Pamplona, Spain

Above: People run in front of the Fire Bull--a man carrying a bull figure packed with fireworks--during the San Fermin festival, Pamplona, Spain. Credit: Susana Vera.

Worthless Because Inane

If you want to see a gallery of photos that are the opposite of the approach to photography that I espouse (I teach the subject at Kingston Uni.) then The Guardian website's daily feature Ten Best Pictures of the Day is a robust location to start from.

What the site shows is that both the photographers involved and the editors/selectors are mired in a restricted visual environment of super-conventions in which the cliche, the obvious, and the unredeemable platitude dominates and reigns over all.

It is easy to see from the outside looking-in that the visual language agreed by all involved is defined by the trite (SOED: no longer novel or fresh; stale through constant use or repetition; hackneyed, commonplace). The trite is what the photographer always shoots for, and the trite is what the editor looks out for. Or, in other words, one could say that banality is the unbreakable sine qua non for all concerned. How has it come to this? The answer is unknown--but it is sad. For the student of photography it is important to be aware that however much this esteemed outlet of the liberal elite proffer these images as valuable, the opposite remains true: these pictures are worthless because inane (SOED: empty, void, silly, senseless, pointless).

The way I teach photography is this: it is originality not banality that I am seeking, in choice of subject, in treatment of subject, in exposure, in lens choice ... and on and on so that in every aspect of the photo-process, from initial thought through to final presentation, the emphasis--the "focus"--is always on the photo-visual equivalent of a simple rule that was used by George Orwell in his advice to journalists: "Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure-of-speech which you are used to seeing in print."

My reaction to looking at the ten-images-of-the-day webpage on The Guardian is similar to Greil Marcus's famous review of Bob Dylan's album Self-Portrait for the then-influential magazine Rolling Stone. His review began: "What is this shit?" But honestly, it's no joke. It's a disgrace.

(15 July 2018)