When is a Cliche not a Cliche? Reconsidering Mass-Produced Sunsets

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


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 prompts 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 cliche s. 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 seems to miniaturise natural grandeur and render it kitsch. In this chapter, I sketch in the origins of some of this critique, and take apart some of the assumptions beneath the dismissals, looking at amateur sunset photographs in both historical and contemporary practice.

'When is a Cliche not a Cliche?' is a 3000-word essay reflecting on the ways that multiple photographs of popular subjects in popular practice can be understood. Originally published as part of the 'Reconsidering Amateur Photography' strand for the Science Museum-funded project www.eitherand.org, this 2018 revised version forms part of the section 'Mass Culture and the Politics of Distinction' in the book Photography Reframed, edited by Ben Burbridge and Annebella Pollen.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhotography Reframed: New Visions in Contemporary Photographic Culture
EditorsBen Burbridge, Annebella Pollen
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9781784538835
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'When is a Cliche not a Cliche? Reconsidering Mass-Produced Sunsets'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this