When Is A Photograph not a Photograph?

June 12, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I am very excited about giving a workshop to novice photographers at the Magdalen College School in Oxford as part of their highly acclaimed arts festival.

Whilst I intend to make the delegates do most of the work (!) , I have been thinking about what makes a photograph a photograph. And I've come up with a controversial conclusion!

And that is that A great photograph doesn't look like a photograph, but rather, it takes us back to that moment when the shutter was activated

What do I mean by that?

I do worry that we have our own perception of what a photograph is - it's probably changed down the generations. This leads to many discussions about what is a natural photograph. There really is not, and never has been, such a thing! Chemical film processing and digital processing changes the original 'natural' image even before more noticeable manipulation in a darkroom or now Photoshop and Lightroom etc 

If we look at a photograph and the only reaction is that it's 'just a photograph', then I think the photographer has failed to capture and communicate the original moment.

There is nothing more rewarding for me as a photographer than when a  subject or client gasps at how one of my pictures has captured the moment. They are transported back to that scene, looking at every detail and absorbing the emotion. They look beyond the 'photograph'. It's not easy to achieve every  time!! We live in an age of more visual stimulation than ever before, and our eyes and brains demand ever more interesting images to feast on. The best we can do is to make the brain think, maybe by providing an incomplete image that requires a little more time to digest and appreciate.

This is a favourite picture of mine:

_DSF2096-2-Edit-EditJacob and Tessa

We had just completed (or so I thought) a photo session with young Jacob who only the day before had learned to crawl so barely stayed still for a second. Tessa was entertaining him as we waited to start lunch. They were by the window and I was further into the room. I noticed the backlight effect on them both and knew I had to capture this moment. The two-way interaction was pure bonus!

Technically, I metered for the highlights - this means that most of the picture is dark shadow. But I believe it gives the eye and brain enough detail to be interested and to look closely at the what is happening in this moment. I find myself looking from one face to the other and back again as I enjoy the close connection between the two subjects.

During my workshop I will be encouraging delegates to 'see' (with and without a camera), to understand and think more about light, and to alert them to the technical 'holy grail' that will help them progress from snappers to photographers by being able to make the camera record what they have seen with their own eyes.

I hope they are ready to make their eyes and brains work hard for 90 minutes!

More about the arts festival here: http://www.artsfestivaloxford.org/

Maybe I will see you there?

 


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