Photographic clichés 2020
open letter to a friend
As spotted on the Internet, while scrolling up and down thousands of images on daily basis, for a week. Mostly Instagram, but also photography contests, magazines and recently published books. Like Martin Parr ten years ago – that’s where I got the idea for my research – I focused entirely on the genres I am more interested in, and that excludes fashion and food photography. So, my humble conclusions are based on a closer look at social documentary, street and fine art photography.
The reason for looking closer was to find something out of the box, something new and fresh. But once you start looking closer, you notice the groupings of dominant strands in today’s photography. Interesting thing is that inevitably most of new arrivals follow into the footsteps of practicing photographers, copying popular styles, techniques and methods. Being as popular as the other guy is a very tempting idea. And many have fallen, wasting their life and talent on replicating trending concepts.
But whether this happens on purpose, or not, the influences are clearly seen. I know where inspiration comes from, in most of generic cases, where it can be traced back to a single name or a founding group. While these are interesting from the point of view of research, sifting tons of generic imagery may lead to precious discovery of something that cannot be labelled easily, or traced back. This is the whole point of my interest as a curator. It is not about making the lists, but - about being able to notice something... different, something that stands out. So, my major criteria while selecting photography I like would be freshness of concept, a new angle to look at a subject or a theme.
Before we get there, here is the most noticeable trends (to avoid):
1. Flash photography
Celebrating a scared-deer-look and pushing it to the extreme. Think Feng Li, he is an absolute trendsetter of that, plus his pig. Which brings me to the next popular trend –
2. Weird photography
That’s how I call bizarre, unusual, quirky or out of comfort zone story telling. Mental hospitals, circus freaks, fat people, thin people, sick people, animals, homeless, punks, gangs, extremely rich, extremely poor – endless list of not your everyday subjects, each one of them is doomed to draw attention because of the weirdness of settings and subjects in picture. Such subjects are not to be found in your backyard easily, and photographers who don’t feel like going extra mile, simply follow the next trend -
3. Staged photography
Self-portraiture especially popular here, think Lina Scheynius with her Diary. Staged social “documentary” - Jana Romanova with her Waiting series, Mary Gelman, Ren Hung… the list goes on, but you get the idea. Staging happens when photographer wants to have more control over the shoot, very much like stage set in cinematography. Very thin red line between making a beautiful and personal statement, and not too obviously a "report on demand".
4. Street photography
Just exactly that. The biggest trend of all, because it might seem so easy to shoot. Anything street, and loads of that, in colour or monochrome. Very rarely a really special capture, most of the time it’s about contrast and shadow silhouettes, or urban geometry (we need more of that, don’t we?) or people on the beach. Street photography is where the most interesting shots are rare gems, amid the most dull imagery one can think of. But people keep on shooting pointless street scenes, just because it’s ... well, street. Not even a tilt, or getting above the ground, but when they do, it’s been done before as well and better.
5. The above ground urban landscape
Usually from a skyscraper, or by a drone, with is great by itself, when you see it for the first time.
6. Urban decay
I am seriously amazed the trend is still alive and popular. Obviously in countries like USA, where they seem to have urban decay in abundance. But also in the countries like my beloved Netherlands, where decay is hard to come by, once there is a run-down farmhouse, a rusty construction, a scruffy graffiti wall, - every photographer in the country will take a shot.
7. Dreamy photography
Anything blur will do, as long as it is in pastel colours, seems to be mostly shot by Asian girls. But to stand out in this genre you have to be as good as Rinko Kawauchi.
Think Elsa Bleda, and more have followed. Mostly purple and blue. Mostly night shots.
9. Vernacular diary
Snapshots of everyday life, intimate and without any obvious pretense, form a body of work on Instagram. No need of website. Here you have it all: eat, pray, love. A bit of a mixture – staged and non-staged snapshots. Poor film quality, true or fake, is welcome.
10. Presets presets
Still popular, especially with the professional or wanna-be-professional re-touchers and wedding photographers. Often a couple in gala costumes, often autumn, often golden sunset. Often redheads. Often pale beautiful girls on a couch, blue tones. Often often often… Russian and Dutch professional portrait photographers.
11. Daido Moriyama
It’s a trend by itself. Grainy, high-contrasted black and white, out of focus, tilted, close-up, in your face often flash images. To succeed in this genre one really needs to stop trying hard to be a Moriyama, and try to find a different angle to street photography. To find a subject that is out there, avoided by majority of street photographers. Also, it’s not about grain and contrast, but the Daido’s subjects, in the first place. Grain comes with the concept, not without it.
I think I will just stop, because there so much more to add – almost every single image I see right now scrolling my Instagram feed falls into a category, a trend mentioned already , or could have been mentioned. I have been there myself, and still am, but the difference is I am aware of my shortcomings. Also I want to take a break, and look around first, before I continue taking photographs.
I am not a hater of trends. Nope. But I am fan of authenticity, and that's where I am in conflict with the generic stuff. Still, next time I will write about trending photography I like.
The Last Curator, May 2020