Photographic Clichés By Martin Parr
12 March 2012

The Fine Art and Documentary photographers take great pride in thinking themselves superior to the other main genres of photography, such as the family snap shooter or the amateur photographer, as personified by camera club imagery. However, after 30/40 years of viewing our work, I have come to the conclusion that we too are fairly predictable in what we photograph.


I include myself in this, and have been very careful to try and think of new territories to explore, but recognise that very often I also indulge in the list outlined below. I am aware of the basic rules, which dominate our work, and want to now attempt to group some of the more dominant strands of contemporary practice.


Portrait of Martin Parr, part of the Photo Paintings from North East Brazil series


This core subject matter and approach is also constantly shifting and changing as new photographers arrive and have an impact on our accumulative photographic culture and language. I have a rapacious desire to look at new work and do this through books, magazines, and of course exhibitions. Most of the work I see is generic; in so far I can read the influences. It is when the inspiration and lineage is not clear that my attention is alerted. I used this as a guiding principal for the recent curating of the Brighton Photo Biennial, and made freshness of approach to the subject matter a major criteria for selection.


Let me try and outline the basic genres that can be found.


1. The above ground landscape with people.


This is a relatively recent development with the major influence of Gursky, being the starting point. You take a high vantage and place people within the frame setting them in a larger urban or even rural landscape.


2. The bent lamppost.


You see this a lot in the USA, where they are blessed with many bent lampposts. The scene is urban and generally quite run down. This can be traced back to Stephen Shore amongst others.


3. The personal diary.


Nan Goldin gave this genre a major boost with the famous “ Ballad of Sexual Dependency ” project, but there are predecessors with the likes Larry Clarke and Ed van der Elsken.


4. The Nostalgic gaze.


Photographers love to shoot a factory, a shop, a club or some institution that is about to close. We, of course, welcome and praise the sense of community that is threatened.


5. The quirky and visually strong setting.


In terms of documentary we are much more likely to see a project done on a circus than say, a petrol station. The simple reason is that photographers love shooting situations where there is an inherent visual quirk. So we see plenty of this type of subject such as mental hospitals and animal clinics.


Read the rest on Martin’s blog HERE