Curating What Makes a Great Photograph
There are many ways to look at what makes a great photograph. Trying to be objective from such a subjective medium like photography is not as hard as it seems. A great photograph is an expression and representation of the artists’ conscientious approach to capturing an alluring, extraordinary, and well-composed picture.
What I mean is that great photographs made in our short photographic history have all been thought out, composed, and captured. Great photographs were created by an artist/photographer who captured them in accordance with their vision, what intrigued or moved them, and by the story they were compelled to share. That is to say that any piece of art is a creative process by which the artist constructs, creates, and executes their vision.
And the same can be said for the photojournalist embedded on the battlefield making split-second decisions on what to capture. The photographer is still present and knows what they are seeking, and they have a great sense of presence in precarious situations.
Great photographs aren’t coincidences; those kind of photographs do exist, but they aren’t great photographs that are well-respected by museums, curators, and other professional photographers and fans — they are simply just technically composed, good photographs. Instead, the great photograph has a story unto themselves, and are works of art because they represent an understanding of the world and a vision from a different lens/perspective.
Thinking about what makes a great photograph made me wonder how others viewed what makes a great photograph, so I put together, or curated, some videos and articles that explore other opinions on photography.
“Most photographers just point and shoot, and hope something turns out. Regardless of how advanced their equipment and how exotic the location, failing to pay attention to the basic design elements results in ho-hum pictures, no more than thoughtless snapshots.
By paying rapt attention to the underlying shapes and forms which make up your image, your images will stand above the rest.
Photos always have details. The camera does that.
The camera can’t compose the basics of your image. You, and you alone, have to do that.
If you get the basics right, you will make great images with any camera,” Rockwell writes in his article, The Secret: What Makes a Great Photo.
According to National Geographic, great pictures stop time, inspire, raises questions, show humanity, etc..
Great Pictures don’t need words at all.
Steve McCurry explains what makes a good photograph: pictures that change you, something that has an emotional story, good composition, something that tells an interesting story or changes your viewpoint, and something powerful to see.
A Different View
Jamie Clifton, Senior Editor of Vice UK, doesn’t agree with the consensus about what makes a great photograph in his 2012 article: I’m Sick of Pretending: I Don’t ‘Get’ Photography.
Clifton says this: “After that doctorate-level case study in photography, I think we can agree to settle on what makes a photo good: expense, death, antipathy, and nepotism.”
I suppose a cynical look like Clifton’s on photography could be a popular conjecture. I tend to err on the side of my contemporaries and fellow photographers that consider a great photograph more than the sum of its parts — or monetary worth. Clifton is equating photography to the art world that inflates the cost of paintings and sculptures, and references Andreas Gursky, whose photographs have fetched millions of dollars because they are considered fine art from gallery owners and museums. Art is a commodity to the investor of fine art, but is that the only reason they purchase? Perhaps. I don’t know…
To him, great photography must fit criteria as mentioned above; factors like being a dead photographer, capture an image that shows the dark side of humanity, like a young girl getting her ears and nose cut off by her in-laws for running away from her arranged marriage.
I would offer that there are many photographers still alive and who are not within this criteria, such as Sebastiao Salgado, Vincent Laforet, Steve McCurry, Sam Abell, Mary Ellen Mark, and the list goes on. To chastise an entire art form like photography seems to be the result of an editor that is not considering other peoples opinions.
The problem I have with this is that he is trying to make his opinion a popular consensus in a magazine like Vice, which showcases great photographs in its pages. I couldn’t imagine a magazine or even website without some sort of photograph or design.
I would love to hear your opinion on what makes a great photograph, or even if you disagree with my opinion. Email me at Adam@precise-moment.com