Why (when) is a photo "good"

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by lar, Aug 8, 2010.

  1. Reflections from a (nearly) photo viewer burnout:

    In the beginning I was thinking that there were criteria to determine whether a photo was "good" or "not good"

    [My definition of good: a photo managing to pass a visual message to viewers (please note the plural), creating a sensorial or emotional impact.]

    I was thinking that there were some grounds in aesthetics - a part of philosophy - applying the "golden ratio", taking care of proportions, carefully considering cuts, placing horizons and vertical alignments.

    Then I realised that rules could very well be broken: marvellous portraits by Almond Chu with the subject cut in half in the dead centre of the frame, beautiful photographs by Eggleston with cut off feet, telling tilted horizons by Winogrand.

    After that I read, in this and other photographic sites, absolutely enthusiastic comments on photos which I thought conveyed a very weak visual message.

    Moreover I am told that that in some cases photos are not junk, but rather 'the product of a beginning/blooming/budding artist who has yet to collect enough experience to output visions that others will regard as "art"'. [Matt Ware , Aug 07, 2010; 07:53 p.m.]

    I saw photos which I think are junk in visual terms, say this, and angry authors reply that they did it on purpose. I still see very big limitations in visual craft, but what's the point insisting?

    Now my confidence is shaken. I realise that any single photo can be considered "good" or "bad" depending on the viewers "point of view". I have no terms of reference anymore.

    I have the feeling that I am in the realm of relativism: anything can be "good". What I consider "junk" is actually "good".

    I need ground again under my "viewers feet" again:
    why is a photo good, which elements make it good.​
     
  2. Now my confidence is shaken. I realise that any single photo can be considered "good" or "bad" depending on the viewers "point of view". I have no terms of reference anymore.​
    Hello Luca :) I think that's a good starting point. A certain amount of humility when assessing other people's photographs - try to delve down into why they took them. Maybe they saw something the viewer didn't, and maybe you have to look hard to see what was good. Maybe that is what is good about the photo - they saw it, and you the viewer didn't. Maybe it's good because it makes you think. If it was obvious why it was good, maybe it would be obvious and therefore not good.
    If you can define in advance what is good, then something that is new and different and doesn't conform to your definition is automatically bad. Defining 'good' kills originality, unless you simply define 'good' in very vague terms as something that you like, something that is innovative, something that is powerful. Maybe it doesn't need to be powerful if it's innovative. Or maybe it doesn't need to be that innovative if it's powerful. And so on.
    When I first read The Wasteland, I couldn't understand it at all, I assumed it was the poem that was failing to communicate, rather than me failing to understand. Later (thanks to being forced to persevere by a looming exam and an excellent teacher) I realised it was my fault, the poem was brilliant and it was my lack of patience and understanding that was the problem.
    If you've persevered with a picture, you think that you've understood it, and you still don't like it, then fair enough. Don't bother to put it on your 'likes' list.
    I was thinking that there were some grounds in aesthetics - a part of philosophy - applying the "golden ratio", taking care of proportions, carefully considering cuts, placing horizons and vertical alignments.​
    Personally, I dislike any analysis of imagery based around the 'golden ratio', or an analysis of lines. It's strikes me as meaningless, they are just a way to stopping beginners from always sticking the subject in the centre of the frame, and to look around carefully and analyse at the elements of the image. Lines are of course important in an image, and sometimes it can help to have them zinging in or out of the image in a particular way (in the same way that it can be useful to use the colour blue in an image, or can be interesting to include a chicken), but analysing them is just a distraction from the image itself. And I have a personal hatred of the 'rule of thirds'. But that's just me.
     
  3. Why ( when ) is a photo "good"​
    When it is. When it's seen and experienced, that makes a good photo, by virtue of its claim to existence.
    - Why ( when ) is a photo "bad" ?
    When it's not.
     
