 May 2011 | Fold & Cut

  37. Like the saying goes “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, similarly, Photography is an art unique to each observer!

  38. A place for everyone and everyone in their place.

    Photography is an artform which most anyone may indulge. Taking a brush to canvas or composing a song may be far out of reach for many; but a camera even toddlers can use (which I might add, produces some great shots LOL).

    So what if it is another close-up of a flower, or a landscape with a dead-center horizon line, destined for their creative memories scrapbook. Nevermind that true artists prefer the term “creative memories for the creatively challenged scrapbook.”

    The simple truth is – Flickr is not the Guggenheim. Kindly adjust expectations accordingly.

  39. “I felt a little bit of a fraud for the ease of which it was created and the almost lazy way in which it filled the brief for my 365 project.” from one of your replies above.

    Regardless of how easy or difficult it is to get an “acceptable” image out of a camera, the fundamentals of composition remain. I think often it is merely a matter of composition that separates a “bad”, “good”, or “great” photograph. Timing (well, for some types of photography) is also very important. In the photograph you have used to illustrate this post you show excellent composition and a wonderful sense of timing. Not just anyone with a p+s, do-everything camera would have got the shot you’ve used to illustrate your post.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article and a wonderful and spontaneous photograph. Congrats, too, on being Freshly Pressed!, (which led me here in the first place.

  40. Pingback: On Teaching Self-expression « moonshinemedia

  41. I like your words about originality and trying to follow your own personal vision. Over the past year, I’ve been exploring illustration, painting, and photography — and, in doing this, have been more noticing what has already been done in these fields. It’s easy to respond, as you said, with “Cool image!” But it takes a step further to be inspired by it and learn from it to improve your own work that springs from your own experiences (The book “Art and Fear” is great for words on this). I also like your point about shutting down the computer and picking up photography books. I think the same way about going to museums and art galleries… the inspiration and impact is much deeper than on a computer screen. Thanks for this great post.

  42. I like this photo, black and white is my personal favorite. Your post is interesting and could not be further from the truth. I have not been a photographer for long, but my imagination and creativity is unique (but that is just my opinion). You are right about seeing a photo and thinking it’s cool and wanting to duplicate, once someone does that it’s lost it’s originality, which is not fair to the one who photographed the subject.

  43. Thank you for that thought provoking piece! I’ve been having the same internal discussion about photography and especially what it is that I’m trying to achieve with it. There are periods where I really feel uninspired but I think that its also lazy/tired, when you shoot street you have to keep sharp. A good kick in the butt helps but also the questioning of one’s motives to shoot is a great thing and how to improve or define one’s style.

    You’re entry though, very motivating! Thanks!

  44. What a gift to be able to tell a story with one shot! I can’t take a picture for the life of me. (Red Eye, a stubby finger in the way, that is all me)

    Maybe that is why I take great photos and write short stories about them (since I can’t take them myself)…just a different approach to photography I guess.

  45. After checking out entries to a local photo competition, I felt the same disillusion when I saw that most of the shots were produced by rich kids with wide angle lenses. Only a few of them, though noisy and not as colorful as the others, spoke to the heart.

  46. I just happened on your blog utterly at random through the WordPress site. I’m no photographer, but I have to say I thought the title of your post and photo referred to the way everybody likes to recreate the cover of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album!

  47. Your words have merit. Another aspect to consider is people would stop trying to emulate other if they simply picked up a photography book, read a little about the craft and then went outside to practice using their own vision. There are still wet labs out there and there is still film being sold. Digital has made photography loose it’s credibility in the eyes of the average person. I think if people had to take the time to learn what an f-stop really did they would slow down and stop worrying about flickr groups and might make something amazing with their cameras.

  48. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about the craft very much. Not being a professional photographer, I found it very insightful and your words will likely give me pause next time I see a rainbow, landscape, or cute animal before I decide to reach for my Kodak!

  49. I always find it hard to put originality in anything and I’m a musician whose brother is a photographer

    I often find that when we borrow concepts and ideas from others and then add our own twist/flavour to it only then does it become partially original but I’ve yet to see anything original either in the musical wheel or one of photography.

