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High Resolution?

Philip R
Member Moderator

A new year – a chance to take different photos! What about making a new year resolution to capture pictures that convey more feeling? As the celebrated war photographer Don McCullin put it: ‘Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling. If you can't feel what you're looking at, then you're never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.1

It interests me that we seldom talk about the feelings underlying our photos, even when we have a special evening inviting us to do just that: ‘Why did you take that photo?’ Perhaps it’s because of the British stiff upper lip, which makes us reticent about owning our emotions. Or is it because of our fear of succumbing to ‘tall poppy syndrome’? Couldn’t we have more pictures with ‘soul’ in 2022?

I was delighted to receive a copy of Landscape Photographer of the Year 2 for Christmas, the beautiful hardback book of the 2021 competition. It intrigued me that, despite what the renowned landscape photographer, Charlie Waite, says in the Foreward to the book, comparatively few of the contributors speak of the feelings behind their images. Charlie Waite explains how the images can convey a ‘sense of wonder and appreciation of the landscape of Great Britain’ and points out that photos are ‘capable of elevating the human spirit to a deep emotional experience’ (p.9).

As I turned the pages of this stunning book and read the photographers’ captions, it struck me that relatively few described why their images were personally meaningful. Few explored the feelings associated with the pictures – about 17% of all the images, by my reckoning. Though women photographers seemed to be disproportionately inclined to speak about their feelings: 29% of the ‘feeling’ pictures (whilst 19% of the photographers were female). It interested me that 41% of the pictures with captions about feelings were black and white images (although black and white images were only 31% of the total images in the book). Perhaps it’s easier to convey emotion or at least talk about it in a monochrome image?

One of the stand-out photos for me was a monochrome photo of Cocklawburn Beach, Northumberland, by Andy Gray. For copyright reasons I can’t reproduce it here but you can access a copy of the image via this link. Andy’s caption includes these words, which seem mighty relevant at the start of 2022:

‘What really struck me was the peaceful but slightly sombre atmosphere of the place: nobody else about, locked down with only the life buoy present, like a guardian keeping watch, providing some ray of hope for the future’ (p.163).

So, my New Year’s resolution, at least, is to create more images with ‘soul’ – do you want to share yours?

 

1 Sleeping With Ghosts: A Life's Work in Photography, Don McCullin, New York: Aperture, 1996, p.96

2 ed, Charlie Waite, London: ILEX, 2021

 

This topic was modified 4 weeks ago 2 times by Philip R
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Topic starter Posted : 01/01/2022 1:46 pm
David A
Active Member

Good point, Philip.  Do you remember the professional wildlife photographer who come to speak to us (specialised in Africa, drove from somewhere in Bucks. in an enviably quick 40 mins., he said) sometime before first lockdown?  He recounted that someone on one of his tours were there to take three types of photos: For themselves; For money (I think); and for club competitions.  I suspect that many of us, like me, wrongly spend too much time on the latter.  As you say, time to widen one's approach.  But, do you think some photographers use captions (and titles) to enhance their chances of a win or publication?

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Posted : 02/01/2022 1:35 pm
Diddy Dodds
Member Moderator

What you have said is fair comment Philip. Part of the issue I think, is that for photographers, and for artists in general, their images are an expression of their feelings in a medium that they are comfortable in.

More often than not (although there are some notable exceptions) when they write about the feelings behind their work, they fail because they don’t know how to use words to express them effectively. Writing is an art and not everyone has it. I usually prefer to appreciate the image itself rather than try to decipher a stream of cliches and pretentious nonsense.

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Posted : 02/01/2022 4:58 pm
Philip R
Member Moderator

I think that's a very helpful breakdown of different reasons for making a photo. I'd want to add another: 'for others' - in order to share something that caught your attention or moved you in some way.

I guess some photographers use captions/titles in the way you describe. Though, as we know from hard experience at Photocraft, that can backfire - if, for instance, you use an amusing title and the competition judge doesn't get the joke!

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Topic starter Posted : 06/01/2022 4:30 pm
Philip R
Member Moderator

Yes, I too get thoroughly put off by strings of cliches and pretentious claptrap. I think the literature/art critic Geoff Dyer is someone who avoids that trap when he comments on photos. Did you hear him talking about a photo by Robert Capa on Radio 4's 'Viewfinders' programme last week? He starts to focus in on the photo at about 4 minutes 28 seconds into the episode (so, it might be worth starting listening at that point). This at least is an account of how Dyer was moved by this photo, irrespective of the meaning(s) the photo had for Capa. I think this is a really engaging commentary and a million miles from the tunnel vision we get if we just concentrate on the technical aspects of a photo.

 

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Topic starter Posted : 06/01/2022 4:44 pm
Martin F
New Member

I've  just picked up on your interesting piece Philip and must say I agree with your points 100%.  I think photography is an expressive medium and as such feelings and emotions should be very much part of the piece.  From my own perspective it is often my "gut" reaction to what I see that impels me to press that little round shutter.

You may also be interested to know that when we are training and supporting judges within the SPA we include the ability to assess mood and atmosphere as being important alongside other more objective elements such as composition and technique.  

 

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Posted : 07/01/2022 2:42 pm
Diddy Dodds
Member Moderator

I wonder how you can possibly train judges to assess mood and atmosphere, Martin. The trouble is, we are all different. I, for example, rarely get excited by landscape photos. Describing a misty shot as ‘atmospheric’ is one of those platitudes that doesn’t wash with me. Maybe I need the wind in my face or something. But show me a people picture or even a good abstract and my head starts to buzz. Surely judges vary in what turns them on in just the same way - you won’t be able to teach them how to feel about a picture.

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Posted : 07/01/2022 3:06 pm
Philip R
Member Moderator

Yes, each judge is likely to show a degree of subjectivity, especially when it comes to taking in the 'mood' of a picture. I guess this is why a panel of judges is more reliable. It's a good thing that we don't all see pictures the same way - life would get so boring!

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Topic starter Posted : 08/01/2022 3:26 pm
brianconnollyphotos
Member Moderator

Hi, Late to this but it is an interesting read. To David A - yes, the idea that it is possible to go out and take "competition" images is frankly wrong. What has been written here says much and I am sure we all agree it is impossible to know the way a judge will score an image on any given night. So how can one say they will take "10s", as I recall a speaker telling us one of his clients did. We are often surprised by the scores our own work gets and many members' top scores on the night come from "...the one I just put in to make up the three images" sort of thing, rather than the one that might be ages in the editing, etc.

Like David P, I prefer to look at a photograph and decide what it says to me. I was at an event last month and everyone had two images to sum up 2021 - tough! One chap had a rather confusing composite image and then took his time to explain every single thing he had done in it and what it represented to him. Did anyone else see or feel what he was seeing or feeling at that time? I doubt it as he took so long in the telling, the room was visibly losing interest. Nobody said a word about the image when he finished and we went on to the next person.

Photography is invariably a personal thing in the taking and making and, for me, when I feel good about what I have produced, I will be happy to share that feeling by showing the image, not necessarily talking about it or explaining the settings and technical side or the editing process. I have also learned to accept that the comments and scores from a judge are just the opinion and views of one person on one night on some of my photographs and not a damning indictment of or a song of praise about my overall skills, vision, editing or technical prowess.

Photography should be fun and enjoyable.

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Posted : 18/01/2022 4:29 pm
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