  4. Phylo, sounds too much like God. He spake and IT WAS GOOD.
    Not buyin' it. ;)))
    Nothingness, (the not) can be good. No? Think of all the potential!
    If I say that a photo that IS is what a good photo is, that would encourage too many more bad photos, and there are enough already.
    But, you did better than me because I don't have an answer. For me, it's one of those questions like "How do we know we're not dreaming?" or "If a tree falls in the forest . . . " It's a Yadda Yadda thing.
    The closest I can come is to say that a good photo approaches some sort of internal (and maybe with some external thrown in) coherence of elements. (Too many elements to name, but among them are composition, technique, intent, voice, style, lighting, presentation, and on and on.)
    Generally, laziness and lack of responsibility are not good. Sometimes, I can see those in a photo and then I say "It ain't so good."
     
  5. If I say that a photo that IS is what a good photo is, that would encourage too many more bad photos, and there are enough already.​
    Perhaps, but it wouldn't discourage more better photos either.
    Why ( when ) is a photo "better" ?
     
  6. It's a form of communication. Have you communicated something? Have you communicated what you wanted to communicate? Good!
     
  7. For me, a good photo has stopping power. It grabs and holds my attention.
     
  8. I highly recommend Terry Barrett's Criticizing Photographs - An Introduction to Understanding Images. His viewpoint is that photo criticism is not stating whether or not you like a photograph, but being able to accurately describe what you see, interpreting, understanding its context, and then evaluating its success.
    With practice, the "all hat and no horse" cowboys will become apparent.
     
  9. Simon,
    Personally, I dislike any analysis of imagery based around the 'golden ratio', or an analysis of lines. It's strikes me as meaningless, they are just a way to stopping beginners from always sticking the subject in the centre of the frame, and to look around carefully and analyse at the elements of the image.​
    It's not about an analysis. I think photos should not to be analysed. I agree that the general rules help beginners, but a photo can't be good because the subject is not in the dead centre, the lines are "right" and no limbs cut off.
    Defining 'good' kills originality​
    Absolutely agree. The issue is: can we assume that all the visual effects of a photo are the result of a conscious choice? Can we infer the photographer's skills, education and background looking at a photo?
    What is then all our high-eyebrowed photocritiquing about?
     
  10. Phylo,
    lazy answer. :))
    A tautology. I'm not taking it either.
    Being "good" or "not good" is mediated by the viewer. Are these categories a "democratic issue": the more viewers are struck positively, the more founded the aesthetic statement of a photo?
     
  11. Fred,
    But, you did better than me because I don't have an answer.​
    To me, that's an excellent piece of information.
    But that's not entirely true, because I know that you know when a photo is good.
    And in fact, saying
    The closest I can come is to say that a good photo approaches some sort of internal (and maybe with some external thrown in) coherence of elements. (Too many elements to name, but among them are composition, technique, intent, voice, style, lighting, presentation, and on and on.)
    Generally, laziness and lack of responsibility are not good. Sometimes, I can see those in a photo and then I say "It ain't so good."​
    you don't disappoint me and you do provide an answer.
    There is one outstanding element which I feel should be highlighted among the others, which is novelty: viewing something which we have not seen, and maybe which we will not see (anymore).
    But there still is an issue about individuality versus collectivity:
    Is a photo good because it appeals to the individual senses, to the individual perception, to the individual emotions, through the "multiplicity of elements" you are mentioning? Or is there something related to collectivity?
     
  12. Matt,
    It's a form of communication. Have you communicated something? Have you communicated what you wanted to communicate? Good!​
    Communicated to whom: to myself? to my family? my audience? my photo club? photo.net? the world?
    But I believe it's an excellent question to pose, first of all when looking at one's freshly printed photos.
    We photographic craftsmen should be our first and strictest critic.
    To avoid boring others with the imperfect outputs of our craft. :)))
     
  13. Howard,
    agree, but for whom? Who should be stopped?
    This is my main criterion: if I would enter a room and the photo was hanging on a white wall before me, would I stop and step over and look at it again and again?
    But this relates to individuality.
    When is a photo "good" universally? :)
     
