Thursday, 9 January 2014

Project: Writing Analytically

At the heart of every photograph is a message, something is being transmitted to the viewer by way of a visual statement. The variety is endless and will range from the sublime to the ridiculous and at some point a selection will have been be made, whether by the photographer or by an editor / curator to include an image and not others. The selection process will vary and at some point the question will be asked "Has the Brief been met", Did it succeed" "Iwill use this one, not that one because ..." etc ?. The course notes offer some help in reviewing this by way of an initial 10 point check list to bring some structure to how we should think analytically about our own work and then at a later stage the work of others. Prior to working on the next exercise I will run through the list and add some comments.

First Impression

With photography being ubiquitous it is important that the first viewing of an image is striking and captures the viewer. This is the most important of the 10. How difficult this is will depend on where the image is being shown, and to who. In a Gallery with 100 images the competition is less (having overcome the initial barrier of being selected for a gallery) than perhaps a Flickr group showing wildlife images where there are many thousands. Bold colours, striking graphic monochrome with deep blacks may have the edge on a delicately toned image with a reduced gamut or the subtle mid tone greys of a high key monochrome portrait. Similarly how the image attracts the viewer by its content is important. Robert Capa (1913-1954) is quoted as saying "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough" and that may well be true as a measure of capturing attention. The casual viewer will have a different need from an image than a fine art magazine editor or museum curator. The later will be interested in how the image will meet an academically inspired audience and will be looking for substance over style. The casual viewer will be captured by a first impression as their reference for remembering the work and the photographer.

The Genre

Genre should be obvious. Landscape, architecture, portraits, still life etc. Lines and boundaries are often crossed and sub genres such as environmental portrait have developed. Historic genre in the guise of pictorialism and straight photography were prevalent during the 1920's but the terms are rarely used today in contemporary work.

Intended Use

This should be an easy concept to understand and in some instances such as advertising there can be no doubt. Fine Art work for gallery sales can of course cross the divide and Stock images at an agency can find uses across a wide spectrum.

The Situation Facing the Photographer

Photographers make decisions and being in the right place at the right time is paramount, especially when working in News and Sports coverage. It is essential to anticipate the situation facing you on the street or at sporting event and be thinking ahead.

Planned v Unplanned  

Planning is essential (If you fail to plan then you plan to fail) and the degree to which this is carried out will be evident in the final work. In News and Sport it is essential to have researched the topography of where you will be working. Being able to navigate around the subject, gain good lighting etc is all a product of a plan. Planning for a Studio or Location shoot requires a check list and once again it is essential. Knowing you subject and anticipating what is likely to happen enables the photographer to be one step ahead and in position for what may only be a fleeting moment when the right shot can be made.
Note: I have worked as a Planner in the Construction Industry for 30 years, so tend to be quite positive about the subject.


There are a number of Technical issues that can enhance or degrade the image. The actual craft practice of ensuring correct focus, no dust on the sensor or marks on the film, sharpening etc have to be correct and if not achieved should result in rejecting the image. Choices of technical matters such as format, lens selection, shutter speed etc are needed to be correct to suit the image and its genre. Incompetence should be easy to see, although with some genre the photographer will be deliberately avoiding a "normal" outcome in order to enhance the image. This can be difficult to spot and careful attention should be given to any statement of title where the artist is deliberately using poor technique as a metaphor for an underlying narrative.


Experienced photographers, especially when working in a single genre will develop a style, to the point where the viewer can identify them without attached text. A consideration of Style is subjective and is unlikely to be seen in a single image, but more so from a body of work. The work of Michael Kenna (1953 - )for instance has a distinctive style.


Without a Statement of Intent it is difficult to judge an image on this alone. Critics and commentators spend a lot of time writing about work referring to an assumed intent, especially of the works of the Masters. The intent is closely linked to use.

Sufficient Information

Information on the image may be available, although more likely not. Images with any journalistic intent should always be captioned and the basic, Who, What, Why, When,Where and How will enhance the user experience and justify the image. The course text suggests that images that have been Photoshopped are worth less creatively, a comment that I don't understand. Photoshop is a creative tool associated with digital imaging and is a replacement for darkroom techniques, all of which are valid if used with care.


Within a frame of reference, the points above being taken into consideration and it being accepted for use an image will be a judged a success. An image being chosen for exhibition may have to undergo an extended selection regime, whereas an image for illustration on a website for one day may not be so exhaustive. The brief is the starting point for measuring success and the ability of those making the selection to be objective is an important combination

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