Boring Photography

One of the good things about having a lengthy break from photography is that it gives you time to ponder what it's all about and where you want to go with it. Why do we take photographs? What's the point? Is there a point or are we just burning through film for something to do? If so, is that OK or does it make photography a worthless pursuit?

I think it's definitely harder now to make a case for anything very meaningful for photography. Social documentary is still important but the outlets for it are fewer and fewer. And it could be argued anyway that it's better done with more immediacy and impact by TV or on some other media platform.

What of landscape photography? That's a real problem from where I'm standing. The issue is that it just seems to be too easy nowadays - and I'm talking mainly about colour. Anyone with half an eye, a DSLR, small selection of neutral density grads and a willingness to get up before dawn can churn out stuff that would have had us all oohing and ahhing thirty years ago.

The photographer doesn't even have to be very creative or know much about what he's doing: just take and review, take and review, take and review until he has something that looks good and move on to the next shot. That's maybe unfair and it's possible that the requirements for landscapes with impact haven't really changed all that much but there are just more people who are willing and able to meet them.

I see so many of these stunning images that they have ceased to have any effect on me. It almost doesn't matter how brilliant a photograph is, the chances are I've seen lots of stuff like it already. It's a bit like watching top flight football. There was a time a few decades ago when a sublime piece of skill on Saturday night TV would have had you talking about it with your mates on Monday morning. Now, you see lots of examples of it every weekend on Match of the Day and even more if you're a Sky Sports viewer.

All of this thinking, apart from giving me a sore head, has led me down a couple of roads. One is the traditional "art photography" route where it's the eye, the imagination and sometimes the reactions that count and the other is the antithesis of the colour landscapes described above.

This type of art photography is actually quite old-fashioned now but is something that can't be replicated by the usual DSLR methodology unless, I suppose, you were to use it as a movie camera followed by some judicious editing. Modern art photography is totally different and almost exclusively digital from what I can see and involves a lot of unreal, constructed photographs made up of two or more images often heavily manipulated.

The traditional approach is a demanding type of photography in so far as it has a high degree of difficulty. Recognising certain elements amongst the mundanity of everyday life and finding some order to them is a tough thing to pull off and the failure rate is high. Here are a few off my iphone that sort of fit into that general category.

However, when you achieve something that you like you can be fairly sure that you won't see loads of similar images kicking about. That's something that's becoming increasingly important to me. What is the point of taking a photograph if it's similar to thousands that have already been taken? I've even starting holding myself back from taking what might be a perfectly nice photo if I can't find anything different about it.

The other idea is something I can only describe as "boring photography". I went for a walk over some reclaimed land in Dundee a while back that had once been a municipal rubbish tip and was now a small park. About 15 minutes into it, I began to think it was the most boring bit of land I’d seen in a long time. The Leica M2 was in a bag on my shoulder but I had no incentive to get it out. That was when I began to wonder whether it was possible to use the featureless ground to make a boring photo that was somehow interesting.

I’ve always liked pics that are stripped of any extraneous fluff but it can be quite a challenge finding scenes like that and capturing them in a way that is more than the sum of the precious few parts and not just an exercise in clicking away because I’d nothing better to do. The good thing about photographing banality is that you just can’t lose. The worst thing that anyone can say is that your photos are the most boring they’ve seen in ages in which case you can respond with, “Well, thanks very much. High praise indeed!”

What I've found so far with boring photography is that there's a wafer thin line between success and failure and I'm not even sure if success is the right word. I don't even know what success is in this sphere as I'm only feeling my way into it. You have to limit the elements but present them in a way that has a certain appeal. Bad weather can help, especially a bit of rain, but sometimes sun is better. Beyond that, I'd be hard pushed to describe what I'm trying to do any further. Maybe it'll become clearer with perseverance.

I've really just started out on this course in an exploratory way so don't have many samples of what I'm on about. Below are a few that seem to fit the bill. They're basically experiments to see what I can get away with. Have a look and see what you think. It's OK if you don't like them and OK if you do. I'm on a wee journey and I'm not sure where it will lead, if it actually goes anywhere at all.


