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Vemodalen: The Fear That There Are Thousands of Photographs Identical to Yours

By Hanssie on November 13th 2014

There’s nothing new under the sun. It even says so in the Bible.

One of the major objectives as a creative is to be, well, creative. We long to be different, to stand out from the crowd. And what a crowd it is. With over 7 billion people on this planet, being unique is an exercise in futility it seems. As an artist, realizing this fact may be torturous to our already tortured soul.

Now there is a term for this feeling of abject sorrow, this fear that everything has already been “done.” The knowledge that your inspired image of your sushi dinner, is just one of the thousands of inspired images that have already been photographed of sushi dinners. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, who creates words to name some of these emotions we feel that don’t quite have an official Webster’s dictionary entry, has captured this desolate feeling in the word, “vemödalen.”

vemödalen – n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist–the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye–which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.

The following video points out this fact that there is seemingly nothing you photograph that hasn’t been photographed before, as demonstrated over and over again in a collection of images that are almost identical, each taken by a different photographer. But instead of frustration, the video ascertains, we should take comfort in this as we all contribute to the beauty of the larger picture, that you and 7 billion other people in the world are connected in this human experience.

And dare I add, that inspired image of your Tako Nigiri taken at your favorite sushi joint, may look like everyone else’s sushi dinner, but the one thing that does makes it unique is the moment it was consumed. And the memory of that moment cannot be duplicated.

For a list of photo credits, all used under the Creative Commons 2.0 license, click here.

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[Via Laughing Squid]

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tosh Cuellar

    Interesting, good article. In reality this applies to all things, not only photography, there is so much that has been done that it leaves so little that hasn’t already been done, in that sense, so very much of life, is repetitive. Question is only are you shooting a new thing in an old way? or an old thing in a new way?

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  2. David Blanchard

    I don’t feel that bad, I only committed one of those repetitions. Then again, there are my red fox images……

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  3. Greg Silver

    Interesting video. And perhaps everything has been photographed. But there a many variables to consider. I can visit the exact same place to take a photo throughout the year but every time I take a pic it’s different. Different times of day, different seasons, lighting, clouds, etc. All those variables contribute to a different photo.

    Now when we’re talking about moving subjects, then it’s a whole different ball game. FI’ve taken many pics of birds (even with continuous shooting) only to find out 1 or 2 pics is worth keeping.

    I think there could be a tendency to be discouraged to photograph something that someone else has shot before. But I truly believe with the variety of settings on a camera combined with natural or staged lighting gives an infinite number of combinations that a photograph could end up looking like.

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  4. Michael Giordano

    This article reminded me of a video I watched a few years ago. To summarize, humans can go with a bunch of different combinations, but we have a tendency to stick to the same things. The video revolves around music, but after reading this article I guess you can say we are the same with visuals as well. If you have the time to watch, it’s very very fascinating.

    If anything skip to the 9:30 mark. It shows how some research can predict whether we will enjoy a song or not based off of the songs ability to be compressed by a computer, too simple or complicated and it’s out of our brain’s range of “liking.” So, essentially you can mathematically predict what the human brain will enjoy.

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  5. Peter Nord

    Lots of folks have made children in the past. Doesn’t seem to stop anyone from having more. My photographs, my children.

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  6. Steven Pellegrino

    To sum it up – you are unique, just like everyone else.

    (I thought I was the only one taking photos of snowflakes against a black background. Maybe I should try train tracks instead.)

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    • Ben Perrin

      You have to be different!
      Crowd: “Yes, we are all different!”
      Small lonely voice: “I’m not!”

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  7. Cleve Chiro

    I do agree that everything we photo has been photographed…but that has not stopped me from taking photos that intrigue me…the trick is to shoot what you like regardless of whats out there.

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