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The common and the different

Arthur Plumpton , Sep 05, 2008; 11:36 a.m.

We all live in our little spheres of interest and experience. We are comfortable with known places, known cultural identities, familiar names of heros, and so on. Photographing what is common to us is great, but also constraining. It can result in clichés or the offen seen image. How many photographers really work "out of the box" of familiarity and experience. While I am very comfortable and satisfied with my own mixed cultural identity (advantage of both French and English-speaking influences) and environment, I think that I have a good appetite for the different. This has led me to photograph the US deep south (very different cultural and physical milieu), small Portugese and French villages and their inhabitants, and other places different from my own. Of course, difference does not refer only to places and cultures but also photographic themes and subjects. In those areas, I try to avoid what is too common or too well-travelled and attempt to seek out new visions and images. Are you happier photographing what is common and familiar to you, or are you more intrigued by the different? Do you believe that to succeed artistically you need to embrace the unknown rather than (or at least in addition to) the commonplace, in order to incite your best response?


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Matt Laur , Sep 05, 2008; 11:50 a.m.

I've enjoyed photographing things that are familiar to me (my bird-dog related stuff, for example), but have been trying to think about how to shoot it with an audience that's not familiar with it in mind. If, as I'm considering or composing a shot, I have a little voice in the back of my head saying, "What would someone who's never seen this subject before make of this shot? What would someone who's seen a thousand similar images make of it?" ... well, that tends to go give me pause, and make me rethink what I'm about to do.

So, as much as I also like the unfamiliar, I think I may be able (some day) to exhibit more mastery in showing the familiar in unfamiliar ways... or to an unfamiliar audience.

Robert Chura , Sep 05, 2008; 11:51 a.m.

A windmill shot shown in Texas isn't as appreciated as much as a shot of polar bear from Alaska.

We all react to a new sensation with more interest. When you walk past polar bears everyday in Alaska then the windmill in Texas looks impressive.

Part of Photography for me is to try to recognize the mundane and make it more interesting in my hometown. Like taking a new view of a parking arrow that I pass everyday at work. Sometimes it works other times I delete and try again.

I don't consider myself a better photographer for this viewpoint just a different photographer (just like everyone else! LOL)


Don E , Sep 05, 2008; 12:08 p.m.

All my photography is of the familiar-to-me. Whether it is the walk to the barber shop or the bank, the houses and yards in my neighborhood, it is all the commonplace-to-me. But it likely isn't for others. I am not sure what is meant by "succeed artistically". I don't see why it would matter if my photos were shot in my neighborhood or in Bangkok -- unless I was marketing my work, then maybe there's a bigger market for Bangkok photos than for ones of my neighborhood.

Thomas Powell , Sep 05, 2008; 12:51 p.m.

I may be wrong ... but most photographers shoot (in pleasure) what is unique/different. Even in common settings, the "something" that catches your attention enough to aim & shoot ... is a uniqueness that you perceive.

I never, for example, take photos of my furniture, my back yard, etc... unless something arrises to strike a chord in me, like the unique way the light hits my furniture, or a unique bird arriving in my yard. I think most people begin to take for granted that which is really common to them ... until something drags their attention back.

Isn't that why we travel? If common was so interesting to us, we'd always take pictures inside our own houses and yards.

The one exception ... is a passion. I could see taking pictures of the same person many times, but it still would entail seeing a different expression, pose, or event. When passion (uniqueness) fades ... we move on. It is possible to regain, but not easy.

Arthur Plumpton , Sep 05, 2008; 02:08 p.m.

While recognizing that even the quite familiar has its still yet to discover aspects, I was interested to know if the unfamiliar (little known places, peoples, differing popular cultures, subject matter, etc.) holds interest for photographers, and has the ability to motivate them. The philosophy of discovering something wholly different, and interpreting it (in our case through images), is somewhat like discovering a new philosophy, or an unknown writer, and distilling and absorbing and using that, within the context of our own values and perceptions.

Scott Wilson , Sep 05, 2008; 02:40 p.m.

I like to shoot a lot of common as well as some different. What is common today will be gone someday and then it is fun to look back at the photos.

This is one I did of our town, things change slowly over time, but in 20 years I am sure this view will look very different.


Don E , Sep 05, 2008; 02:53 p.m.

"The philosophy of discovering something wholly different, and interpreting it..."

I'd question the value of an interpretation based on short aquaintance and without background knowledge and experience, although one might end up with some nice photos. It took me three years to begin to see the high desert in the US Southwest with a lot of reading and study of the flora, fauna, geology, geography, and history as well, and I had to live there for some years in order to get anywhere for photography besides the scenic viewpoints or trailheads.

Whether or not a photographer takes better photos because of immersive experience with a place, I couldn't say. If some "different" place catches my eye, I'm likely to spend a lot of time there, and in some cases move there because I want to become familiar with it. I want it to become commonplace.

Don E , Sep 05, 2008; 02:58 p.m.

"What is common today will be gone someday and then it is fun to look back at the photos."

It is also not commonplace to all viewers, many of whom live in places exotic by our standards, but commonplace to them. They may find our hometowns equally exotic. There's an historical or documentary value to be considered, too.

My viewers haven't been born yet.

John Kelly , Sep 05, 2008; 03:16 p.m.

The hope in the unfamiliar is that it leads to the edge of failure, where growth happens. If we're not occasionally failing we're not courting growth.

John Updike, one of the finest novelists in English, intentionally confined his novels to a bland suburbia to let his writing and characters develop without the artificial aid of places and people that were, on the surface, more interesting .

Somewhere Gertrude Stein, poet and foil to Ernest Hemingway in Paris, said something (while she lived in Oakland, California) about poetry finding truth in sidewalk cracks (but she said it poetically :-)

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