1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

When does a familiar subject become a cliche?

Discussion in 'Talking Pictures' started by RovingMike, Oct 2, 2015.

  1. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Forgive me if we discussed this recently, but I think it was a while back and a couple of interesting posts are raising the issue of the possibly over-used label. Wicki of course says:

    A cliché or cliche (/ˈkliːʃeɪ/ or /klɪˈʃeɪ/) is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.

    So for me a lone tree photographed only because of its isolation is, but as an element in a landscape that is worth looking at for its own sake, is not. A sunset where the only reason is to record the colours and impact is, but when used as a lighting source for something else, is not. A candid with someone parked by a no parking sign is (almost without exception), milky water, where the main idea is to blur the water is, but as element in a scene that would work just as well some other way, is not. And so on. Any views?

    Sorry for people of tender age, because what's novel and meaningful to you might be done to death for many of us.
  2. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    I think the question should be when or why?

    I agree with your analysis of what has become a cliche and would include the lone figure in a shaft of sunlight in an extreme black and white city scene; the wrinkly old man who has become an exercise in tone manipulation - and with no context; graffiti with lone walker or beggar.
    All can be so irritating to me and simply boring reproductions, churned out daily.

    I think the why is important. In these days of mass output of images, the instant trap is important to some photographers to get their fix of fame, albeit transitory fame. 'Favourites' and 'likes' satisfy some photographers and so those seeing the images which hit their eyeballs, churn out the same and so on and so on. Competitions also encourage the cliche for popular viewing and reward the cliche for bringing in new customers/readers etc.

    We seem to live in a time where gratification must be instant to be rewarded. No time to stand and stare; get to know an image; see what the photographer was seeing and appreciate the subtle.
  3. dream_police

    dream_police Well-Known Member

    That is an issue in itself. Young people starting out (my daughter for instance doing her A level) is learning to experiment, learning to photograph things that are pleasing to the eye and are pleasurable to take. Many of these will be cliched as they have been done to death over the years by many others. They will still be proud of them and wanting to show others and so the cliche shot continues. Yes, you would hope that they will develop their skills and take alternate shots, but for most no doubt it is a longish learning curve. One of Beckys projects last year was to look at other photographers. Amongst others, she looked at lee Jeffries (he's not been on here for a while!) She took photos of down and outs in the street, used my mum, my neighbours all to hone her skill in taking the picture and learning photoshop skills in the editing. Wrinkly faces in dark backgrounds and heavily processed is perhaps becoming a bit of a cliche now, yet she did it, was proud of it and people looking at them were impressed.

    As for myself, it depends on why you have taken that cliche shot. Is it for the memory of where you have been, is it to show off your skills, or merely because it is pleasing to the eye? For instance, when in NYC taking photographs of the skyline at sunset from the top of the Rock is such a cliche, however I would have been very pissed off if I had left NYC without such photographs.
  4. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Is it cliché? Or is it just good and bad photography? It's probably possible to take good, original pictures of (to use Kate's examples) "the lone figure in a shaft of sunlight in an extreme black and white city scene; the wrinkly old man who has become an exercise in tone manipulation - and with no context; graffiti with lone walker or beggar." But it's difficult.

    There's also sheer over-familiarity. Anyone who has seen enough old books and magazines to be familiar with the wrinkled Spanish fishermen mending their nets in the 1950s, or the crying children of the 1930s (an especially vile genre), would not, if they saw the same sort of shot taken today, react in the same way as someone who had not had the misfortune to see large numbers of such pictures.


  5. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Not really. The why is not in question, it is the what. We all take cliches for memories (did the foreground person with finger on top of the pyramids, holding up the leaning tower of Pisa and a few others myself in recent years). So all beginners should start with doing every cliche as well as they can and better if they can. Get them out of your system I say. All the impressionist painters learned "real" painting first.
    And it is not about whether we should shoot it, but the label we place on it when we do. Yes wrinklies are cliches, but every now and then someone lifts one out of any generic category and owns it.
  6. Sejanus.Aelianus

    Sejanus.Aelianus In the Stop Bath

    I think what might get forgotten is this: one man's cliché is another woman's pleasing image.

    In any case, using the word seems to me to be yet another form of put-down politics and we really should try to avoid that. I don't care how many instances I see of old people's wrinkly faces or lone figures in shafts of light. I take each one as a seperate case and like it or not as the mood moves me.

    So: publish your clichés folks, I at least may love you for them.

  7. flyfisher

    flyfisher Well-Known Member

    agreed. I suppose it all depends on who you take photos for and who you're trying to impress.
  8. 0lybacker

    0lybacker In the Stop Bath

    Very much a problem for Camera Club Judges, Mike, especially at the end of a long, busy season. How to put it kindly, when you are groaning inside? Cheers, Oly
  9. PhotoEcosse

    PhotoEcosse Well-Known Member

    This thread (almost) makes me angry.

