What makes a photo GREAT?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by nicolerenee, May 2, 2007.

  1. Is there any standard by which you can measure a photo to determine
    it's "greatness"? Is it something that can only be seen in hindsight? Is it
    determined by technical perfection, or aesthetic appeal? Or is it, ultimately,
    that it has a broad enough generality to allow the viewer to attatch his own
    emotions/thoughts/ideas to it and make it his own?
    (i.e. the Flag raising in WWII, hijacked because of it's emotional value and
    exploited {Im not devaluing it's cultural significance here, just for an
    example})
     
  2. For me, it is great if it kicks me in the gut. To do that it usually has to be technically correct and have that indefinable thing which makes great art.
     
  3. It's something to do with touching on the eternal questions - W Eugene Smith's 'Tomoko and Mother' from his Minamata series is one such.
     
  4. Here's a quote you might enjoy:

    "...the receiver of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he feels as if the work were his own and not someone else's - as if what it expresses were just what he had long been wishing to express. A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist - not that alone, but also between himself and all whose minds receive this work of art. In this freeing of our personality from its separation and isolation, in this uniting of it with others, lies the chief characteristic and the great attractive force of art." - Leo Tolstoy
     
  5. Cool quote Vince, I just need to try and memorise that now, so next time I am speaking to students I can quote it. Ha Ha
     
  6. I liked the quote. I have said before in this forum that art is that which reveals to us in some way the connectedness we have with everything we call "other". If a photograph does that, it will work. Photographs that reveal the connections to many people will be called great photographs.
     
  7. Is it something that can only be seen in hindsight? NO, WHY?

    Is it determined by technical perfection? ABSOLUTELY NOT, Can you give an example of a painting that is so immortalised (considered great for its tech quality alone)

    Is it determined by its aesthetic appeal? RATHER OBVIOUSLY, YES

    Or is it, ultimately, that it has a broad enough generality to allow the viewer to attatch his own emotions/thoughts/ideas to it and make it his own? I THINK NOT. Greatness in a work of art does not relate to a particular individual appraisal, but to a collective appreciation or response

    The Flag raising in WWII is a political-emotional message (if there was no flag in the shot, it might be interpreted more as a great photo because of the cumulation of the effort of those involved, a final point in resolving a challenge, etc., whereas the shot of the soldier at his moment of death in the Spanish Civil War is a human emotion, "little man destroyed", to which we can respond (the stupidity of war, the de-valorisation of the human being, and so on)

    I think the Spanish shot is great, as it is more universal in its message.
     
  8. For me, a great photo produces a sense of tension at first glance, and perhaps some relief from that tension as your eye lingers longer. By tension, I don't necessarily mean anxiety. An initially unanswered question is key: How will the narrative be resolved? What is the explanation for a bit of visual mystery in the composition? What is it that the subject's eyes can see, off-camera? Is that glass being emptied, or filled? Even in a vacation shot... is that sun going down on a rich day, or rising before a new one? Is that figure model annoyed by me, or glad I'm looking? Will that soccer ball get into the net? In that architectural interior shot... what's through that next door?

    If my first reaction to an image isn't to immediately wonder things, then... there's no wonder in the image. And, if those narrative elements (or prospects) are present, but aren't strong enough to overcome technical shortcomings in the execution of the final image, then the greatness is lost. Conversely, a subject that has little narrative power can be so breathtakingly recorded (in terms of technique) that even a non-photographer finds the narrative in wondering how the shot was achieved.

    Huh. No WONDER I don't like very many of my images!
     
  9. Unless an image has historical significance or context, a technically sublime print trumps all. IMO. A technically perfect, handcrafted print will appear different in different daylights and moods. It never wears out.
     
  10. I think a great photo writes its own caption; the picture nearly speaks outloud to you. Viewing the shot instantly evokes an emotion. A great image is universal, too; anyone can feel the image's message, regardless of age, nationality, gender and/or any bias of the viewer.
     
  11. Vince, I did enjoy the quote very much, thanks! It's almost exactly what I was looking for.

    Arthur, what I meant about hindsight was that there have been instances when the quality of someones work was never appreciated in their lifetimes and only in a later generation was their work valued (thinking more of painters here)
    And I know there are some "works of art" I dont personally find asthetically pleasing at all (particularly cubists and the scream)that are still considered "great."
     
  12. Well, it will be personal, of course. I disagree with Tolstoy - great photographic art forces the viewer to have creative room to imagine and develop an appreciation, on perceiving the work. The higher the art form, the more it demands of its audience.

    Also disagree with the technical perfection line. Some of the finest photographs in a technical sense are of little or no consequence. And the converse is true.

    Tension - no; or perhaps better rephrased as 'engagement'. Like a good hook in a song or piece of music. The initial interest that leads to a deeper exploration.

    Aesthetics - not as important as interest; we have Eggleston as well as Michael Kenna.

    The longer I live, the more I feel that great art, including photographs, must represent or maintain the essential mystery of existence; must engage its audience on an unconscious level, must embody a certain mysticism; and if anything, must mandate a *distance* from easy comprehension; in this way the spell remains.
     
  13. "....Flag raising in WWII, hijacked because of it's emotional value.."

    I think that is your answer. Emotive power.
     
