What’s In A Photograph?

The post-exhibition discussion in a Starbucks cafe with a tutor and another student, immediately followed by a visit to another inspiring exhibition, made me think more about what is actually in a photograph, or to be more precise, what’s in a good photograph?  The question should also ask, ‘what’s not in a good picture?’.

So what brought this on?  Usually it’s the tutors asking the questions about what we see in the images in the exhibition etc etc.  This time I decided to turn the tables and I asked the question, ‘what do you take pictures of now you’ve retired from professional photography?’.  I’m not sure if I was surprised by the answer I received or not, but what was interesting was the justification for making the answer.

It seems when a photographer prostitutes himself to the god of filthy lucre, he has to follow the brief if he wants to get paid.  This means that when a shoot of a commercial product is undertaken, whilst the artist within the photographer tries to assert his artistic morals on the shoot there is no doubt that the client and the commercial message is paying the piper and he therefore has to play the tune.

It would seem that what is left out of the final image is of as much importance as what’s left in.  No anomaly that doesn’t have any bearing on the message or the product can be left in.  This usually means a great deal of initial set-up time and/or a great deal of time examining rushes to determine what else needs removing.

This led the justification from the tutor to directly include as many anomalies as possible into his photographs as something of a release from the constraints imposed by his former life as a professional.

Having just heard this and then going on to the next exhibition where the images in themselves were not necessarily full of anomalies but the text that went with them showed them up to be anomalous with that text set me thinking about this post.

As a level 1 student the course tends to be somewhat prescriptive in what it demands of us and without experience I believe that we all tend to churn out the images that meet the prescription and think what a fine job we’ve done.  As we get further through the sections, projects and exercises I certainly find myself beginning to question how prescription can lead to individualism that leads to authentically new work.  Having got that far I had to ask myself, ‘well, what replaces it?’.  The answer is anomalies.

Take for instance a scene where a person is sat there with a towel around their shoulders, a pair of swimming goggles around their neck and a covering on their head.  This would appear to be a straight-forward scene of a swimmer or someone preparing or just finishing swimming.  But suppose the head covering is a rolled up plastic shopping bag?  Has the swimming premise changed?  Depends on how you go swimming I suppose, but what it does do is raise questions, and those questions can lead to many different interpretations of the same picture.  Now that’s authentically new.

The question to me is now not what to take but how to make the anomalies appear and look right.


One Response to What’s In A Photograph?

  1. Catherine says:

    I like that last thought and will be interested to see how you carry it through.

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