Some time ago I wrote a column titled, “What is a good photograph?” At that time I said, “A good photograph is one that makes us have a connection with, or think about, the subject…it could help us understand what the photographer feels about that subject; and can, if successful, evoke some kind of mood, whether good or bad.”
While having coffee with some friends this week one raised the thought, “Just what is good photography?” He wasn’t referring to the nuts and bolts of the technology, but what is it about photography that makes it a good medium to so many.
I like the statement made by famous scenic photographer Ansel Adams said, “Photography, as a medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.” Simply put, I think it is all about making a picture of something and visually explaining that to others. The creative medium of photography is much different than other artistic endeavours.
Another celebrity in the world of photography, Edward Steichen said, “ Every other artist begins with a blank canvas, a piece of paper… the photographer begins with the finished product.” (For readers’ information, Steichen was married to the famous southwestern painter, Georgia O’Keefe.) I am sure he believed creative art is something attained because of the artist, not the medium.
I’ll expand my friend’s thought with the question, what is photography? Internationally known photographer, Elliott Erwitt wrote, “ To me, photography is an art of observance. It’s about something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
I am always interested in talking to photographers about what they were trying to do (or say) when they took a picture. Any two photographers in the same location will provide two very different interpretations.
Sometimes we look at a photographer’s work and realize there is more to the image than just what we saw at first glance. It is as if the photographer is challenging us to catch a glimpse of something deeper in meaning. Speaking to that, controversial photographer Diane Arbus exclaimed, “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”
That is certainly my impression of some photographs I look at. The photographer might just say, “Oh, I just saw it and pushed the shutter”, but if pressed I usually get a lot more about what he or she was feeling when they pushed the shutter.
Another great quote by the innovative Duane Michals wrote “Photography deals exquisitely with appearances, but nothing is what it appears to be.”
Recently I looked at a photograph made by a friend in an old abandoned house. The view was at floor level with decaying furniture and windblown leaves looming in the foreground. At first the low angle was inviting with light coming in from uncovered windows. Then I noticed not so focused stuff like toys, and a bookshelf with books in the background, and a textured story of more than just a simple picture through an open door emerged.
Photography has become more popular than ever before, and the ease with which modern technology makes holding a camera, releasing the shutter, and making a sharp, colourful picture is also easier than ever before, and I look forward to every new aspect of this exciting medium that develops, and I enjoy getting into these types of philosophical moods regularly; I like all things photographic and enjoy the opportunity to discuss photographers, photographs, and what photography as a medium is to photographers.
I am sure most of the allure of photography is how one can capture a moment of a subject’s time and show that moment to others. And what makes it such a good medium might be as Ansel Adams who said, “My last word is that it all depends on what you visualize.”