Photo by Elmo Tide
Getting awesome feedback! Thank you all for reading these things and glad my random thoughts and ideas are resonating. If you have any questions that you think I should write about, leave them in the comments section or feel free to email me :
This came in from regular photo contributor Reuben Radding:
Here’s what I’m having a hard time with: new questions. When I started grad school I dedicated myself to finding new questions to replace the outmoded and fully answered ones like, “Is it documentary or fine art?” “Why black & white vs color? digital vs film?”, etc etc etc… And the idea was that if we accept these issues as a waste of thought, what is next? What are the next big questions?
I have spent two years busting ass, growing, learning, questioning, and I’m not sure I know what the questions are other than, “What is the specific energy or quality or whatever that makes a photograph really sing out when it obviously doesn’t depend on “correctness” or “important content”?
We all know this quality when we see it. And we all chase it. And different photos are strong for different reasons, but what is this elusive aliveness that no one can put in a lens review or a guide to composition? I’m only scratching the surface to find an answer for this yet, and I’m still looking for more questions that aren’t “Canon vs Nikon” or “Wide angle vs Normal.” Maybe, “How can I put everything I am into a frame?” or “Who the hell is Elmo Tide?”
Thanks Reuben. Firstly, I think this might be the impossible question. Let’s try it. I have mentioned story telling in other posts. I say if you can tell a good story then your photos are “good”. But that involves multiple frames and editing much like making a feature film. And I think you’re saying, “What makes 1 particular frame really good?” To me that’s almost like saying, “What is art?” Let’s look it up.
1. the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
“the art of the Renaissance”
synonyms: fine art, artwork
“he studied art”
2. the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.
Ok we have some clues. Look at the first definition. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We know about beauty so let’s scratch that one off. “Emotional power”. That’s the nectar right there. You touched on it when you said “aliveness”. The viewer is feeling something looking at the photo. Maybe a “good” photo steers them in a particular emotional direction.
This is a list from Wikipedia :
Robert Plutchik’s theory says that the 8 basic emotions are:
- Fear – Feeling of being afraid, frightened, scared.
- Anger – Feeling angry. A stronger word for anger is rage.
- Sadness – Feeling sad. Other words are sorrow, grief.
- Joy – Feeling happy. Other words are happiness, gladness.
- Disgust – Feeling something is wrong or nasty.
- Surprise – Being unprepared for something.
- Trust – A positive emotion; admiration is stronger; acceptance is weaker.
- Anticipation – In the sense of looking forward positively to something which is going to happen. Expectation is more neutral.
Looking at this list it is no wonder why joy is favored as such a premium and why bad news dominates every tv channel. People need to get charged up emotionally in either direction.
This makes me think of Robert Frank’s “The Americans”. While 100s or 1000s of photographers have traveled across the country and made books about it, his became one of the most celebrated photo books of all time. And it’s because it had a darkness to it. A sadness. And in the 1950’s that kind of emotional exploration was new and sophisticated.
I don’t know if this is theee answer, but it’s an answer. Emotional content. Maybe if you can shoot something in a strong emotional state, and somehow that emotion transfers over to the viewer, then maybe you have just made a “good” photo.
Second. I don’t know who is Elmo Tide. But what a great example of no social media, no website, just Flickr and epic photos. I feel lucky that he somehow found Hamburger Eyes and decided to submit photos, a few rounds of photos actually. If you are reading this Elmo, we are huge fans and can’t wait to see more.