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Clichés Never Get Old(er)
October 17, 2011 1:16 PM   Subscribe

The Hippocratic Oath of a Photographer circa 1937. Still relevant today. HEY YOU WITH THE CAMERA! STEP AWAY FROM THE EGG!
posted by oneswellfoop (47 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is terrific; thanks.
posted by lisa g at 1:23 PM on October 17, 2011


Too much discouraging people from taking cliched photos of nudes.

We do not photograph nudes for the art of it, we photograph nudes for the opportunity to see attractive people naked.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


But it is here that we would all do well to remember The Hippocratic Oath of a Photographer as written by M.F. Agha for U.S. Camera way back in 1937 [from the vertical files in the ICP library].

Are "vertical files" what they call (note)books at the Insane Clown Posse library?
posted by filthy light thief at 1:29 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


The trick is that by the time you are good enough to recognize the clichés in your work, you have had to pass through the process of learning about clichés.

Or, put another way, you cannot really teach someone about clichés, as they are subtle and take many guises. In fact, it is axiomatic that the moment you think you are free of cliché, that is the very moment that you are blind to the new and subtle and obvious (to others) clichés that have been in your work all along.

Remember: it is the process, not the results, that really count. Life is short. Take photos now.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:29 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


No more bales of hay scattered randomly through rolling fields.
posted by HumanComplex at 1:30 PM on October 17, 2011


Ahhhh, hilarious.

TWO KIDS!
posted by peachfuzz at 1:34 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fact, if I can help it
I'll refrain from taking any pictures of any description under any pretext whatsoever.


Holy crap! Through laziness and apathy, I've managed to adhere to the photographer's oath for nearly the last two weeks.

Although on closer look:

"I will not photograph dogs playing with cats..."

Damn it! I was doing so well too.
posted by quin at 1:34 PM on October 17, 2011


Heh. I've definitely been guilty of a few of these, though thankfully I don't think any of them are ones I've posted to flickr. Venetian blinds are so damn tempting though.
posted by klangklangston at 1:37 PM on October 17, 2011


HEY YOU WITH THE CAMERA! STEP AWAY FROM THE EGG!

IT'S A LIGHTING EXERCISE! IT'S FOR CLASS!
posted by louche mustachio at 1:38 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


The write up seems to be praising the poem for discouraging cliched photos... but the poem is actually lambasting exactly that attitude, correct? Maybe the website's author didn't read all the way through to the last line.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:38 PM on October 17, 2011


See the last line?

I will refrain from taking any pictures of any description, under any pretext whatsoever

I'm pretty sure the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek - just a gentle prod to stimulate exploration beyond the well-trodden paths - but as clvrmnky says:

The trick is that by the time you are good enough to recognize the clichés in your work, you have had to pass through the process of learning about clichés.

So as Sam Goldwyn reputedly said, "Let's have some new clichés!"
posted by kcds at 1:38 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I will never
use portable strobes to light up an daylight outdoor shoot so brightly
it will seem as if this planet had two or more suns
nor will I
place a wedding ring on an open bible and
photograph the resulting heart-shaped shadow
no matter how much her mother begs
nor will I desaturate everything but the roses.
I promise to never use the Sepia preset
nor the miniature preset,
and if I do I hope my lenses shatter.
I swear on a stack of memory cards
before the ghost of Ansel Adams that I will never
think that my photos, taken with auto exposure and auto focus,
are somehow superior to those post-processed with care.
I love my pets but photos of them will never
be posted to my blog, except maybe just once a year.
I will not brag about my equipment, and when
asked "what camera do you use" I will answer not with
stones but with the truth: "the right one for the job."
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:39 PM on October 17, 2011 [26 favorites]


Thanks kcds, I was starting to wonder if I was going crazy.

I'm not sure which is worse, established artists bashing on the juvenile attempts of new learners, or bashing from arm-chairs by those that don't try at all.

There's a certain irony to the lead-in missing the joke entirely though.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:41 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is it just me or is that scanned document photoshopped? The ink doesn't look right on the paper.
posted by Doleful Creature at 1:45 PM on October 17, 2011


They missed:

- Lonely trashcan
- Looking up through a fire escape
- Close up of old people's hands
posted by nathancaswell at 1:45 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh fuck, and anything involving a chain link fence
posted by nathancaswell at 1:45 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please remember that the use of light vignettes in overly romantic wedding photos is always recommended. That never gets old.

