This is the first chapter of my book on taking photographs that have value.
Chapter 1 – Beauty and Meaning
Most photographers, really the vast majority of the millions out there, see something they like, raise their camera, push the button and hope that by some magic the picture turns out great. Inevitably, it never does.
One in 10,000 shots may come out surprisingly okay. But that’s not by design. That’s coincidence.
Let me save you ten years of frustration right now. Stop hoping for good pictures. Start creating them.
Let’s start with an exercise:
Find a photograph you love. You may not even know why you love it, but you will feel it nonetheless.
Now look at this picture and ask yourself what’s so great about it.
In my opinion a valuable photograph has one of two qualities: it is beautiful or it has meaning.
A good photograph only needs one of these qualities. If it has both, it is great.
Let’s look at beauty.
A beautiful photograph could be a flower or a smiling baby, a foggy winter street or a turquois mountain stream. It doesn’t need explanation. It’s inherently beautiful and you know it when you see it.
The photos of William Eggleston are a good example of this type of value. He can photograph the inside of a freezer and make it look incredible. Good for him.
Meaning is much harder to come by in an image, because it doesn’t pose for you. Meaning is contained in fleeting moments, a person’s gesture, a smile, an angry face, two people screaming at each other, a loving embrace.
You can pose people to convey meaning. Look at Gregory Crewdson’s images to see what that looks like. It’s incredibly hard work and in Crewdson’s case costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a single image.
Photos without people can have meaning, too. They can hint on human existence or the effects of it and make a statement that way.
In the absence of people or the hint of their existence in our pictures we are back to nature and natural beauty. Because without people, that’s what’s left.