Pictures provide an exciting medium through which to communicate. They speak a universal language, one that every human being – on one level or another – can experience a relationship with and attempt to comprehend.
We talk about how some pictures are good and others poor, yet it puzzles me that so few bother define what they mean by a ‘good picture’ or a ‘bad picture’.
What makes us stop and notice a picture? What distinguishes a good picture from a bad one in the visual melting pot of this current age? Mass mediated and private pictures, film, the web, art and popular culture melt together for most of us without rhyme or reason.
To photograph is to sort out and organize impressions, evaluate and pass on bits of your own experience to others. Thus it is particularly challenging to produce pictures which are something other than copies or spitting images of things one has already seen. Unless you yourself have made certain choices and created your own ‘world order’ out of the universal chaos. First one has to find one’s own platform, set one’s own bearings.
The art-critic and –philosopher Roland Barthes is but one of many who has attempted to describe the ability a picture has to fascinate; why do some pictures touch you deeply, while others do not? It is his contention that most pictures do not grab us. However, some do; they incite us to investigate them, to embark upon a study (studium lat.) of them. The majority of such pictures still convey only a simple history, and after further investigation and study, we nevertheless let go of them.
However, on rare occasions, a picture has something engaging about it, a detail perhaps, some strange attraction that enables the spectator to make some special connection or association. Such a picture attaches itself to one’s consciousness and remains, it somehow emanates a punctum, a certain point. This sort of picture is the kind which ought to be the goal of every creator of images.
A picture consists of two main ingredients: form and content. A lot of today’s photography builds upon the ideals of modernity, which emerged the first several decades in the early twentieth century. Within modernity, the picture’s form, the visual impression, was the all-important issue. Often it was the sole criterion to go by in the evaluation of an image. Pictures with strong form and loud colors has had – and still has today – a dominating position on the commercial market. We witness this especially in the press, fashions and nature photography.
Within post-modernity, many of modernity’s ideals were turned upside down; now the content – the idea itself – took precedence. Frequently, a strong visual appeal was perceived as undesirable, to be avoided, since it easily could obscure the idea itself. What ensued was a view of images that was almost opposed to the esthetical. It led to the creation of some pictures which were unpleasant to the eye, boring and uninteresting, as seen through the eyes of the modernist – whose eyes were conditioned to value form.
Today, in our era of post-modernity, these two expressions of images live side by side. Yet there is often scant mutual appreciation between the camps. Within the art community, the appreciation of form is possibly dwindling, but now modified by the influence of post-modernity. It seems to me that the most engaging pictures – from my vantage point – are the ones that somehow merge a simple and stringent, but not visually overwhelming form and a clear content.
Content does not necessarily mean documentary messages, I often prefer images which have a quality of evasiveness – they don’t reveal their true selves without a fight – some quality which unnerves the spectator and takes one’s attention captive, be they images of a documentary nature, or be they still-life or stilted.