(Why is it that the Russian photogs out there publishing their work always go for super-HDR looking, nearly-tilt-shift landscapes and wedding photos with light vignettes?)
posted by clvrmnky at 1:50 PM on October 17, 2011


Very much a "your favorite cliche sucks" statement. The biggest problem pointing out cliches in art is that there is very likely several very creditable images that also belong to the cliche and may be the images that started the cliche. You can tell people not to take pictures of Half Dome surrounded by clouds, but it worked awfully well for Ansel Adams. If you're spending time at Yosemite, what else are you going to shoot?
Also, when taking pictures actually used film, it was somewhat expensive to take a bad picture this advice was both economic and aesthetic, now it's more or less free. Given this financially unbridled creative freedom, my advice would be to shoot any picture I thought had a prayer of being interesting because you really never know what you might get. It might be an extremely excellent example of a cliche but it might have something new, too.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:51 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every fire photo he brings in, there's gotta be some kind of burnt doll in the debris. I can see that cheatin' motherfucker now, with his fuckin' harem of dolls, pourin' lighter fluid on each one. You check his fuckin' trunk, you'll find the whole collection. (Gus Haynes, The Wire)
posted by vidur at 1:58 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Hippocratic Oath of a Photographer 2011 version:

I'm not going to work for free, regardless of the "valuable exposure" being associated with your bullshit project is sure to provide.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:59 PM on October 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


"Also, when taking pictures actually used film, it was somewhat expensive to take a bad picture this advice was both economic and aesthetic, now it's more or less free. Given this financially unbridled creative freedom, my advice would be to shoot any picture I thought had a prayer of being interesting because you really never know what you might get. It might be an extremely excellent example of a cliche but it might have something new, too."

Yes, but… Any digital shot you take means spending time processing it. So it's not really free, unless your time is free. And it's better to know what's a good shot beforehand, so you're not lining up stuff that once you open the raw you say, "Oh my god, why did I even take this?"

Critiquing a composition before you fire a shutter is a valuable skill, and one of the best critiques is, "Does the world need another picture just like this?"
posted by klangklangston at 2:00 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


because you really never know what you might get.

Most of my photography is wildlife related, and I used to spend far too much time thinking about the shot rather than just taking it. Now I try to do both; space is cheap, and when I see something interesting my first instinct is to just shoot it. Fast and from the hip if need be, but get it photographed.

Often, I'll spend some time composing the shot again, but my goal now is to, at very least, get whatever I'm looking at documented. Because even if I don't get the perfect shot, I can at least get some education out of it (what I was taking a picture of, the time of day, the habitat, etc. Anything that puts me closer to getting a better shot next time.)
posted by quin at 2:02 PM on October 17, 2011


I will never apply HDR processing to anything other than a sunset, or black dogs on snow,
And may the ghost of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce,
strike me blind as a naked mole rat,
if I ever use HDR on a garden scene under an overcast sky,
When photographing a model in a studio setting, I will never stand on a step ladder
for the sole purpose of holding my Hasselblad nearer my groin,
I will not blame Xtol failure for my low density negatives,
Above all, I will never, under any circumstances,
mount a war surplus reconnaissance lens to my Graflex and use it to take pictures of crowds so they look like miniatures.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:03 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


We live in a finite world; chances are whatever it is, it's been done before.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:03 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and honestly, if you think that it was Half Dome that made an Adams shot, you're going to be pretty hugely disappointed by whatever you find on your memory card.

I mean, unless you're obsessively charting light angles for day and date, and are willing to spend months post-processing. And, of course, are working with huge sensors and fantastic lenses, and even then, what new view are you going to show? If it's a vacation snap, it's a vacation snap. If it's fine art, you're probably going to be happier if you're not immediately dismissed with, "What's this Adams knock-off?"
posted by klangklangston at 2:05 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have photographed
the plums
that were in
the icebox

by placing them on
the nude form of
your wife

Forgive me
she was available
and believed me
when I said it was "for art"
posted by mosk at 2:08 PM on October 17, 2011 [23 favorites]


I need to send this to a colleague and start work on a version for editorial cartoonists.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:09 PM on October 17, 2011


No more bales of hay scattered randomly through rolling fields.