  14. The public, in a general sense, are interested in photographs but legitimately have many more pressing concerns such as keeping the car running, paying for the house, or getting the kids through school. They do not have the time to critically assess photographs but rely on the opinions of influential critics, picture magazines, and newspapers to form their values.

    The Iwo Jima flag raising mentioned at the beginning of this thread is a salient example. The photograph of it is technically and aesthetically ok (for a staged picture) but the enormous publicity exploiting its propaganda, patriotic, and persuasive potential elevated it to "great" picture status. But this applied only on one side of the line. Is the "Iwo Jima flag" great in Japan? No.

    In a nutshell, great photographs are those that we are prepared to accept and accredit on the say so of commentators who we would not conceive of being wrong.
     
  15. A photograph that mirrors reality, cannot compare to one that reflects the spirit.
     
  16. Truly great art is but a reflection of the viewer's bias'.
     
  17. To lend transparency to my above, the older (more experienced) I get, the more I realize how much we live in a 1984 world where our thoughts are controlled by others (The Media) and how little we realize what a "Matrix" world we live in today. The less telly (disconnect?) I watch, the more I become aware of my above and the bias' that we've been taught (how to think), from birth.
     
  18. Its interesting that you bring that up, Thomas, I've felt the same way since I got rid of MY television. In some ways I feel disconnected from the "NOW" but in others I feel more connected on a deeper level than I did before.

    We do all have our own bias' that we bring to anything we consider (whether we realize it or not) from photograhs to literature but perhaps something is great when it forces you to put aside those bias' and see the world in a different light?

    Russ, I agree with you completely.
     
  19. Interesting quotation Vince, it reminds me of the attempt to answer the question: How long is a piece of string? One answer would be twice the distance from one end to the middle. Tolstoy describes what happens, but I didn't derive an answer to how it happens.

    There is no formula that defines greatness because for each of us it is a matter of not just our individual tastes, but also the mood we inhabit in the moment, or even just the light we are under while viewing the image. For me at least, I would never entrust my personal assessment of greatness to what others think, even if they constitute a vast majority.
     
  20. There are of course nice, good, great, and really exceptionally great photographs and I'll refer to the later. It is interesting that most of we humans regardless of our cutural, social, and ethnic backgrounds, aesthetic and art orientations react somewhat similarly to great photographs. And usually the reaction is rather immediate. For me that immediate reaction to some images is an important quality though it is true that there are some truly great images that are more slow to rise in appreciation and others that provoke such a reaction only to soon be appraised as also flawed thus not great. That tends to show that we humans share some level of similar visual sensory and mental characteristics in response to subejct, form, geometry, lines, colors, tones, and shades that we might crudely outline some aspects of what tends to be aesthetic and what doesn't. Of course there is more to just the aesthetic nature in some photographic subjects as artist of all media have long found ways to captivate our sensory responses and intelligent minds. But generally most great photographs also have strong aesthetic appeal.

    ...David
    http://www.davidsenesac.com
     
  21. There must be some binding tie that runs through us so that photographs that are great by general concensus have something in common that can be quantified. Musn't there?
     
  22. Perhaps good marketing, mainstream taste providers, or profs giving the same course over and over and....

    But while you are perhaps right, that doesn't exclude a lot of superior and subtle images, that never make it to the marketplace (public attention), and are truly great, yet virtually unknown....but noi less undeniably great.

    The greatness isn't a function of public recognition, but a property of the image as such.
     
  23. "For me that immediate reaction to some images is an important quality though it is true that there are some truly great images that are more slow to rise in appreciation and others that provoke such a reaction only to soon be appraised as also flawed thus not great. That tends to show that we humans share some level of similar visual sensory and mental characteristics in response to subejct, form, geometry, lines, colors, tones, and shades that we might crudely outline some aspects of what tends to be aesthetic and what doesn't."

    And yet, the above, doesn't cross cultural ties.

    Mayan art didn't mime Euro art and Euro art doesn't mime Asian art unless there's cross biasing; education as most art mimes the past as opposed to setting a course of it's own.
     
  24. No standards, IMO there is no particular thing which can make image "great". Some might even say that there is no such a thing as great or not great image. Please learn to be free in your creativity.
     
  25. A great photo is one that stops you in your tracks, takes your breath away.
     
  26. "No standards"

    Does that mean that you shouldnt hold yourself to a standard of work and can pass anything of as a well done image? It seems by the critiques on this site that in order to be acceptable a photo must have certain qualities. Well lit, well composed, well exposed etc...or have broken those rules in favor of some "artistic" quality that cant achieved otherwise.

    It just seems to me that there must be some qualities uniting images that most would recognize as great that moves beyond having met technical standards.
     
  27. Whether using photography or not, I think if you can represent a 'vision' from a dream in material, you will have acheived something great. This approach would touch on some of the topics brought up here, eg. mysticism. I have at times wished I could represent my dreams on film, canvas, or stained glass but the translation seems impossible to me. And in addition to dreams, there are other images that are 'seen' in a dark room before going to sleep.
     
