Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

Shadows.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

I was discussing with a friend a little while ago about what a photograph should be. This isn’t a new argument between us, it has been going in one form or another for years. As we have grown and talked more and thought about things our thoughts have matured but remained essentially the same at heart.

The issue is this; what should a photograph be?

Anyone who is passionate about photography will recognise this as the loaded question it is. To a professional the question likely doesn’t matter much. The question of what a photograph should be is usually answered by the parameters of the job.

An amateur (people like me), however, with nothing to do but talk about photography endlessly; about how bad their cameras are, how much better their photographs would be if they had better camera, how noisy brand x is, how much better than their own camera brand y is; in other words, anything but actually going out and taking photographs; relish these questions. Questions like what a photograph should be, are endlessly fascinating.

To my point: For my friend (with whom I always argue) a photograph should be representative of the scene in front of the camera and should only be taken of something that is inherently “interesting” (a nice sunset, for example). His position isn’t that simple, of course, but I have to simplify for the sake of illustration. My understanding of what my friend is saying is that a photograph should not embellish or represent the scene in any way, other than the way it is presented on the frame of a camera pointed directly at the scene. A forensic approach I call it.

I don’t want to give people what they expect, I want to give them what they didn’t originally think of. That way, after they have seen my picture, it will not be what originally attracted them to the scene that they remember. It will be my picture.

I believe that when people see a picture of a particular “feature” of what the scene originally was, as long as they recognise it, it will hopefully evoke the feeling that they originally felt (like a smell evoking a memory, for example). If my photograph is of something they have never seen before, then it should evoke an emotion which will cause them to remember my picture of the scene.

And that is the bottom line, people don’t remember something that doesn’t arouse a feeling in them. People remember the things that make them think. Whether it is disagreement, pleasure, puzzlement, anger or something else.

So all of that didn’t really answer the question I posed. Sorry. This is my answer, it may or may not be the right one and it most certainly is not the only one. Photography is an art form, it is what we want it to be. So even though my friend and I will continue to argue about this endlessly, I believe that even his forensic approach can be art. A photograph should be, then, whatever the photographer determines that he wants it to be.

So why did I name this post “Shadows”? I did mention that I have a different (not necessarily unique though) take on most scenes than most people. For me, this (and many other things) is what a photograph should be:

Or this:

Or this:

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2 responses

  1. I believe that there will always be some disagreement about the subject of photography, specifically where many people want to draw the line between art and photography, even I tend to draw a line sometimes, but with me, its a very fuzzy line, when you use Photoshop/PhotoPAINT to make the photo look like an oil painting, I tend to say it’s no longer a photograph 🙂
    I have never been able to quite use shadows to the extent that you have been able to and I must say that those three are nice examples.
    I find you’ve gotten quite good at street photography and more than impressive with your use of shadows.

    June 14, 2010 at 8:17 am

  2. I do feel the post is mis-titled. What is a photograph is not subjective and is open to interpretations by the photographer and even the viewer.

    Nikhil, the photos you shared here are similar to the ones I like to take that people question why did you take a photo of that? I like your capturing of the shadows in the photos and would like to see maybe an album of just shadows.

    June 14, 2010 at 4:02 pm

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