Banal Photography - New Genre of Photography? A Debate.

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by tom_kondrat, May 22, 2022.

  1. I would like to propose an introduction of a new genre in photography. The need to generate a new name came from the frustration that arose when trying to find photographers that shoot, what I would like to offer to call, Banal Photography. Let me try to explain what do I understand by it and how I would define it.

    Banal Photography is a mix of poetic and bizarre photographs of everyday objects. It has some elements of documentary (documents ordinary things), street (but without people), fine art (uses photography as a medium for creative expression) and still life (photographs of still objects but without arranging them), but it is neither. Let's look at some examples of 'Banal Photography' and consider if we can imagine them in any of the above categories (fair and square).

    William Eggleston:



    Peter Fraser:



    Teju Cole:



    Stephen Shore:



    Wolfgang Tillmans:



    The works of Wendy Morgan (Login • Instagram), Enoch Ku (Login • Instagram) and Natalie Christensen (Login • Instagram) are also great examples.

    I also created a 'Banal Photography' group on flickr which I believe shows a good variety and a lot of amazing work (Banal Photography).


    According to Wikipedia (Category:Photography by genre - Wikipedia) and other websites (like this one: 106 Types of Photography You Should Know), there are over 130 genres of photography. Even if you remove some that overlap, it is still at least 100.


    If there is a space for 'Dog Shaming' and 'Lolcat' photography, why not add one more that would make it easier for people to find or identify this style of photography? I believe it is not just about adding yet another label. I feel photographs usually belong to few categories and there is no need to pigeonhole them, but if a new genre is able to describe a certain style better, and that it doesn't really fit anywhere else, then it makes sense to me.

    Please feel free to add more names of photographers that shoot mainly 'Banal Photography' (or maybe just certain projects) and let me know what you think about the name, and the necessity of creating this genre.


    I understand that not everyone is a fan of this style of photography (I am not a big fan of many genres myself) but I would like to kindly ask for a respectful debate.
  2. I don’t mind another genre.

    Eggleston’s work has been referred to as everything from fearless naturalism to his own the Democratic camera. Banal seems to address the subject matter more than the style, and subject matter is often what folks zero in on. Someone else might highlight Eggleston as a color photographer.

    Banal is descriptive, maybe a bit provocative and judgmental (?)

    Banal - so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring.

    For the type of work you’ve presented, I’ve tended use mundane, maybe a little more neutral a term (?)

    Mundane - commonplace, everyday, ordinary

    In fairness, the thesaurus has banal and mundane as synonyms but, still, whatever word is chosen is often going to offer a slightly different “spin,” which is why different labels can be applied to different effect.

    The naming of a genre is a shorthand and, often, just a beginning. The work often describes itself and the label sometimes just ties it down.
    michaellinder and sjmurray like this.
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    Last edited: May 22, 2022
  4. There are a couple face b00k groups that grew into/out of this sort of thing- both seemed to launch off a platform of "New Topographichs" type photography but "Banal" has certainly become a part of the expression of content. One of them has also morphed into the realm of "Liminal Space"- a subject of some debate all by itself.
    When it's good, it's pretty good, but also it can be quite.... "banal" at times, perhaps too much so? In the end, is there a difference between banal photos and just plain uninteresting photos? One does need to draw a line somewhere, I suppose, eh? Then again, is the crowd sourcing of "likes" a reliable metric for what is good and what is not?

    Regardless, the exapmles provided above are lovely, and AFAIK there's room for all kinds of genre bending and growth in photography.

    One more thought... I read somewhere once not too long ago, with the advent of "smart" phone cameras, that "never before have so many people so fully documented themselves doing so little". Perhaps the genre of "banal" is alreaady fully formed and is only now garnering enough attention to be recognized in its own right?
    IPSfoto and michaellinder like this.
  5. This might be labeled clueless.