  28. Since several people enjoyed the previous Tolstoy quote, here's another:

    "...a boy, having experienced, let us say, fear on encountering a wolf, relates that encounter; and, in order to evoke in others the feeling he has experienced, describes himself, his condition before the encounter, the surroundings, the woods, his own lightheartedness, and then the wolf's appearance, its movements, the distance between himself and the wolf, etc. All this, if only the boy, when telling the story, again experiences the feelings he had lived through and infects the hearers and compels them to feel what the narrator had experienced is art."

    I've always liked simple examples that help explain complex concepts. I almost get a twinge of nervousness reading those few details of the story Tolstoy chose to mention: the boy's lightheartedness walking in the woods, the wolf's sudden appearance, its movements, and its closeness to the boy. I can easily imagine a great writer filling in the details.

    Tolstoy talks about how other forms of art share those same characteristics. He also includes guidelines for great art. He mentions 'individuality', 'clarity', and 'sincerity' as being key aspects in evaluating art.

    It's easy to see from the wolf story example, if the story was significantly different from all other stories of fearful encounters you'd heard before, if you could picture the scene as if you were there, and if you weren't distracted by elements of the story that seemed out of place or contrived, that would make for a good story that would hold your focus and affect your emotions.

    I'm not a Tolstoy expert or an art expert. I just enjoy reading his thoughts on art.
     
  29. hmzz maybe you will call me cynical but in this media controlled era art is more defined by clever marketing and networking then anything else.
    Beauty ofcourse is in the eye of the beholder but that eye is so media controlled that the media will decide what and what not is supposed to be art.
    It should all be about the integrity and purity of a picture but recent hyped "art" photographers prove that that's not the case anymore.
     
  30. a truely GREAT photograph, or any piece of art, including music.......I know immediately. It sends this tingling up and down my spine. Like the piece of art has connected with every nerve in my body.
     
  31. I think you have asked a very objective question that can only be responded to in a subjective way. There is no accounting for a taste, an image that you and I think is great, others may not think so much of it. If someone does not like horses, and sees the best done photo of a horse,creatively and technically perfect, they are not going to like it or be touched by it.On the other hand if they like flowers and see a photo of a flower that is mediocre, not very creative or technically poor, they are going to like poorer done picture because they like flowers. I use the two examples because both convey a sense of beauty but in very different ways.
     
  32. The greatness of any work of art is socially constructed among various communities including but not limited to the artist's peers, critics, and the general public. The work itself usually has intrinsic merit, but generally many other works of equal merit do not make it to the pantheon. The selection process for greatness is, however, far from completely random. Accessibility, emotive power, and certain styles and subject matters give some pictures the edge. In painting, some people have statistically analyzed the characteristics that make paintings popular and, more or less as a joke, have painted composite paintings loaded up with these characteristics. The resulting banal "ideal" paintings would likely do well in the market. A cynical photographer might easily do the same thing -- in other words there is, quite literally, accounting for tastes.
     
  33. "What makes a photo GREAT?"
    Whether it is a brilliant singer who gives you goose-bumps or a poet who makes you cry, the GREATness of the art is found in that which comes the closest to imitating Divine Creation. When we are in the presence of this GREATness, there is no mistaking it. It inspires us and humbles us at the same time. Just as we might be at the sight of a sunset or the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon, some part of us just simply "knows" that we are in the presence of the Divine.
     
  34. Wow, great answer, Rocky.

    "the GREATness of the art is found in that which comes the closest to imitating Divine Creation."

    Perfect. I may have to steal that one.
     
  35. Then how do you explain the "greatness" of Postmodern photographic art, which is the antithesis of religion? :)
     
  36. I should temper the above with "...for the most part..." as I work in the Postmodern photographic realm but adhere to religious values in the process. But then again, nobody will tout my Postmodern photographic efforts as "great" either as I intentionally eschew putting thumb in eye of religious values.
     
  37. If the thing is dimensioned properly big, then there will probably be no way not to call it great.
     
  38. "Thomas Gardner: Then how do you explain the 'greatness' of Postmodern photographic art, which is the antithesis of religion?"
    One need not have religious faith to be a GREAT artist. Likewise, one need not believe in God to recognize the incomprehensible and unfathomable Beauty in all things. It matters not what label we use for it. We will still get awed, inspired and chills when we are in its presence.
     
  39. Nicole York: "Wow, great answer, Rocky... Perfect. I may have to steal that one."
    Thank you. You may use it where appropriate (and attributed). :)
     
  40. Somehow we're slipping and sliding from GREATness in art to Beauty, a conflation of two distinct terms. And my own being awestruck by a brilliantly-colored sunset has nothing to do with its supposed incomprehensibility or unfathomability. What some see as God's handiwork, others see as a combination of a ball of hot gases in the sky seen through a relatively long travel path for the resultant light waves. I am perfectly capable of being awestruck by things that have a scientific and meaningful explanation.
     
  41. "One need not have religious faith to be a GREAT artist."

    But one needs religious faith to recognize "Divine Creation."

    You might want to look into the tenants of contemporary Postmodern photographic art before instructing me on what's what.

    "We will still get awed, inspired and chills when we are in its presence."

    Do we (statement, not question). Your above shows your bias, and nothing but bias for there's no such thing as "greatness" as "greatness" is nothing more than a human construct.

    You might want to take some time to see what's being touted as "great" in these here contemporary times as there's little if any tingling and no Divine acknowledgment going on within the progressive environment.
     
