Everything has already been done

Here the other day, I got involved in a little discussion with a friend of mine about originality and how most everything has already been done before. Or so my friend thought, a little disillusioned. He was bored with so much of what he considered contemporary photography – in that it copies what other masters before today’s photographers have already done. He is a professional photographer himself, and I can on a certain level see that he has a point. But basically I have to disagree. I think it’s way too cynical a viewpoint. And it doesn’t give justice to the individual approach and personal vision.

Yes, most everything has already been photographed – this much I have to admit to my friend. Travellers a hundred year ago or so could come across unknown sights and make complete new photographs of subject matter that nobody had seen before. And if you work in science you can still cross new barriers today if you photograph the latest advancements. Otherwise most everything has indeed been done. But that is only on a level concerning subject matter, not photography as a personal expression, whether it justifies to be called art or just a happy snapshot by the occasional holiday photographer. The tower of Eiffel certainly has been photographed until boredom from the same perspective again and again. But still every photograph brings traces of each individual photographer into play. Maybe not a whole lot but put up 100 people with cameras alongside each other and let them shoot the same subject. The result will be 100 different pictures – albeit resembling each other possibly quite closely. The difference will not necessarily be enough to make all 100 pictures strong personal expressions, but nevertheless. If you on the other hand let photographers with a creative vision and used to think in ways of expressing they own ideas in different ways, do the same thing, then the result will be far more differentiated.

As photographers each of us simply has a different approach to the subject or subject matter. We bring our lifetime of experience into the photographs we take or make, as well as our emotions, our accumulated knowledge, our technical skills, our understanding, our soul and spirit if I may use such an expression. Take myself. Often have I worked alongside my good friend and photographer Sven Creutzmann in Cuba in particular, and even when we stand side by side and shoot the same subject, we know from experience, that we will come home with completely different pictures. We see things differently; we work in different ways – even under conditions when you would think there isn’t much individual leeway.

Or take a simple cup. How many ways can it be photographed? You may think a cup is a cup is a cup. You may think that Paul Strands photos taken 80 years or so ago have done cups for all times. But I think not. I think everyone of us will photograph a cup differently. Again not necessarily better or more interestingly – or even interesting at all. But still photographed with our own vision or even our own limitation of vision. Which makes any photograph unique in a more or lesser degree. My photo of a cup here is my vision of a cup. I am not saying it is a great photograph, but it’s my way of seeing it – at the moment the cup was shot. My person is part of the photograph – or is it just something I hope it is?


7 thoughts on “Everything has already been done

  1. Provocative debate here. I have faced the dilemma myself on so many occasions. One day I sat talking to one of my Professors and happened to ask him a similar question regarding literature. I said that we as a generation have such a long list of talented predecessors to compete with if we want to do anything creative in areas such as literature. He immediately said that even Shakespeare had Chaucer to look up to!!

    I am not so convinced however with the argument that 100 photographers clicking a cup will come out with 100 differently ‘visible’ results. Here you are laying emphasis on the ways in which the photographer would look at his click. Looking at the ways in which 100 onlookers would react to those 100 clicks might give us a different story altogether. I am not too sure here. Just a thought!

    1. I believe at least with some complexity to the subject on hand 100 photograph would come up with 100 different renderings. But of course the question in many of the case would be how much different those pictures would be, which again depends on each photograph’s vision and his or her ability to make use of it. As for 100 onlookers I feel less qualified to have a sure opinion, but again since each and every person is different, coming from a different background, I would believe their reactions would be different, too. An interesting thought, though. Thanks for back reading my blog.

  2. I had just exactly that conversation with a friend way, way back before Daniel was born when I wanted to be a writer for income, not an office jockey. I lamented I could offer nothing as all human experiences are replicated here there everywhere. He said to me, “But no-one’s said it like YOU before” and when he said that I thought so, yes, and it actually gave me the permission to try, at least give it a go, letting my voice out on the subject, though the subject is common human experiences.

    Liked this post.

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