The Art of Viewing a Picture
This story was originally published in April 2012.
Here is a picture. Is it good? Is it bad? Does it emotionally connect? What information does it transmit? What message does it deliver? Does it tell a story? Is it a pleasing story? Is it fantastically imaginative? Is it surprisingly delightful? Is it shockingly new? Is it mundane, boring and quite obvious… and therefore, somehow more real and truthful… and therefore, somewhat interesting? Or is it absolutely nothing at all?
Most people decide to be acceptive or dismissive based on whether an image corresponds with their sense of values or not. The very act of looking at a photograph, on its own, is a process that begins with a need for self-gratification. From the perspective of a viewer, being summarily dismissive is entirely adequate. Photographers, on the other hand, need to be more appreciative. As photographers, we can be viewers too. Yet, what we get from seeing a picture must be significant enough for us to become better photographers. Whether we enjoy the process of photography or just the final results, the fact that we invest so much time, effort and money in making pictures is good enough reason to get more out of the viewing experience.
So, here is a picture. To begin with, why does this picture exist? Is this picture made for the viewer or is it more about the photographer? Is the intent visible? What are the individual elements in the composition? Where is the main subject as opposed to the secondary subject? How are they placed in the frame? Is there a balance of elements? What about the active and negative spaces, foreground and background? What about the colours, tonality, gradation and contrast? Is the exposure perfect? Is the focus and sharpness perfect? Is it all perfect? What is perfect? Are rules broken? Broken deliberately? Which rules? Where? Why? When? How?