  42. As if you need to ask? As a college professor I could spew out what you are expecting to hear. Brilliant usage of light is my answer.
     
  43. Fred Goldsmith:"Somehow we're slipping and sliding from GREATness in art to Beauty, a conflation of two distinct terms. And my own being awestruck by a brilliantly-colored sunset has nothing to do with its supposed incomprehensibility or unfathomability. What some see as God's handiwork, others see as a combination of a ball of hot gases in the sky seen through a relatively long travel path for the resultant light waves. I am perfectly capable of being awestruck by things that have a scientific and meaningful explanation."

    Both GREATness and Beauty are subjective and therefore less disparate than is seen from this stated view.
    It would be a dispassionate person, indeed, who looks at the Sun and sees "a ball of hot gases" without appreciating the awesome beauty of it.
    This scientific (and intellectualized) view is quite the antithesis of visceral and emotional responses to beauty which ARE, indeed, quite discrete from each other. One is intellectual and the other an emotional response.
    Now, the question to ask is (when looking at GREAT art), "which is being applied FIRST?" The child who looks at beauty and does not have the intellectual capacity to understand the scientific explanation will doubtlessly respond to it emotionally.
    When one uses the term "GREAT" (or GREATness) there is the implication of a subjective and very emotional response to art. My definition addresses this specifically.
     
  44. Thomas Gardner: "But one needs religious faith to recognize 'Divine Creation.'"
    Certainly agnostics could/would debate this.

    TG: "You might want to look into the tenants of contemporary Postmodern photographic art before instructing me on what's what."

    The perception of being "instructed" is an erroneous projection into what I have said. It is also a contentious characterization of the words themselves as well as the intentions behind them.
    These were simple statements of fact. It is more than self-evident that one does not need religious faith to be a GREAT artist.
    If these words have informed you, then it was serendipitous and one might have cause to celebrate the usefulness of it.
    On the other hand, it IS quite "instructional" to request that someone "inform" themselves. Certainly, it would be useful to see the distinctions between "instructional" and "informative."
    From my perspective, this is a discussion of "opinions" and I have only expressed my own. Take it for what you will.

    TG: "Do we (statement, not question). Your above shows your bias, and nothing but bias for there's no such thing as "greatness" as "greatness" is nothing more than a human construct."

    As are "beauty" and "art," however, isn't this is a discussion of "opinions" of such? And, of course, it certainly is no revelation that all opinion is founded in personal "bias."

    TG: "You might want to take some time to see what's being touted as "great" in these here contemporary times as there's little if any tingling and no Divine acknowledgment going on within the progressive environment."

    I have my well considered doubts of this assertion. Without a "tingling" one would be hard-pressed to create anything let alone appreciate the creation itself. As I have already commented, one need not believe in the Divine to appreciate it. If the word "Divine" is a sticking point, then certainly, one can substitute it for any descriptive term that expresses GREATness of a work of art. I simply used it as a way of conveying something beyond the senses. I am not religious nor a zealot of faith.
    However, this "instructional" commententary also (antagonistically) presummes an ignorance on my part with regard to "contemporary times" and the "progressive environment." It would be more productive to debate the statements without attacking the writer. <-- Now, that (admittedly) WAS "instructional."
     
  45. "What makes a photo GREAT?"

    "Whether it is a brilliant singer who gives you goose-bumps or a poet who makes you cry, the GREATness of the art is found in that which comes the closest to imitating Divine Creation. When we are in the presence of this GREATness, there is no mistaking it. It inspires us and humbles us at the same time. Just as we might be at the sight of a sunset or the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon, some part of us just simply "knows" that we are in the presence of the Divine."

    "I am not religious nor a zealot of faith."

    Hmmmmm!

    "Divine"

    "of or pertaining to a god, esp. the Supreme Being."

    I am religious and stay away from zealots on both sides of the isle.

    Hmmmmm!

    "It would be more productive to debate the statements without attacking the writer."

    Yes, we shan't use language for it's intended purpose (convey an idea) as that would be inconvenient.

    Me thinks I'm being fished.

    Wishing you well.
     
  46. Rocky, I think we are not in disagreement about one's personal emotional reaction to a work of art. I hope that anyone may react in any way they like. I, like you and the child you mention, react emotionally first. It is in the background and, as you say, in my intellectual approach, that scientific explanations come to mind and operate. There are a couple of places where we do disagree. Just because art and beauty are both in the "subjective realm" doesn't mean they are not disparate concepts. Art, for me, encompasses a lot more than just what is beautiful. In other words, much art is what I would consider to be beautiful and much art is not. Secondly, emotion and science, in my view and in much of the reading I've done on the brain and emotions, are not antithetical. There are plenty of scientific explanations for our emotions and feelings, which don't make them any less powerful, awesome, or emotional. Because I don't think a sunset or mountain is in any way divine does not mean I don't gasp when I see them. Magic is not the only thing that brings me to tears or puts a smile on my face. I respond deeply to many things that are, in my mind, quite down to earth and explainable. The child will, as you say, absolutely respond emotionally to a sunset, as will I. That, of course, says nothing about the explanation for that sunset. If you want to explain it as participating in the divine, that's fine with me. My problem with your approach above is that, even once you allow that artists need not believe in the divine, you continue to refer to beauty as something incomprehensible and unfathomable. A child may be impressed by electricity while not understanding how electricity works. That does not make electricity incomprehensible. That a child doesn't understand what causes a sunset to be red doesn't make sunsets incomprehensible either. And that a sunset is, in fact, quite comprehensible, doesn't negate the fact that it is beautiful to look at and awe inspiring even for those, like me, who don't believe in God and believe deeply that science can and will explain most things.
     