  14. What is "good" is never static and absolute. It is a long and very selective process where most of what we do will be put aside and maybe, maybe a few photographers around here on PN and a very few of their photos will be considered as "good". This is what happens if Photography is considered together with other expression of art. Some of those photos end up in museums and art collection to show to others what "good" photography was in the beginning of the Millennium.
    Meanwhile, what is "good" all depends on answering the questions: good for whom and for what? Most photos here on PN are "good" for at least the photographer that shot them. Why else would he/she upload them? They might even be good for love-ones. Whether they are "good" for others, all depends. One why of telling what is "good" in these terms is to go to the very democratic rating system - despite the many critical comments on the tool. You see the result in the top-rated photos forum. For each of us, it is surely not very convincing as a criteria for what is "good" but as a democratic answer to your question, it has it's value.
    Whether it is possible to approach the question: What is good? by analysis of photos, I'm personally not convinced, as some above, that the answer is obviously NO ! For me, an extreme anti-analytical attitude to photos that goes beyond the personal experiences of the photographer is mostly a lazy excuse of not making the effort of studying the question (reading, visiting museums, art galleries etc). I do believe in the role of lines, of harmony/disharmony, the rule of thirds (respect of, and violation) etc etc. "Good" photography can be "good" because of respect of disrespect of such rules but it does not mean that rules do not play a role at all.
     
  15. A good photograph is a photograph that burns -- where my experience of it consumes the substance of it. A better photograph is one that burns more completely. The best is one that is entirely consumed by my experience of it.
    You can make a good campfire by following the golden rules -- putting your logs just so and your kindling just thus and your dry fluff just there -- or you can have a bolt of ligntning at 30,000 amps, 130,000 mph 54,000 degree F take care of things. Or there's an acid burn, or a digestive burn and so forth. To live is to consume is to burn.
    Note that what I think is good is not entirely coexistent with what I like. For example, there are some types of music that I don't like, but which I still know to be often very good. For me, to the extent that a picture disappears into my experience of it, it's good. I may like some pictures that barely burn at all, but I don't think such pictures are (very) good. I may hate some pictures that burn too hot and bright for me to bear but I will know that they are good.
     
  16. Luca--
    Like is individual. Good is collective.
    I've seen novel photos that are bad. The novelty still has to cohere, I think.
    And I've seen really good imitations.
    There's a matter of aspect and context to goodness as well. That's why God's "and it was good" was never persuasive to me.
     
  17. a good picture in my mind is taking the nature aspect and the happy moments down!
     
  18. Being "good" or "not good" is mediated by the viewer. Are these categories a "democratic issue": the more viewers are struck positively, the more founded the aesthetic statement of a photo? - Luca​
    There's the aesthetic statement of a photo and there's the photographer's statement of a photo. When the two allign the photograph may reveal intention. Meatyard's out of focus work had such an intention. They're not "not good" because they're out of focus, no, they're rather "good" because of their intention. Lee Friedlander's witty and at that time not done compositional play with photography's language had intention.
    I agree with Fred's mentioning of context. Arguably, the best of works transcend context.
    Nothingness, (the not) can be good. No? Think of all the potential! - Fred​
    Yes, potential <> intention
     
  19. I see I'm late to this party...a few comments...
    Novelty is what is new to you. Things entering the horizons of your experience and knowledge.
    Something truly new to the medium and the ability to detect it means that viewer is a connoisseur. Historically, these things have a very uniform record of being initially despised, almost universally, and eventually, as they become understood, their genius is appreciated.
    Julie - "Note that what I think is good is not entirely coexistent with what I like. For example, there are some types of music that I don't like, but which I still know to be often very good.
    This is the difference between tastemongering and understanding. In F. Scott's Fitzgerald's opinion and mine, a sign of intelligence, too.
    Context matters. When I'm looking at a family album the context is very different than being in a gallery, gloved, and looking at prints, reviewing photographs taken by grade-schoolers, looking at a printed photograph of how a fishing fly is tied, a passport photo, or a photo in the NYT.
    <more later...>
     
  20. Phylo - "There's the aesthetic statement of a photo and there's the photographer's statement of a photo. When the two allign the photograph may reveal intention. Meatyard's out of focus work had such an intention."
    I agree that it did, but Meatyard didn't say much in the way of statements about his photographs.
     