    Dismissing someone's work as a cliché is the height of arrogance. Usually coming from the lips or pen (I suppose I should say "keyboard" nowadays) of someone who has neither the intellect nor the ability to produce decent work themselves - to the extent that, when they see excellence, they have to find a trite way of rubbishing it.

    I think that Kate hits one nail on the head when she introduces the "Why?" question.

    It is not only why something might be regarded as a cliché but, much more importantly, why the author took and published the photograph.

    If a photograph is worth taking (other than as a personal record shot - to provide a "memory" as someone suggested above), then what is important is the message that the photograph is intended to convey or the emotion it is intended to engender.

    If the message or emotions seem clichéd, then maybe there is some room for debate. But that, I suggest, is more likely to be a reflection upon the author's skill at conveying his/her message.

    Do we really think that messages/emotions such as appreciation of beauty, fear, horror, love, cynicism, awe (to mention just a few) - and all the shades and variations of those are clichés?

    I am not saying that there are not fads and fashions in photography (as in other arts) and that what is popular one year will not be as popular the next. But that is about changes in the viewpoint of the beholder rather than clichés of presentation.

    Those who try to make bold statements with their photography will always attempt to find novel and more powerful ways of making those statements. But I do not think such a concept need result in imagery that worked in the past being relegated to the status of cliché.

  10. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    In a word or two - yes, 90% of them are for me. However, your introduction of the words shades and variations covers a multitude of sins and the few who have lifited it out of cliche and into their image.
    I would remind you of Mike's inclusion of the interpretation of the word cliche:
    ...an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect ...
    Valid for me at any rate and very relevant when considering images which have been done and done again and again.

    I can only think of one photographer who I came across in the 70s and who for me has never fallen into the cliche trap. That is Manolis Baboussis, a Greek photographer and genius (IMO). I also think he says a very important thing on his website (in pictorial form) - Something interesting is new.
    I've loved his work for 40 odd years, ever since I found it in Athens, where I bought the whole range of street pictures he had done, in postcard form. They were startlingly different to me at the time. So honest were the captures of street life then. He has a terrific range of skills, street being just one of them. Unfortunately I can't find them online to show you, but here's his website.

  11. PhotoEcosse

    PhotoEcosse Well-Known Member

    Oh Kate, Oh Kate.

    For me, if emotions ever become clichés, life will not be worth living.

    Where else would I find joy, enlightenment, inspiration............?

  12. El_Sid

    El_Sid Well-Known Member

    It matters not that something is a cliche.

    It matters only if it is done well or not.;)
  13. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    But we are talking about pictures which have become known to some of us as cliches, not emotions in image forms.
    Where else?
    People, music, art, food, places, the weather...
  14. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    You have evidence to back that up, or are you just spouting a well-worn cliche?
  15. PhotoEcosse

    PhotoEcosse Well-Known Member

    I see the evidence of it every day, Mike.

    Right here on this very forum.
  16. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    At least I have the humility to know that my taste is not everyone's!
    Of course, some might say I've no taste or judgement worth a bean, but that's a given.
  17. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Probably not wrong, there's not a lot of originality in these parts, but then the balance is now very tilted towards beginners. But absolute statements are very hard to justify.

    Still things are often cliches whether we choose to say they are or not. I think the general opinion seems to be you can do a cliche and get good marks for execution, but not many for originality.

    Which was not the point at issue, but never mind.
  18. Learning

    Learning Ethelred the Ill-Named

    Does a brilliant creative picture become a boring cliché just because it's style is repeated?
    Clichés become clichés because they had merit. Do they have less merit after they have become a cliché?
  19. Derek_R

    Derek_R Well-Known Member

    In an effort to find some "photographs that aren't cliché" I did a Google search but only one result came up - a page full of very nice photographs that could all be accused of being cliched.

    To answer the question, I guess it's a numbers game. Once there have been a certain amount of people taking a certain amount of photos of a certain subject / setting / pose / juxtaposition / etc. then over-use is clearly present and cliché can be declared. But what is the number at which we make this declaration?

    Google (again) tells me 1.8 billion photos are uploaded every day. Let's say folks only upload half of what they take, then that's 3.6 billion photos taken every day.

    Which might suggest that it'll be very hard to find something that is novel and new and hasn't been done too many times.
  20. Ilovemycam

    Ilovemycam In the Stop Bath

    A fellow over at another forum proclaimed war photos cliché. When war photo become cliché...EVERTHING is cliché.

Share This Page