  50. I love your thinking and insight on the matter1 I have often thought of how i dont want my photographs to be like something someone else has already done! Originality is great… But the Beetles walk is too cool to pass up!!

  51. What an honest post…thanks for shedding light on this concern! I only took one photography course in college, but I noticed that of all the black and white photos I developed, I loved my most original (and hard to explain) photos the best. Those are the ones hanging on my living room wall.

  52. Pingback: Lacking Originality (via bang | Photography) « I Can't Stop Raving

  53. Hey (: I like what you’ve written on your post! Cool pic…hehee^^
    What you said is so true and I think one of the reasons why at this point of the world why the people may seem to lack their own creativity “spunk” is because in a way that I believe has been “taken away” or “used” by somebody else already.
    It’s happened a few times to me. I try to think up an idea and put that into art so I use every idea that comes into my mind and what I feel would be “right” in the picture. Using even a small detail to have some meaning behind it. And then I end up seeing someone else’s work (even though I had no references)and I think, “Oh. Someone thought the same concept as me.” In a way, it could be me who thought the same as them. I think it’s because although we are all different (all unique!), sometimes we end up thinking the same thing. Which I’m pretty sure we’ve all experienced that with someone 😉

  54. I like your post, it’s a debate that could go on an on and so it should.
    What is it we strive to achieve? something that hasn’t been done before, something unique perhaps? It’s more than that it’s capturing that moment, that slice of time, from your own perspective. Okay so you may borrow a technique here or there but ultimately that image is your’s alone. Whether you take a random shot or you perfectly frame it, whether you just do portraits or landscapes or shots from the air, they are yours alone.
    I’m amazed by how little we actually see with our eyes, the colours, the beauty, the balance and at times the imbalance of the world.
    Take a walk around a shop selling TV’s and hear the salesmen sell the TV that has the most accurate facsimile of colour. I rarely hear people talking about the colours around them.
    As a photogrpaher you capture those colours, you capture that moment, enough perhaps to make a ‘somebody’ take notice of what’s around them, and if it’s borrowed so what!

  55. Excellent ‘rant’.

    I guess we’re at a stage where pretty much everything has been done already it’s difficult to be fresh and truly imaginative. I know I’m not but I do keep trying (in vain).

    Ps – It’s good to see Mike Tyson is keeping it real designing Word Press Themes. That was supposed to be a joke.


  56. Great shot! What I think about photography or indeed any other creative endeavor- has ALL been seen/done before… there’s not a atory, not a movie nor a photoghraph..but it has never been seen photograped by you! Always the creator brings their own flavour, and background and technique and vision…so everytime it is unique… if you feel it..shoot it!

  57. Great article, I haven’t read all of the previous 102 comment, so apologies if I repeat a theme.

    I think the key point here is not what you take, it is what you publish.

    I don’t see any harm in copying someone else style, if you do it to learn. If you did it solely for commercial reason, I would be shallow.

    Unfortunately, from the photography sites that I frequent, true creativity is not rarely valued, and those that stick with a common genre are more ‘popular’

    Another issue facing photographers is all those new iPhone type devices, it is becoming very hard, if not impossible, to be original.

    • I think the key point here is not what you take, it is what you publish.

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, I (like you) don’t see a problem with copying work so that you know you can do it, or to figure out techniques. We just don’t need to see those images in photographers portfolios. If my clients ask for such work then I’ll shoot it but I’m very unlikely to use that image for any marketing. It isn’t that I’m ashamed of the work, it’s just it isn’t me, it isn’t my style and if it did go in the portfolio it would be very out of place.

  58. I also share the same sentiment somehow. For me as an example, as a starter in photography, I use other photographers’snaps to learn different styles and techniques – But only to that extent. Once I am able to learn from different photographers, I always try to put a personal flavor in every snap I take. And that’s originality.

  59. Pingback: The Internal Dual « Blog Archive « astrawally

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