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Self Reflection #4: West Coast Cliché

To outsiders, San Francisco is well-known for the fog that often veils the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. To Bay Area residents, San Francisco is noted for its microclimates--certain parts of the city can be sunny and 70 while another part of the city is cloudy at 60. My wife and I were living in one of the colder, damper quarters of San Francisco. For several reasons, we recently moved about 50 miles south to San Jose. Located significantly further inland from the Pacific than San Francisco, San Jose is warmer, drier, and sunnier than San Francisco.


After completing some chores one day, I looked outside and snapped a photograph of the sunset. The colors and clouds were fun. It was taken from our fourth-floor apartment and looked out to the west. A palm tree or two enter the frame. The move to San Jose has been exciting, so I posted that photo to Instagram.


A couple days later, the sunset was even better. I grabbed my Sony RX100m7, zoomed in on the portion of the sky that I found most interesting and took the picture. After I graded the colors on the Polarr app in my phone, I published the following photograph on Instagram:



Colorful San Jose Sunset
Another San Jose Sunset

The question is, what is this image worth? I can tell you the following interesting tidbits: I liked the range of colors, how the relationship between the bright spot at the bottom-center and the darker parts at the edges of the frame, how the warm and cool colors interact, and so on and so forth. All of this seems interesting.


But much of this photograph is just plain silly. Pictures of sunsets are ubiquitous and are instantly connected with happiness, leisure, and the good life. This is the typical Instagram cliche--my life is great, and you can see it here. Moreover, the genre of California photography is tightly connected to images depicting its sunsets.


I've played into Instagram's hands and created a West Coast cliché. In the moment, I simply enjoyed the colors and the structure of the photograph. I still enjoy those features, but I am not sure if that saves the photograph from being one of an obvious, non-creative type.


Two characteristics mitigate some of the problems here. First, the image is decontextualized from obvious California signs. Unlike the other San Jose sunset photograph, this image doesn't show any palm trees or anything else that would tie this sky to California. Second, this is an image of San Jose--not Los Angeles or of the beach towns that are most tightly linked to colorful sunsets. It is somewhat interesting to me that this photograph evokes a feeling of Los Angeles from a place that is neither on the coast nor in Southern California.


In any event, we are enjoying San Jose, our relocated slice of southern California.


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