Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Has the internet affected our appreciation of photographs?

Seaside, Whitby, UK. An invitation to discover the subtle details from the crack in the paving to the pink crocs. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Seaside conversation - interrupted, Whitby, UK. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Most photographs are viewed on screens at low resolution and quite small pixel sizes. Is this affecting the way we look at photographs in general and in particular our ability to appreciate the finer nuances in images?

The way we experience images in different media affects our perception. When viewing photographs on the internet we click through very quickly to the next image. Pick up a large beautifully produced photo book and you are likely to spend a lot more time looking at each image.

High resolution prints entice the viewer to look at the detail and explore an image. Large photographs hung on a gallery wall invite the viewer to spend even more time discovering every aspect of the image. Nothing beats a beautifully produced original print. Despite the proliferation of online images I still think the ultimate measure of a photograph is how it looks in print.

On screen with typical dimensions ranging from 500 pixels on the longest side to 800 pixels, and screen resolution at 72 dpi it is impossible to convey all the subtle details that a full resolution image holds. The images that work at small sizes are bold, dramatic and full of immediate visual impact. Subtle images are therefore not popular on sites which invite fellow users to comment such as Flickr.

I hope that this does not discourage those photographers with a quieter voice, who load their images with layers of detail and subtle nuances, waiting for the perceptive viewer to discover them.

I love looking at images and nothing gives me a bigger kick than to go beyond the big main statement to find a subtle element, carefully included to add wit, humour or a poignant statement that enhances the overall image.

For me a lot of the joy in photography and indeed the essence is the extraordinary detail, subtle colour and light we can capture with our extremely high resolution cameras and lenses.

On the internet I see an increasing tendency to produce highly manipulated images, using texture layers, high contrast, blurring and other filters to strip out the detail. And I understand this trend in the context of viewing images on the internet where bold images stand out. Sadly the initial impact often does not last very long. It’s fast food for the brain. Compare many of these images to a picture like an Ansel Adams landscape, which will keep you discovering new things for years because of the richness in detail and the subtle interplay of light on the subject.

We need both types of image, and like music there is a place for contemporary and a place for the classic.

I hope that readers of my blog will take a moment to think about, discover and enjoy the quieter images that go beyond the obvious, the images that reward the viewer who is prepared to take their time to discover and enjoy the tiniest detail. It is the discovery of these tiny details that ultimately helps the viewer to take the image into their heart and make it their own to treasure.


Paul Indigo,
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