  47. RB:"I am not religious nor a zealot of faith."
    TG: "Hmmmmm!"
    As I have reiterated, one need not be such to appreciate art.

    TG: "Divine...of or pertaining to a god, esp. the Supreme Being." [my emphasis]
    Yes, "a" god (small "g") and not necessarily "The God" (big "G"). If one reads further, it can also be use as a descriptive term of something (meta) "beyond" the physical senses (as I have used it).

    TG: "I am religious and stay away from zealots on both sides of the isle."
    This, perhaps, confuses politics with religion (unless politics BE your religion). It is dubious that "zealots" sit on both sides of any "isle." In any case, with regard to this discussion and your admission of such religious faith, it does strike one as being contradictory with regard to your outspoken opposition to my statements of divinity. How does one rectify this contradiction?
    Logically, if one believes in a religion, does this not imply faith in a Supreme Being? If there IS faith in a Supreme Being, then why would this Being NOT be regarded as the source of GREATness and Beauty? It is implicit in such faith. Perhaps, this is too theosophical for this discussion.
    Nevertheless, how is it that any mention of "divinity" is now an expression of zealotry?

    TG: "Hmmmmm!"
    The ambiguity of all this humming is too vague to draw any conclusions as to their meaning... but then, perhaps, this is what you intended.

    RB: "It would be more productive to debate the statements without attacking the writer."
    TG: "Yes, we shan't use language for it's intended purpose (convey an idea) as that would be inconvenient."
    One would hope that this "conveyance of ideas" could be done so without ridicule and contention as well. Especially, given that these are far too easily employed by those who have simply run out of ideas.
    Beyond the simple act of being "respectful" of others, my above comment is a standard debate protocol.

    TG: "Me thinks I'm being fished."
    One has to wonder (once again) as to your meaning. However, I would remind you that it was you who challenged my statements and not the other way around. So, who is "fishing" whom?

    TG: "Wishing you well."
    And you.
     
  48. I suppose I should have known that this question would end up on the theosophical side of things when I asked it.
    Personally, I dont know how anyone could look at the majesty around us with all it's complexity and NOT believe in God. Science and faith (I am not one for "religion" but "relationship" instead) arent mutually exclusive although some would like to think they are.

    For me, the appreciation of beauty is only heightened knowing that the God I have a relationship with created it all.

    Perhaps defining GREAT would help us in answering this question.
    Are we using a dictionary definition or common speach?
    When I wrote the above, I meant the word in the context of general concensus (after all, you cant please everyone).
     
  49. "In any case, with regard to this discussion and your admission of such religious faith, it does strike one as being contradictory with regard to your outspoken opposition to my statements of divinity. How does one rectify this contradiction?"

    In the simple; One does not need to agree in order to understand and understanding is not the act of agreeing. "Greatness" is a human construct and has nothing, especially in regard to Postmodern photographic think, to do with "Divine."

    Please reread my comments and you'll see there's no opposition as I'm only commenting on the flaw or conflict in your own comments as they apply to contemporary photographic Postmodern art and the Progressive Humanist roots (atheistic) and the "Divine has nothing to do with "declared" "greatness." Greatness is only a reaction to taught bias.

    "So, who is "fishing" whom?"

    One only needs to see how ever expandingly wide you cast your net in your above comments (last post) to understand of what I write.
     
  50. Nicole, I know lots of people who believe in science and also have faith so I do understand that they are not mutually exclusive. And I also understand that we each have our own perspectives. Just as you have a hard time understanding my being able to look at the majesty of a mountain chain and NOT believe in God, I have trouble understanding anyone with intelligence believing in an unprovable being. To me, God and unicorns have about equal validity and play about as important a role in my own existence and morality. But, I surely hope that these differences needn't divide us just as I wish that the divisions among those who believe in God based on different religions wouldn't keep leading to wars (a reason, one might consider, that the God who oversees all of his followers killing each other in his name is, indeed, incomprehensible). Whatever, in any of us, allows us to appreciate beauty and propels us to want to convey that to others, is ok with me. I don't mind the Divine being given a role by those who desire that. The two assumptions I was providing an alternative to, which Rocky put forward, are that Beauty is incomprehensible and that intellectual and emotional responses are antithetical. Those are points that can be refuted both by people who believe in the divine and by people who don't.
     
  51. I'll admit that I haven't read all the responses carefully. The discussion has gotten off track from the original question. Greatness is an attribute other people give a person in recognition for something they see as an achievement. Rosa Parks got a lot of recognition recently for her courageous act on a bus during the United States Civil Rights movement over 50 years ago. She said that at the time she didn't think refusing to go to the back seat as something great, it was simply something that she needed to do. A lot of things we now take for granted reflect greatness are like this very thing.

    A better question would be do the photographers receiving widespread recognition for greatness think of themselves as great or special in some way? How do they keep public pressure for spectacular results from ruining their work?

