When is a cliche not a cliche? Reconsidering mass-produced sunsets

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


Sunsets are everywhere. Nightly they appear, vast and humbling, orange, pink and purple. Like snowflakes, it is said that every single one is different. Natural, ephemeral and beautiful, they constitute exactly the kind of subject that causes people to reach for a camera: the fleeting spectacle that photography seems made to capture; the momentary vision that deserves immortalising. Sunset photographs, however, are a different matter: they have come to represent the most predictable, culturally devalued and banal of image-making practices. Critics dismiss them as ‘chocolate box’ or ‘picture postcard’; they are seen as clichés. The beauty of a sunset can be transformed, in a photograph, into something cloying. Their very ubiquity is what seems to repel; photography has tainted what it sought to cherish through overuse. It miniaturises natural grandeur and renders it kitsch. In this essay, produced for the National Media Museum's EitherAnd website, I begin by sketching in the origins of some of this critique, and follow by taking apart some of the assumptions beneath the dismissals by looking at amateur sunset photographs in both historical and contemporary practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReconsidering Amateur Photography
Place of PublicationLondon, UK
PublisherNational Media Museum
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


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