  21. But the photographer's statement of a photo needs not be expressed verbally, it is the photo, the intention behind it, as seperate from the aesthetic statement of a photo, even so it may be expressed through that.
    For example, a random security camera still can have an aesthetic statement but it lacks a photographer's statement.
     
  22. Though intention is significant, some aspects of every one of my photos are more intentional than others. Accidents also happen. I take responsibility for my accidents and am proud of many of them (please no comments about the evils of pride . . . I can live with my pride . . . a happy sinner), but they weren't intentional. I hesitate to read intention into all goodness. Sometimes I start out with one intention and something else good happens instead, I would say even despite my intentions. Such unintended elements are still made in my voice ("photographic statement"). Some goodness just IS . . . though as stated before by this heathen . . . not all that IS is good.
     
  23. Different images and different intentions need different evauations. Few will want to evaluate what is a good New Orleans jazz concert in the same way that someone will evaluate what is a good performance of a late Beethoven quartet or a successful rap concert. They are all music and share some similarities of form, but they are too different to evaluate with the same criteria. The same is true of painted Icons, abstract art and installation art. They are all art and often use the same media.
    Photographic images have widely different subjects and photographer intent. There are common aesthetic structures we consider when evaluating each, but it's what the photograph communicates to an individual or to a group of individuals (collectivity) and how it affects them that is ultimately the most important. However, the good photograph will always be good for only a limited number of persons (which can be just one to many millions, and the latter does not encompass the majority of persons who will have seen the image). I don't care to have a painting of a buffalo herd kicking up dust as they rumble across a romantic plain of Western Canada, but many others would be delighted to have it over their living room couch. Good is most subjective and its criteria by the world's collectivity are as variable as are the differing types of photographs and their differing subjects.
    Photo club judges and their members bring a certain subjectivity to what they consider as good. It is often quite different from those evaluations of the public who visit the yearly or half yearly exhibitions in the shopping centre, or wherever the photos may be hung. Ratings on Photo.Net are not always similar to those that would be made by the public, as, like the camera club salons, they are made by photographers, with our photographic biases and aesthetics, and not by the uninvolved viewer. Some of the criteria or the weighting of those criteria versus others, will be similar, others will not. "Good" does not appear to me to be a parameter with a fixed value or specification, which certainly varies amongst viewers.
     
  24. Arthur, Julie brought up the distinction between "I like" and "is good." "I don't care to have" suggests more to me about taste than about what's good. You say "Good is most subjective" but I think taste is most subjective, what's good much less so.
     
  25. Arthur - "Photo club judges and their members bring a certain subjectivity to what they consider as good. It is often quite different from those evaluations of the public who visit the yearly or half yearly exhibitions in the shopping centre, or wherever the photos may be hung."
    Having judged and juried several times, including some international (web) exhibits, but no photo clubs, I can tell you it is a thankless and difficult job. No matter how one does it, plenty of people will feel wronged, and think you an effete d**k***d for your choices. You keep reminding yourself that the people who asked you to do this did not want to do it themselves.:)
    Even worse in terms of responsibility is editing a really extraordinary photographer's work for publication/exhibition. Culling out pictures that you know a large majority of photographers would kill to produce once in a lifetime, and in most cases having to justify decisions to the photographer that made them.
     