God help me I first read this as "killing fields."
posted by Navelgazer at 2:12 PM on October 17, 2011


most(!) importantly:
I WILL NOT PHOTOGRAPH YOUR BAND STANDING IN FRONT OF A BRICK WALL.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:17 PM on October 17, 2011


I'm glad that HDR was brought up here, 'cause that would be relevant today.

I would also add that I won't use an incomprehensible flash (or other) interface to present my photographic "art" on the interwebs.
certainly photographers are not smarter than everyone else when it comes to that.
posted by Eekacat at 2:33 PM on October 17, 2011


nudes smeared all over in Vaseline Cheesborough

Unlike HDR—which is overdue a quick death—this is one cliche I can get behind.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 2:42 PM on October 17, 2011


If you are a "professional", reconsider:

* Shots of families wearing matching clothes, especially khakis on beaches at sunset.
* Portraits involving sitting on or clambering around railroad tracks.
* Shots of groups of people holding hands and leaping into the air.
* Self-portraits of you holing a big-ass camera, peering from behind it.
* Calling yourself a photographer if you cannot focus your shots (surprisingly common).

Never:

* Retouch photos if you don't actual have the skill.
* Apply photoshop filters which blur or smooth in an attempt to rescue a photo.
* People have nipples and genitals, sometimes encased in underwear. I would say if you take a photo which inadvertantly shows the aforementioned when it wasn't desired, the options are to 1) discard it, or 2) leave it. Applying a blur or a bad clone over the naughty bit looks very amateur and reeks of puritanism.

Can you tell I look at a lot of portrait photography?
posted by maxwelton at 2:56 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what "holing a big-ass camera" is, but it's probably illegal in most states--yet another reason not to.
posted by maxwelton at 2:58 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


this is one cliche I can get behind.

I see what you did there.
posted by quin at 2:58 PM on October 17, 2011


Here is one rule: a bad picture with a nude in it does not equal a good picture.
posted by shothotbot at 3:04 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will not use my Holga to take candid shots of my friends having a picnic in the park,
Hipstamatic or not, the iPhone does "crappy camera you always have on you" better than the Holga or Diana ever did,
I will never use the "distinctive feel" of light leaks and crappy optics to conceal poor exposure and composition.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:25 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


"we can't pay you, but this job will be valuable exposure for your work in the long term"
posted by Tom-B at 4:11 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I will not use my Holga to take candid shots of my friends having a picnic in the park,
Hipstamatic or not, the iPhone does "crappy camera you always have on you" better than the Holga or Diana ever did,
I will never use the "distinctive feel" of light leaks and crappy optics to conceal poor exposure and composition.
"

Holgas are generally poorly suited to snapshot taking, yeah, but the point of a Holga is honestly big negatives at a low price. You can print murals from 120 holga shots that will look awesome. You can't do the same from your iPhone. If there was an affordable way to get a glass lens on a Holga, I'd take it in a second. Likewise, while you sometimes get light leaks, the majority of my shots don't have them because I know how to tape off a camera.

I wouldn't use a pinhole for candid shots of my friends at a picnic either, but that doesn't mean pinholes are bad.

(Also, hipstamatic can't save shitty shots. Sorry, Bunny, since I know you've taken that line in the past, but digitally "cross-processed" crap still looks like crap.)

Honestly, it's pretty much all down to the dictum that you should know your tools and select which tool is best suited to giving you the results you want. I tend to think of choosing cameras/lenses/lighting/processing like choosing knives/ingredients/technique/recipes. I've made great food accidentally, and I've taken great shots accidentally, but the more you do, the more you figure out what works.
posted by klangklangston at 4:27 PM on October 17, 2011


klangklangston: Yes, but… Any digital shot you take means spending time processing it. So it's not really free, unless your time is free. And it's better to know what's a good shot beforehand, so you're not lining up stuff that once you open the raw you say, "Oh my god, why did I even take this?" Critiquing a composition before you fire a shutter is a valuable skill, and one of the best critiques is, "Does the world need another picture just like this?"