    Thare are a lot of stereotyped images in American popular culture of people who think they are great, but produce nothing. We've all seen depictions of the vain artist with an oversize ego. But by (my) definition great people have to do and produce something for others to see to earn their applause.

    I have come to believe that many times people do not themselves understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Gamblers, athletes, and contestants of all kinds (employees?) know first hand how difficult it is to first recognize opportunities to better their position and then to take winning action to actually seize the benefit of their situation when they can. The point is that people don't manipulate others to get themselves called great, other people see something they think is worthwhile and then they use words like great.

    Attributing greatness to a photograph is a way of saying that a person appreciates the work. Speaking for myself, it is a way of saying that I would like to see more similar work. Critics and ordinary people often reach a consensus about this sort of thing. Tastes and opinions change in time so you can't conclude that the merit or greatness of a work is settled forever.

    So to get to the point, I don't think I can answer the original question to the expectation of the OP. There is no standard I can rely on to be a final and permanent measure of the merits of a photograph. My taste in art is a personal matter as the OP suggests, but through study and my own efforts to learn to appreciate what others make I hope to be able to recognize photographic value when I see it.

    BTW: If anyone ever reads far enough down this thread to find my response, or stumbles on it by accident, thank you for taking the time to read and reflect on it.

    Albert
     
  52. Fred, no, that needn't devide us at all. I wouldnt dream of discriminating against someone for their convictions (under any normal circumstance...if their conviction was to kill me, that might change ;)
    I can see the evidence of God every day in radically changed lives. If you've ever a notion, I would recomend the book "Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis. He was an atheist at one time.
    As far as religious wars are concerned, that is the curse of free will and mans tendancy to pervert anything and use it for his own desires. Most christians do not believe that the same god is worshipped by anyone who believes in a supreme being (the whole same god by all names idea) but these ideas are probably best kept in personal messages and out of the forum since the OP had nothing to do with faith or religion in a strict sense.

    Moving on, I think what Rocky stated before makes the most sense to me as far as the OP was concerned on a personal level although I know it may not be an answer that satisfies everyone. I imagine this thread will just end up with a "this question is too subjective" answer and get dropped.
    I was just hoping that there was some binding tie, whether in people or photos, that connected what we consider great. If it is simply "briliant use of light" or our own propensity as humans to admire beauty might be something we'll never agree on.
     
  53. Nicole and Fred,
    Fred, I appreciate your respectful tone and thoughtful discourse. You've given me lots to contemplate.
    Nicole, I like your whole attitude about this. My responses just seem to be throwing fuel on the fire and the discussion is devolving into the nether-regions of "subjectivity."
    For now, I shall let my comments stand on their own without further qualification. I've said about as much as one can on the subject and going deeper into explanation or responding to challenge only seems to intensify the antipathy toward this perspective. Hopefully, there are some who will find this all thought provoking or useful. I have.
    ~ Warmest regards, Rocky
     
  54. Nicole/Rocky-- I think perhaps there is a binding tie, but not the one that was asked about. Perhaps there is no one thing that binds us in determining WHAT is great art (both in terms of what things we think of as great and what attributes works of art have that make us think of them as great), but if we agree that it is a subjective matter, then don't we actually agree on a lot? I'm asking this, not answering it, but does that mean that there is no objective quality that things have that make them beautiful or great and that it is something within each of us in relationship to the object that is at work? And if that's the case, then is the thing we share HOW something is great? I may very well respond to different things as great than you do. You may hate a photo that I love and vice versa, but maybe what we share is that we each know what the other is talking about when we say "that is GREAT." I may not agree that "that is great" but at least I know what that feeling of being in the presence of greatness is. That's at least a start. Even though I can talk about photography and philosophy for hours, sometimes I think the greatest photographs are those that have that certain something that is very hard to put into words. Kind of the you-know-it-when-you-see-it syndrome. My favorite photos and works of art in general, although I usually do find words to describe them to a point, are ones that just feel somehow right. You look at it and say, "of course, that's it." For me, it's often something that seems so obvious, if only I had thought of it, or painted it, or captured it on film. Like, "oh yeah, it was there all the time, just waiting to be exposed." I'm a big believer that humans communicate, whether through language or artistic symbols, and we communicate because of shared wiring and/or experiences. Greatness seems like one of those things.
     
  55. Fred, it sounds like you've hit quite close to the center, at least as close as can be expected. Perhaps the binding tie of greatness is that we know everyone else knows it, too. That something that can only be felt at its deepest level and eludes words, whether we agree on what constitutes it or not.

    Thanks to everyone for your thoughtfull insights and discourse. This was a worthwhile post for me.
     
  56. "Kind of the you-know-it-when-you-see-it syndrome."

    "Perhaps the binding tie of greatness is that we know everyone else knows it, too."

    What's lacking in conversation is the lack of cross-cultural ties to greatness. In order to understand "greatness" one must explore cultural bias; taught thinking. Why? Would one have the same feelings of "greatness" if exploring Asian art, with strictly a Eurocentric background (education) when compared to Eurocentric art? Would one look at Inuit art claim "greatness" when confronted by Mexican Muralist art?