  1. I like the first two and the last one, could not tell you why though....

    At first I thought 'New Topographics' was boring as shit, now I love it, go figure.
    All the best, Mark

  2. They're my favourites as well, Mark. Do you think what I'm speaking about falls under new topographics then? I can see why you'd say that. I'll need to check it out further.

  3. Reminds me of John Myers. - and Ray Moore. For myself I have retreated to the darkroom and 'Alt work' such as Lith and Bromoil where I can put more of myself into the work. Your 'fresh start' and different ways of looking at the familiar will no doubt keep us in thrall. Beast wishes.

  4. Without realising my own photography has slowly meandered this way too. I wondered why these “stunning” landscape photographs no longer move me - then read this and realise you’re right - I’ve become desensitised to them and they no longer have the same appeal. I don’t even have the urge to photograph them myself preferring the mundane views of my immediate urban environment

  5. Tony,
    Thanks for the link to John Myers. I really enjoyed that. The writing about him on the website was interesting, too.

  6. I agree on the landscape issue Bruce. My son often shares his copy of the Outdoor photography magazine with me.Rarely do any shots(mostly digital and pin sharp)excite me. Often displaying colours I've never seen in any landscape and the main challenge to the photographer seems to be able to have access to or to make an herculean effort(no doubt expensive0 to be in such a position to capture the scene. My personal challenge is to capture good images with my old cameras.Hopefully achieving the standard of the photographers I aspired to be in my youth. From the images you've posted in this thread 1,2,6 and 7 all float my boat. Although 6 for me to fit more comfortably in your project would be if the trainer was placed in the bottom right hand corner. It would emphasize the one shoe left behind mystery. Apologies, just trying to share your thinking on the path your taking. It reminds me work often published in the 1970's in Photo Technique magazine. My favorite photo mag. Your probably too young to remember that Bruce...

  7. Thanks, Andy. Good comment on the trainer. Sadly I'm not too young for Photo Technique - I've even got a couple of copies of that mag kicking around somewhere.

  8. Hard to say what's driving it but it seems lots of us are in the same headspace these days. I left digital just because of that - kind of a mind-numbing over-saturation. I luckily landed in film and I'm still happily learning new stuff. I have to think the print is what keeps me fascinated though. Your "two roads" concepts sound really interesting and the photos are great. Congratulations.

  9. A very late welcome back. I've been lax in checking the site.
    Something is certainly going on here. Every image seems to invite a second glance. Perhaps the word "glance" is clue. These are not grand scenes, carefully rendered in ideal light. They don't induce that misused word Awesome!, or even worse, Awesome, dude!
    These look as though they were not laboriously composed, but just "happened." That can't be true, because it's equally clear that they are not random. They look like the product of a quietened mind. Is this making more sense to you than it does to me?
    You seem to be on a good path.

    I had meant to write more, but Pseud's Corner looms.

  10. Hi David,
    Is Private Eye any good these days or has it succumbed to the PC terrorists? Haven't seen it in years. We always used to have a copy lying around the office. Our old chief reporter even featured in an issue once.
    I have an idea of what you're speaking about. They are quiet photos right enough and will never knock anyone's socks off. The funny thing is that I like looking at them. Maybe it's just the calming effect. I had a theory that people watched snooker not because it was riveting but because the TV screen filled with the green baize altered their brain rhythms and waves. A sort of meditative effect. Green is known in psychology circles for boosting positive feelings. I wonder if a few elements placed harmoniously within a frame do something similar.

  11. Haven't seen Private Eye for decades, but the phrase has entered the language.
    I've looked again at the pictures and what distinguishes them is that there's nothing in them that can be labelled a subject. No Half Dome, no smiling boy with two bottles. (Perhaps excepting the second view of a bench, but that's upstaged by the previous one.)
    Placing within the fame seems to be a goodly part of it.
    I like watching snooker. There is a certain kind of creation of order out of chaos in snooker. They even have frames.

  12. This is not the kind of photography I usually care for, (see James Ravilious), but I do think you're on to something here.