Sunday, April 16, 2006

Photographs that moved the world

Following on from a debate with a friend we realised that though so much effort is put into creating the perfect landscape, still life or portrait, the photographs that have really moved the world are almost all photojournalistic images.

Even the formidable and masterful beauty of Ansel Adams' landscapes or Mappelthorpes' flowers are far less well known than the Eddie Adams photograph of the execution of a Viet Cong guerilla in 1968 or Don McCullin's haunting image of famine in Biafra.

In a competition between the pure aesthetics of an image and the capture of a truly meaningful and symbolic moment in history it is always the latter that wins. Having said that there are usually many images taken of an event but only a few grab the world's consciousness, and in this purely visual elements such as composition do play a vital role. An example here is Richard Drew's "Falling Man" image taken on September 11, 2001. Richard and other photograhers took several images of the people falling from the Twin Towers but this particular image captured something more profound and ultimately that comes down to its visual elements and aesthetics.

If you want to take images that really mean something, then as a photographer you need to position them within a meaningful context. If your image is just a picture of a pretty face, it will hold the viewers attention for a few seconds, but then tell the viewer that the face belongs to a serial killer or the richest heiress in the world and you're into a whole new ball game. Naturally your portrait need not be so dramatic, I'm just trying to show the importance of having a reason for taking an image and communicating that reason to your audience - whether you do that visually or with the help of a caption.

I keep coming back to this element of the photographer's intention, what is in his/her mind when they take the image. Why does some landscape photography have tremendous power although it does not capture a historically important moment? Going back to Ansel Adams, I am convinced that his landscapes are powerful because of his profound love of nature and his wish to celebrate its beauty, as much as they are the result of his technical skill.

We should all strive to take pictures with soul that reflect our view of the world and that are born from a passion to communicate what we feel.

Visual power and strength comes from underlying meaning, the photographers consciousness and intention.

As always your comments are very welcome.

All the best,
Paul
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