    The point of my above, art is a divergent class of effort and when one throws around terms like "greatness" one must "first" understand the genesis of the standards by which the term "greatness" is applied and how much of this feeling of "greatness" is based upon taught (biased) thinking.

    The fact, I'm sure, that we can all point out titles of "great" European art, yet how many among us would know "great" Chinese or Japanese art from the same time frame as that of Shakespeare, Beethoven or Michelangelo? This should cause one pause when asking a question of this nature. How many even know Michelangelo's last name; Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni?

    If the standards of "greatness" were as simple as "you-know-it-when-you-see-it," then the same would apply to an art form one isn't familiar with, irrespective of who's mind stream (culture) it wells up from.
     
  57. Thomas, it is perhaps only you that thinks that the "you-know-it-when-you-see-it" approach is simple. Why could it not include all of what you've insightfully suggested? When I use the term "subjective," one of the reasons I use it (as the opposite of "objective") is precisely because I am aware of the cultural perspectives and biases which inform most of our judgments as humans. That I might not see a work of Asian art as great may just prove the point we've been making about there being no objective criteria that are determinative here. And the "tie that binds" may still remain that, within each culture, what people view as great may have a "you-know-it-when-you-see-it" feeling. Feelings, which is where I was trying to steer the discussion, are probably more universal than tastes and judgments. So that even though what I consider great and what someone of another culture considers great (just as I posited that what I consider great and what Nicole or Rocky consider great may vary) may be different, that feeling of seeing or experiencing greatness may be what binds us.
     
  58. Thomas, I may not know the names of historical asian artists, or even the last names and full histories of some of my favorite euro-artists or even american artists but I do know what I like and what affects me.

    My tastes dont seem to be constricted to any particular style, genre, time period or culture. I get the same feeling when I see something that catches my eye and then my imagination. I feel bemused, drawn in, almost as if there is some part of me in that work of art. Although standing in and admiring a cathedral differes from looking at a Monet, I still feel awed.
    I agree with Fred, I dont believe feelings are constricted to culture even when tastes and judements may be.
     
  59. "...but I do know what I like and what affects me."

    Wasn't your question in regard to "What makes a photo GREAT?" not about what it is you like, personally? Two totally different genres. My comments are in regard to the question of "great" as opposed to what a person likes, personally.
     
  60. "So that even though what I consider great and what someone of another culture considers great (just as I posited that what I consider great and what Nicole or Rocky consider great may vary) may be different, that feeling of seeing or experiencing greatness may be what binds us."

    The point I was trying to make is that "greatness" is not so universal as some wish to believe as once one steps out of their cultural norms for their environment and goes into someone else's art world, "greatness" becomes muddled real fast.

    It sounds like we're agreeing; just doing so on different pages of the same pad. :)
     
  61. Does seem that way, Thomas. Thanks.
     
  62. Point taken, Thomas, thank you.

    The point I meant to make (and not very well apparently) is that the feelings I get from being in the presence of something great(usually something I like) and the feelings of someone in Asia who is looking at something he or she considers great are likely very similar. That may be the tie that connects greatness and not necessarily a set of subjective standards.
     
  63. Another thought in regard to "greatness;" it seems that greatness is tied into the think of the contemporary moment.

    To me, the first Postmodern photographic image, came out of earlier times when photography moved away from Stieglitz's iron fist with Steichen's "Milk Bottle; Spring," c1915.

    http://www.masters-of-photography.com/S/steichen/steichen_milk_bottles_full.html

    The greatness of the image was not in the feelings that it invokes but in the brass necessary for a notable to break away from the typical taught think of the time; bias.

    The greatness of Model was that she turned the camera onto the population as opposed to inanimate objects such as buildings and nature.

    http://www.masters-of-photography.com/M/model/model_running_legs.html

    http://www.masters-of-photography.com/M/model/model_sammys_full.html

    The greatness of Diane Arbus was that she not only turned the camera on that what made us feel squeamish but I feel that she was looking back at the camera, through the eyes of those she showcased; "Freaks-R-Us."
     
  64. "Is there any standard by which you can measure a photo to determine it's "greatness"? "

    Your personal emotional, intellectual and aesthetic connection with the image. And in some way it should astound you. It willshow you something, somewhere, someone, or some event in a way that challenges your complacency.
     
  65. Stimulated by Thomas's most recent response, I've always felt that there are two types of reactions I have to works of art (whether photography, film, music, painting, etc.). One is somewhat visceral, how does it strike me in my gut. Being a classical music lover, I've often wondered if I love hearing a Beethoven piano sonata now as much as I did before I learned so much about Beethoven and now that I have been able to (sort of) play one myself. With knowledge, sometimes, comes a more intellectual and historical approach that may seem to lessen the visceral reactions. On the other hand, knowing some of the history, what Beethoven was doing and playing with, what rules he was breaking and what musical devices he was inventing, adds a world of dimension to my appreciation of him and his music. I'm not sure these two aspects can be separated. I just think it's important to remember that there is probably some sort of continuum going from innocence (and we are probably never completely innocent of cultural biases and "knowledge")--where we really do react to "greatness" on as primal and visceral a level as possible given our human condition--all the way to Thomas's formulation of being extremely steeped in the "think of the contemporary moment." I think each of us may be at a different place on that continuum and I often feel like I slide up and down on it when I experience greatness myself. It depends on the context. When I'm thinking about greatness, I'm probably toward the latter end. When I'm actually experiencing it (and can rid my mind of my historical knowledge to whatever extent that's possible), I may be closer to the former end of the continuum. However one looks at it, though, I think there is some of each at play, and each is affected and informed by the other. I think what Ellis has just said captures a lot of this quite succinctly by highlighting the "personal emotional, intellectual, and aesthetic connections" that are all at play.
     