  26. Fred,
    Your interpretation of my comments are I think a good example of how we are subjective. You have an ability to see what I am getting at in your own personal way, which is often quite different. I have no trouble with that, of course, but it does often make it necessary to come back and reformulate, such that the meaning is conveyed. My comments are subjective, just as yours are subjective. The notion of "good", to you, or to me, is subjective. I smile when I see the word 'objective" used by some posters, as the requirement of objectivity is no mean condition to achieve.
    Luis, I have judged only a few photo competitions, but did not do that with light heart. It is very difficult to avoid one's biases, to see really what the other is communicating and (worse) to be consistent in judging. We tried various systems of judging at my own club in the 90s (a 50 year old society and one of more than 40 in Quebec province, and the one that continuously obtained the top prizes in the provincial competition and had its work exhibited internationally) and finally chose one involving 3 judges, various criteria and an absence of identification of the author's of each of the prints (about 250 to 300 each time, which required up to 3 hours of judging), as well as a system that rejected the wilder responses and biases (the invited judges each 6 month salon were professionals, but were not without their particular biases and some with very discernible biases didn't get invited back of course). I worked for a Canadian photo monthly for about 5 years in the 90s and agree entirely about the difficulty and pitfalls of choosing photos from a photographer's submissions. Not something I had to do, as I was fortunate asked only to write columns on darkroom technique ("Light in the Dark") and also on image composition ("Frameworks").
     
  27. Arthur, I didn't mean to just interpret (or misinterpret) your comments. I meant to have a dialogue. That sometimes starts off by my telling you my understanding of what you said and then questioning you about it or adding something of my own to it. I suppose, though, if everything is subjective that will be difficult to accomplish. ;)))
     
  28. Arthur, in some cases I have challenged your ideas, not because I don't think you're allowed to have them and not because I don't think it's fine for us to vary on many matters, but because others challenging me and my challenging others (in a reasonable manner) is often how I learn. We may eventually agree to disagree but I can't see that being a productive starting point. It would feel too passive to me. Let's dissect each other's thoughts a little first and then allow what are differences to flourish. I want to accept what you have to offer with sufficient understanding and reason, not on blind faith.
     
  29. Fred, on the contrary, I think that two persons each arguing subjectively bring the benefit of differing viewpoints andexperience to the table, and, because both recognize a number of "benchmarks" (such as some so-called "givens" in phoography, similar prior readings, similar experiences, etc.), the discussion is adequately oriented and valuable.
     
  30. Fred,
    In perfect agreement with your second post (2:29 PM). Thanks.
     
  31. Interim post.
    I have a very clear perception of the distinction between "I like" and "good". This is the reason why I never used "I like".
    However, judgement (because it's judgement we talk about) in photography seems to be always intertwined with subjectivity. A mixture of subjectivity and objectivity.
    I believe there is at least some objectivity in image judgement.
    But there are at least two elements which determine judgement:
    1. the personal preferences in matters of photography (Arthur's example of the buffalo herd), and
    2. experience.
    I would add also the capability of recombining preferences and experience to appreciate something completely new.
    I will also think better about Julie's burning pictures. But to do this, I need to discover some new ones. :)
     
  32. Like Julie's "burning" I want to feel some "energy" from a photo, no matter what type or genre of photo it is.
     
  33. I would like to think that the term "Junk" is slang terminology describing a style of response which renders little or no respect. Intention- which renders little respect; may still be art.
    I would like to think of the term "Good" (the opposite of Junk), would offer more than "little or no respect."
    It is our collective nature to associate art with "good", as we can still have respect for something "of which we have no taste."
    It is our nature to associate "junk" with items that we feel may not warrant the respect of "being considered art."
    So, why is a photo "good", in my opinion? Because it renders respect in some way. Which elements make it good, perhaps, is really asking - What do we respect?
     
  34. It is striking that actually nobody has a clear answer.
    However the photos are judged every time. Each of us expresses judgements every time, here and in other places.
    On the other hand it's not acceptable that aesthetic judgements on photos are relegated to the strictly subjective ambit.
    Matthew's post mentions the respect for something "for which we have no taste".
    • Because we are inexperienced
    • Because we are uneducated
    • Because we lack "recombination capabilities"
    • Because we lack "visual innovation".
    That's right. But the real danger is opening up to the conclusion that "everything is good" because it has "its own dignity" and "has to be respected".
    Provided that human beings have always to be respected, this does not mean that all of their works are good.
    To me it's not acceptable. Starting with my own photos.
     
