I find so many photographs today to be technical masterpieces, yet they lack any sense of life. They don't draw the viewer into the photograph or encourage the viewer to spend several moments viewing the photograph.
They don't request the viewer be even more inquisitive after those few moments. They only promote a response of "that's nice" as the viewer swipes to the next photo. This belief of mine that photos need to speak was reinforced when I read Emma Bowman's article "'He Belongs to the World': The Powerful Work of a Jailed Bangladeshi Photographer" for National Public Radio.
When I read Bowman's fantastic article about Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam and saw his photographs, each one of the photos made me stop and wonder about some aspect of the photo. One photograph in particular made me stop and wonder. The photo involves a female refugee in a Bangladeshi cyclone shelter with what appears to be her two young children. Her expression conveys to me a sense of, well, I'm not sure, because each time I look at the photo, I get a different feeling. Is it tiredness or is it a sense of defeat? No, perhaps it is a feeling of acceptance. I don't know, and that's what I find so interesting about the photo, it makes me wonder and think, to question what the subjects are thinking or feeling.
The photo above by William Gottlieb of jazz musician Cozy Cole is far from being perfect from a technical standpoint. After all his, right-hand drumstick is blurred, but not enough to emphasize motion. Then there is that blown-out light in the upper right corner with flare. How can that highlight on the rim of the drum be acceptable? Well to me, it doesn't matter, because the photo has a life to it. I wonder who he's looking at beyond the camera? And that flash in the right-hand corner, whose hand is holding the flash? Was it Gottlieb's assistant? Was this taken at a large show or was Cozy Cole just messing around with the photographer?
These photos that I write about don't have to be created by some world-renowned photographer. Photographers just like you and me can create them. They may not draw everyone into the photograph; after all, we each have our tastes. But with a little concern about the subject and not the technical aspects of the photo, we all can make photographs that have a bit of life to them.
The following photo is one that draws me in every time with one huge question for me. Did he know who I was at that moment? You see this is a photo of my father who was suffering from Alzheimer's and was well into the late stages. I captured this photo when I made a trip back to my hometown to visit my parents. You probably don't see it, but I do, and I think perhaps my family does too. There is something about what I see in my father's eyes that I hadn't for years as his Alzheimer's progressed that shows me the man I knew growing up was still there, at least for that one split moment. And I'm sure you don't see it, but that doesn't matter, because this photo speaks to me. It is far from being a technically perfect photo, and thank God for that, because to me, it has life.
What I would like to convey with this article is that it is more important to create photographs that have some sort of life to them than it is to produce an image that is technically perfect. Perhaps the photo only speaks to you, and if so, I feel you have accomplished the most important aspect of a photograph.
Do you have any photos that seem to speak to you, ones that you have taken or perhaps a famous photograph that always calls to you? If so, post them below and tell us what it is about the photograph that captures you.
Lead images under public domain.