Why we all take the same picture


Joachim Schmid is a collector of images and publishes his curated ‘found images’ as books demonstrating the patterns that can be found in photography. He buys photographic images in bulk, often from flea markets and looks at the trends across thousands of snapshots.

He states in his interview with the OCA that perhaps there are so many similarities, or perhaps even tropes, within the volume of photographs he has collected because the “snapshots do what people expect them to do, and that’s all there is.” (Schmid, J, (2013)OCA Interview).

When I was asked to look at the question of creativity in the OCA Module Expressing Your Vision I reached, to some degree a similar conclusion. Sometimes we want an image to take a reasonably ‘classic’ form because it works reasonably. The task required me to start by looking at search engine results for a particular form of image and then look at how that ‘brief’ could be developed creatively. (EYV Coursework – Considering Creativity)

Schmid’s observations that his many photographs demonstrate our distaste for documenting the difficulties of our lives seems key to the apparent clichés that we contribute to. As he states, “We know that raising kids is not a bed of roses but if you look at the photos people take of their kids the world is just fine. Not much crying, no diapers, no throwing up, no measles. That’s what people want. A happy marriage but no divorce.” (Schmid, J, Ibid) It could be said that in some ways this is can seem a little sad but when I’ve been at a loss as to what I’m quite doing on holiday, I’ve taken snapshots; it’s given me a focus – a distraction. When I’ve brought a new pet into my home and struggled to get them settled I’ve snapped iPhone images of them and messed with filters because I’m trying to take myself out of the stress to a quieter, filtered image. Not many people wish to look at the skillset of the photojournalist and try and adopt any of that mind-set and technique to their family snapshots. It’s just too tough and requires observational discipline that doesn’t sit in a family or pet zone.

Erik Kessels, of the Kessels and Kramer advertising agency is also a prolific collector and publisher of found images. I attended his lecture at Leeds College of Art‘s Creative Networks event in 2014. (The same lecture, albeit at a different venue: lecture at California College of the Arts via iTunesU). His story telling about the difficulties of photographing the black dog (literal, not figurative) were amusing as of course some of the pertinent realities of ‘found’ imagery is that it is not taken by pro-photographers. It is taken by amateurs who are sometimes using quite basic equipment, in it’s most obvious mode, i.e. a compact camera with few options available to change anything much about how the film is going to expose. And more recently perhaps a digital compact that is set in automatic to expose for the broad range of the entire scene rather than spot evaluation.

Essentially we may all have had the desire to record moments of our lives, for some of us it will have been a phase, perhaps brought to an end by the disappointments of struggling with the technical aspects of the photography. But phases of our photographic documentation also suggest, according to Kessels, (lecture at California Arts) –   a possibility that we grow less fond of each other, illustrated by a man whose wife seemed to gradually recede into a wider and wider frame.

Despite the disappointments we all may face in our pursuit of photography there has been an increase in the number of photographs being take, particularly in the last 35 years with the increase in the number of cheap film compact cameras followed eventually by the arrival of digital, the rationalisation of prices for digital sensor cameras and the increase in the camera capability of mobile phones. Sites like Flickr and Instagram have many users and it was from viewing the uploads to Flickr that Kessels took on his project 24 Hours of Photos. Kessels printed 24 hours worth of uploads made to Flickr. The resultant exhibition toured and these prints were shown, “mountains of photos, reaching from gallery floor to ceiling” (Kessels, E  Exhibitions: 24 Hours of Photos).

Image reproduced for educational purposes, source Exhibitions: 24 Hours of Photos.


Alec Soth opens his presentation on The Current State of the Photobook for the Aperture Foundation with a quote from Robert Frank taken from the interview by Charlie LeDuff for Vanity Fair in 2008. Frank stated, “there are too many images, too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art any more. Maybe it never was.” This statement refers to photography’s lack of acceptance as a fine art for some years in addition to advent of digital photography.

The Frank quote is therefore perhaps a very appropriate choice for  a presentation in advance of revealing the thirty books shortlisted for the Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation Book Award categories: First PhotoBook and PhotoBook of the Year. There is a difference between a photobook and a digital image in as much as a book can be held, it can be leafed through. A book is a curated set or series of sets of images. A book contains printed reproductions of the photographs. Yet as Soth goes on to state, in respect of finding a publisher, “it’s really challenging,” ( The Current State of the Photobook) There are seemingly an ever increasing number of published and self published books available. The genre of the photobook has also had a ‘flood’. He finishes by talking of Nobuyoshi Araki a prolific photobook producer of approximately 1000 titles. Araki had told Soth that unlike Frank he’s never had a slump, and that this is because his life and his photography are one and the same. It is this that seems to be the contemporary form of working with digital photography in the age of the ‘flood’ that perhaps can be found across a range of photographers from amateur to professional who refuse to be hampered by whether someone else will evaluate their shots are superfluous to something that perhaps photography or art as a whole needs. Soth states, “that rather than fighting that flood, you know he [Araki] just take’s it on and he just kind of moves on with it. There was something about it that was really joyous to me” (Ibid). It seems therefore that if we care more abut the work, the stream of our life and our photographic production that is encompassed by our life and vice versa, then we need not worry too unnecessarily as to photography’s place within the arts and photographic art to the extent that we cease to try to make photographs.


Frank, R, (2008) [http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2008/04/frank200804 – Last Accessed 20/02/2017]

Kessels, E, Lecture, [https://itunes.apple.com/gb/itunes-u/photography-video/id435584516?mt=10/ – Last Accessed 20/02/2017]

Kessels E, Exhibitions Webpage [http://www.kesselskramer.com/exhibitions/24-hrs-of-photos – Last Accessed 20/02/2017]

Schmid, J, (2013) OCA Interview [https://weareoca.com/photography/an-interview-with-joachim-schmid/ – Last Accessed 20/02/2017]

Soth A, The Current State of the Photobook, For the Aperture Foundation, on Vimeo, [https://vimeo.com/75509592 – Last Accessed 20/02/2017]