  66. Thats very true Fred, I ding that I agree with you now that I think about how my appreciation of things has changed the more I've learned about them. In fact, it reminds me of something I've read in a Lewis novel relating to love. That our first experince of it is purely visceral, emotional and unfettered. Later, once we've come to know the beloved and the first emotions have faded, something more quiet and deep and fulfilling takes its place.

    "...the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest."
    C.S. Lewis
     
  67. "Who works with the hands is a laborer. Who works with the hands and with the head he is a craftsman and who works with the hands, with the head and with the heart is an artist."(Anonymous). In my oppinion to produce a Great Photo, to be great, you must to work with your soul.
     
  68. I agree with you Francisco. Great works of art are the result of the passions given into it.
     
  69. src

    src

    Of course religion enters into it. The great masterpieces were Catholic art. There are other masterpieces, but also in support of other religions, depicting assorted gods. Religion may well enter in, or a denial or anti-religion. Either way, particularly for a masterpiece rather than a study, or commercial product, etc.

    But that doesn't make art great. And I would disagree that mere passion does as well. One can be passionate and not produce great art. What one deems is - great- depends on that religion, or mere philosophy, or other set of value judgments. I say Ansel Adams produced great photographs. Others with to denigrate the work of Adams. I begin from one point of view. They from another. And the same with the work they would say is - great - whether or not they really believe it.

    I wrote an essay on this as - what is art? - at scenic-route.com. But ultimately great art would include that which doesn't 'get old'. You've seen it, but don't consider it consumed. You'll see it again, and find something. And won't think it boring, or consumed. Months later, years later, again you find something. You consider it great again. And again, decades, if you're so bleseed - great again.
     
  70. It makes sense that something you consider great should have lasting power.
     
  71. Yet some things are great just because they capture something very unique to the particular
    times or mileau and won't necessarily last. Many would consider Rowan and Martin's Laugh-
    In to be a great tv show of the 70s, yet I've seen reruns recently and--to me--it didn't hold
    up anymore. I still think it was a great show. Lots of the Haight Ashbury bands were great but
    I wouldn't want to listen to them today. I think some of the greatest phenomena are
    temporary and fleeting.
     
  72. A great story or narrative behind a photo can make it great. I doesn't matter if it conforms to the conventions of "technically good photographs", but for as long as it makes your viewers stop and think, then I beleive that that photo is truly a great one.
     
  73. WOW! I think my head just exploded. Its hard to imagine all of this crammed into one "great" photograph. It seems to me anytime a photograph achieves "greatness" is when it becomes commercially successful. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around, does it make a sound? A magnificent and awe inspiring photograph may never be seen by anyone other than its creator. Does that make it any less "great"?
     
  74. "If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around, does it make a sound?"

    Yes as there will always be the wee little wood's creatures to pickup the vibrations. No vibration in the woods, goes unnoticed. :)
     
  75. Tim, I dont think so. All the qulities that would make the photo great are still there. But I think that opens up a whole other pandoras box of questions.
     
  76. Nice question! My immediate response is that "greatness" is almost completely subjective. Some of the descriptions of "greatness" above are more like descriptions of "impressiveness" or "momentousness". I like what Ellis says above. Hugo
     
  77. To me a great image is one that I continue to see in my minds eye, long after actually viewing the image.
     
  78. There really is only one answer to this. CAPTIVATION. The photo of the marines at Iwo Jima-
    Captivating. The Afgan girl on the cover of National Geo, Captivating. Ali V Fraser-
    Captivating. All of these are for different reasons, but we don't have to have one or two or
    even three "reasons" for our intrigue. All reasons are valid, and all point back to captivation.
    We can pick apart any art on any level: i.e. composition, color, depth of field, emotional
    response, personal experience, etc. When all is said and done, a great photo captivates...

    Take care
     
  79. I think that the beauty of a picture is in the eyes of who sees it, not that much in the picture itself. When we see a picture, we are seeing it not only by our physical eyes, but also with our emotional eyes. What makes a picture GREAT is a combination of the two. The emotional eyes gives little to "technical" aspects like exposure and focus, but is greatly affected by what the picture evokes from our past experiences. And as we live a life, time passes and WE change. So, a picture that might not have meant anything to us a few years ago, the very same picture may look GREAT today. This is also true for the few cases mentioned above like the WWII Flag, the horse, the flower. I give you another example, a personal one. I really did not like the taste of polaroid photos, but after seeing it many times in magazines, now I like them. Is this "media manipulation"? Maybe, but since we live in this society, we cannot get rid of it, it's like pollution in a city: you either breathe it or you move to the mountains. But it does not matter; manipulated or not, we do change from day to day, and that changes whether or not a picture appears to us as GREAT or not.
     
  80. It is the one that either takes my breath away, makes me gasp, sigh, etc., etc.
     

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