On art and mundane

A friend of mine made a first and then a second posts on his blog about what does not make a good photograph. But while it is easy to point out badly composed, out of focus images run through one or two un-suck filter, it seems to be harder to say what a good picture should have.

It is almost two months I am thinking on the subject, and not much came out of it. In fact, I thought that old good suggestion of looking at other peoples images, at images of the masters, would help. I carefully studied the few photograph exhibits while in New York in Met and MoMA and then I followed up on few books of those photographers I found in the local library. I enjoyed simplicity of Alfred Stieglitz images, those taken in New York, first of horse carriages and then of rising skyscrapers were fascinating. But I was wondering if they were great by themselves or because of their historical value. Some of them were dark to our current standards, for example. Although, the composition was impeccable. And I loved his images of Georgia O’Keeffe, her hands on different objects for example, beautifully posed both on the object and in the frame.

I also spend some time looking at Dorothea Lange photographs, especially those of Great Depression in San Francisco and life of migration workers in California. Those are great stories and they certainly evoke emotions. They tell the story by themselves, you don’t need to see the caption of when it was taken and who it represents. But these images tell the universal stories through emotions on people’s faces, their posture, surrounding. So, the image needs to convey emotions. Which is easy, or at least doable with images of people. How about the landscape and macro of flower petals?

Also, looking at many images in National Geographic magazine, and their books, I come to the conclusion that the technical quality has not much to do with the image being good or not. It is all not about perfect exposure or focus. Maybe it is even not about the composition. But it is also not what a photographer feels about the image, especially if it special to me because it connects to my personal story. Eli Reinholdtsen wrote about it some time ago. Unless the story can be made universal to all people. It needs to make any viewer appreciate the beauty of the scene, or understand the story being told without any caption.

Do you have any thoughts on the subject? When you see a photo, what makes you think it is a good image or a bad image? What are your criteria?

Dorothea Lange photographs on the wall in MoMA. As just about anything else in that exhibition hall was drawing attention of bored tourists, I could contemplate it in peace.

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