Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Short Photo Project

A friend at the Boise Camera Club asked me to give a short presentation of some images I might not normally show at club meetings, like print or projection night. I chose images that probably would not score well with the judges. They may follow the accepted the principles of good photos - yielding low scores - but they impact me in important ways. The images I chose to show and talk about are ones that I like, which is probably the most important characteristic of a good photo. A photographer should always like their own images, in my opinion.

So I'm going to spend the next few days posting those images here, and talking about why they impact me the way they do. I think it's a good exercise to critique images, either my own or someone else's. It's important to put into words the thoughts and feelings I have about a photo. Being able to do that will make me a better photographer. So I'm practicing. I'm sure my critiques won't win any awards, and no one is going to ask me to join a publication as a contributing/commenting editor, so I'm mostly practicing for myself.

Here's the first image. I call it "the wall."

The photographs that affect me the most are ones which do very specific things.

  1. They make me ask questions.
  2. They either create an emotional reaction in me, or imply emotion.

This image fulfills both requirements. When people see this, some quickly ask, "Why did you take a picture of this? It's just an empty wall." As the photographer, I know why I took this particular photo, but the answer isn't very important. If you ask me why I took it, I might answer - I might not. The important thing is that I made you ask a question.

This photo also creates an emotional reaction in me, but before I talk about that, let me address one other quality I look for in photos: Contrast. In this context, contrast is not the photographic tonal contrast of differences between light and dark tones. Contrast here is more closely related to conflict, disparity, or an incongruity of elements. This photo contains a lot of contrasting elements.

  • First, there's the obvious contrast of the white square and the red wall, which also creates a contrast between light and dark tones.
  • Second, the white box is a large square, while the red wall is made up of small rectangles.
  • While the box has two definite vertical lines, the rest of the wall is made up of mostly horizontal lines.
  • Although the shapes in the wall are made up of right angles (squares and rectangles) the vignette is circular and, I think, an important part of the image.
  • The last contrasting element is something out of frame, something which the viewer would not know or even guess. This wall is in a part of Boise called, "Freak Alley," which is covered with graffiti, although the graffiti is not destructive. The paintings are done with permission, by gifted and creative artists. Most of the images are on one side of the alley. The other side is this wall, the one people turn their backs on while looking at the artistic wall. So the last contrast in the image is the highly developed art (out of frame) contrasted with the blank, clean wall seen here.

Which brings me back to the second thing that draws me to an image: emotion. This wall is so structured, literally set in stone, built up brick by brick, with a ready made frame - the white box - waiting to be filled, but only to the boundaries provided. And yet, the blankness of the wall and the box, the unspoiled, clean surface represents potential and imagination. This might be a photo of a wall, but it's a photo about hope. Just imagine what could be done with this blank urban canvas.

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