[EDIT] Changed title to more closely reflect the post…

Ted Forbes, on his excellent YouTube channel “The Art of Photography“, has had a few recent discussions on making “meaningful” photographs. His thoughts, or at least how I interpret his thoughts, coincide with some of my ideas about art{{1}}. Good art (to shamelessly take out of context the words of Donkey), is like an onion. It has multiple layers… There is a surface aesthetic, there is an artist’s purpose, there may or may not be a perceived meaning, there is the context in which the work was created, etc, etc, etc. Each of these layers can, and has been an entire treatise in itself. What I would like to explore is the concept of what makes a photograph “meaningful” in the context of my own work.

Stage one: initial impression. 


It is relatively easy to make a first impression. All you need to get someone to stop and look is splashy colour or a cute/gritty/unique subject. Many of the photos that get lots of “likes” on social media are arresting images. They make you say “ooh” and then move on to the next click bait headline. There is a huge psychology on the importance of the first impression, and marketing, media, and many other aspects of modern society take advantage of this initial splash as a way to stand out in a large and busy crowd.

Stage two: second look



I like to think many of my images succeed at this stage. You can look at the image again and again and find more than was visible at first glance. The image grows on you and becomes a presence in it’s own right. This is my interpretation of what Mr. Forbes has called “meaning”. Of course this “meaning” in a photograph, or any art form, is very personal and people will react to different images, or even the same image, uniquely. And of course the “better” an image is in a certain context, the more times you can come back to it, which leads to…

Stage three: staying power

These are the images that stay in your mind. You remember the image and consciously go back to revisit it. Big photographic examples include Steve McCurry’s{{2}} Afghan Girl, or Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother.{{3}} I think this stage is the goal for a lot of artists, to create something that resonates so well with so many people, that the artwork becomes part of our common culture…

[[1]]note these ideas are not really original, and have been a part of artist discussions for centuries[[1]]

[[2]]regardless of the much later scandal around some of Mr. McCurry’s work.[[2]]

[[3]]In the history of image making, few images are more famous then the Mona Lisa. I wonder if it is a coincidence that the first few images that came to mind are portraits?[[3]]

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