Yes, but... I was recently taking pictures of a well-documented landmark - in fact I took dozens and dozens of pictures, knowing full well none would be "original". But I had fun, I learned some more about composition while sifting through the RAW images deciding which ones might be worth spending post-processing time on (which was also good practice), and I ended up with a few I'm pretty happy about. Granted, I have no problem calling myself an amateur, but as clvrmnky said, how else am I going to learn but by doing?
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:32 PM on October 17, 2011


most(!) importantly:
I WILL NOT PHOTOGRAPH YOUR BAND STANDING IN FRONT OF A BRICK WALL.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:17 PM on October 17 [+] [!]


OR ON A TRAIN TRACK.
posted by lisa g at 4:35 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Klang, I don't dispute anything you say above, and I don't disparage the Holga as a tool. You're right that the Holga is great if you want the enlargment potential of 120 and you either can't spend too much on the camera, or want something light, or don't want to have to worry about your gear. I'm just pointing out that like hipstamatic, the the Holga look isn't going to save a bad photo. Plus, I'm keeping the last line of the poem in mind. No photography of subjects or with equipment used before is allowed.

That middle line about it being inferior to the iPhone is a bit harsh, but then again, with the Holga you need to think of your subject, the conditions and the look you want when you choose your film. Your phone is a little more flexible and always in your pocket. Besides, I've made some great prints from low-res digital. I like taking shots of displays with my bronica and blowing them up until the pixels are clearly visible. Looks great with a CRT when you catch the scan line just right.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:04 PM on October 17, 2011


I WILL NOT USE DUTCH ANGLES

...oh god but i really want to
posted by Sebmojo at 8:02 PM on October 17, 2011


I will not brag about my equipment, and when
asked "what camera do you use" I will answer not with
stones but with the truth: "the right one for the job."


Speaking of Ansel Adams, I once read that he answered that question with "The biggest one I can carry"; digital has a long way to go before it can match larger format film and cameras.

That also reminded me of another quote I can't Google, but the gist of it was "photographers talk about their cameras, good photographers talk about their lenses, but great photographers talk about their tripods."

Is this the author of the oath?

I liked the Venetian blind reference.

I WILL NOT PHOTOGRAPH YOUR BAND STANDING IN FRONT OF A BRICK WALL.


It works for some bands.
posted by TedW at 8:09 PM on October 17, 2011


Technically that's one band, TedW. Just sayin'.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:37 PM on October 17, 2011


one of the best critiques is, "Does the world need another picture just like this?"

That's pretty much how I interpreted the last part of the essay. The idea of "when in doubt, leave it out," which is an increasingly important (if not exactly prevalent) consideration in the digital age.

In the days of film, the prevailing wisdom tended to be that for each roll of film you shot, you could probably expect 1 exceptional (good, great, stand-out, etc.) shot. But think how much better you'd be if you forgot about the other 10 or 20 shots, and focused all of your attention to that one shot?
Not only would you be developing your "eye" for composition and technical aspects, but you'd be able to remember the techniques you employed much more vividly for future reference, as opposed to sifting through dozens of photos, searching for the best example.

Spend 15 or 20 minutes working on single shot, and chances are you will be able to recall the exact circumstances, the lighting, the conditions, all of the elements that go into making a great image.

The inclusion of the phrase "if I can help it" in the last line of the essay is the key. A great photographic moment, ideally, should trigger an artistic compulsion in the photographer, as opposed to a photographer contriving something he thinks would look "neat."

Of course, this is probably an unachievable or even undesirable ideal. Hell, Ansel Adams may have gone into Yosemite with only 12 glass plates in his backpack for the day, but did he ever fiddle around in the darkroom after the fact! Many of his most famous photos relied as much on his HEAVY use of processing techniques (dodging, burning, toning, cropping, often requiring dozens of attempts) as they did on quality of the original composition and exposure.

Granted, this is coming from someone who's made a career out of photographing women's backsides, so take it for what it's worth.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:53 AM on October 18, 2011


Nothing will sway me from my commitment to taking pictures of my cats and posting them to the internet. Sharing cat photos is about more than just photography.
posted by KS at 5:49 AM on October 18, 2011


Technically that's one band, TedW. Just sayin'.

Point taken; even some pretty good bands can look foolish in front of a brick wall.
posted by TedW at 7:02 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


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