    The photos posted by the OP are and seem intentionally what they are.
    The line is often drawn by the body of work, where intention and vision start taking shape and become more available to a (discerning) viewer.
    Likes are not a metric of being good, but they may be a metric of banality! This does not bode well for aesthetics or for the human race. Then again, not much does these days. :):(
    michaellinder and Ricochetrider like this.
  6. … and are more than their subject matter.
    richard a and Ricochetrider like this.
  7. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    Sam, the Human Race is doomed, and has been since its inception. The average span of existence of any species is, give or take, two million years. The human race is the only species in history to actually contribute wholesale to its own demise, unfortunately exterminating many other species as it does so.

    Slough - John Betjeman

    Roger G and Ricochetrider like this.
  8. Noting new about it. It has even been discussed here in forums.

    We've never been been able to sing "Yes, we have no banalities today" here.
  9. I've been taking banal photo's for at least the last 50years does this make me a trailblazer or a follower.
  10. Dustin McAmera

    Dustin McAmera Yorkshire

    Off topic, I discover that banalité is more interesting than I thought.
    michaellinder likes this.
  11. SCL


    I like the term "TRITE", but it would probably be off-putting to a number of people and insulting to others.:)
    michaellinder likes this.
  12. Gerald, I did not say that those kind of photographs are new, nor that the style is new. I mean, I showed examples of William Eggleston's photographs... I am just trying to name that genre. Apologies if I created any confusion.

    Yes, I did think about 'mundane'. Banal is the nod to William Eggleston, who is probably the first 'propagator' of this style.
    Eggleston's 1976 Guide to America exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art - "Perfectly banal, perhaps. Perfectly boring, certainly," was the review in the New York Times.

    I think you can probably say the same about any other genre in photography. I mean, I've seen lots of uninteresting landscape photography in my life...
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  13. So, then, isn’t “banal” a nod to the New York Times critic? :)
    Last edited: May 23, 2022
  14. Oh Dear , must EVERYTHING be put into little boxes , why not just enjoy taking pictures regardless.
  15. I do enjoy taking pictures. I don't enjoy doing a research about something that is so difficult to find.

    It's like contrarily to his words, those 'banal' photographs became a style on its own, and that exhibition affected the history of photography.

    I also used google to see what comes up when you type banal, mundane or ordinary photography. I believe the image results of 'banal photography' fit the best of what I described. After all, I don't try to invent anything new. I just wanted to name what already exists.
  16. I don’t think it’s contrary to his words. Szarkowski chose his words very carefully. The two words together were an attempt to capture the “essence” of Eggleston’s work … and to coin a phrase. His perfectly was as intentional and meaningful as his banal. He nailed something insightfully oxymoronic about Eggleston’s photos with perfectly banal.
  17. I see the Eggleston type of work as intentionally different from the ever popular landscape photography which nowadays has become very cliched with the typical shots of sunsets on the ocean or lake, etc., you know "postcard" shots.
    movingfinger likes this.
  18. Can one (me?) claim that Weston's Pepper #30 is "perfectly banal"? Weston got banal before Eggleston, and so did many others. Check out Andre Kertesz, Fork, Paris 1928, can a composition be more 'banal' and yet more profound that this? Or are these two examples too absolutely gorgeous and artistic to be in the new banal category?
    Ricochetrider and samstevens like this.
  19. First off, I think you and anyone else here can and should claim anything you want.

    I don’t think the banal category is new, don’t think banal can be applied only to Eggleston, and don’t particularly think banal alone is a terribly good adjective or categorization for any of these photos we’re discussing (why I think Szarkowski added perfectly). Szarkowski used it as a phrase in a much bigger introduction to the exhibit, not to create a new genre of photograph.

    Szarkowski describes Eggleston’s work as …
    I wouldn’t describe Weston’s pepper as banal, since it is, to me, so sensually, classically, and extraordinarily approached photographically by Weston. And, in my opinion, Kertesz’s fork and a lot of his other work are a take on still lifes. That’s not how I think of Eggleston’s work, which seems more like everyday and individual life than still life. I think Kertesz’s fork, subject matter aside, has a more classic and even theatrical sense, particularly in his use of shadow which, again, would take it away from banal.

    In short, I think it’s convenient and it shows Szarkowski’s insight and cleverness with words to have come up with perfectly banal, but it’s far from the whole story.
    Ricochetrider and movingfinger like this.

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