  35. I rarely participate in this form ( language... Language... ) But I could not help myself as I see it as a million $ question....
    There are so many possibilities and correlation to judge a photo. It depends on who is the judge, his education, his knowledge of the medium's technic, his experiences. Is he a layman or a professional? amateur ? ( what is needed to be a professional? ) Does he saw a lot of photo and developed a deeper understanding? I don't see numbers as a modeI , I do see a series of works in the long time duration , if it has consistency, development,understanding of the elements composing a photo.Understanding the light factor, some new way of expression, and a lot more.

    There are laws, they can be broken?is it working?there are as well a personal feelings and attractions as in many other fields of life......A million $ question imo.... no real definite one answer.
     
  36. [Nodding in agreement at Pnina's post before mine.]
    Luca,
    Even if we could/do discover and agree on "why is a photo good, which elements make it good" that will not help us to agree on why this or that specific photograph is good -- which is, after all, what it will need to do.
    If I ask "why or which elements make Luca good"? The question could only be answered if and to the extent that I do and can know Luca. It depends only partially on what is meant by "good." This does not mean that we can't agree on what good does/should/might mean. It does mean that knowing Luca is ... complicated.
    Which leads me to my point (I have a point!). In this forum (and in philosophy in general) what is (often, always?) striven for is "getting to know" rather than defining. We get to know Luca, we don't define him. We get to know "good", we don't conclusively define it. We get to know (okay, we fight about) almost anything. We hold it up to the light; we turn it around, we pick it apart, we try it in different settings, combinations; we study it. We don't claim to -- and I don't think we aim to -- find "clear answers."
     
  37. Good or bad is irrelevant. You either like it or you don't.
    It's also a mistake to say that something is good just because you like it or bad just because you don't like it. It's possible to dislike a 'good' picture and like a 'bad' picture... It's the same with music.
     
  38. Luca, I don't believe in the Relativism of art ... I do believe in the Relativism of the market.
    I believe that certain people are given a huge head start in the acceptance of their work as "art". We have an "intelligentsia" that allows certain regions, certain groups, and certain persons to carry a gravitas before actually doing anything. The aesthetics of ART allow for a subjective assessment that varies from person to person. BUT, I think it is the "business" of art that causes the wide variations in assessment.
    I accept that you and I may diverge to some extent on what we visually desire. I do not accept that there is any unique set of skills required to assess aesthetics. We have people who will try to make you feel inferior, because you fail to recognize an aesthetic. In some ways it is akin to the peer pressure that allows the "Emperor to not wear clothes".
    In the end, produce work that appeals and pleases you. For most, this is the harshest critic they will face. The rest you cannot control.
     
  39. A yes to what Julie and Pnina have said. Especially about definitions of things like "good", "truth", "love", "beauty", and "art".
    I've talked recently about theory vs. practice and abstract vs. specific thinking. When you ask what's "good" there will be less clear answers and less common ground than were you to show a particular photo and ask us each to critique it. Ask us to look at it and talk about it, not whether it's good or not. Not to interpret it. Not to say how we feel about it. A serious critique will offer observations and, perhaps, suggestions and reasons for those suggestions. (I tend to prefer to call attention to things and let the photographer address it and seek solutions if s/he feels it's warranted.) It would be especially helpful to ask us each to critique a photo that we didn't like. The exercise could be to try to make it a good photo (or a better) but one we still didn't like. Then we could separate our taste from our assessment/judgment.
    If someone appears to be striving to create an Ansel-Adams-like landscape and they are blowing highlights and blocking up shadows, I may talk about exposure and detail. If I see a more stark and high contrast, almost Japanese approach, or a more contemporary grunge approach, blown highlights will be much more in tune with the whole. I may not "like" them any more than I do in the Adams-like scene, but I will think they are good within the context of the particular photo. That's the internal coherence I talked about. A tree limb in the foreground of a photo is neither good nor bad. A tree limb in the foreground of THIS photo or THAT photo may be good or bad depending on what purpose or function it serves. Likewise with a shallow DOF. Many people think of that as an arty look and assume it is good. But it all depends on how it's used and when and where it's used. Same for sharpness. Sometimes it's good, sometimes not. But none of these are "inherently" good.
     
  40. Julie,
    I like your metaphor and I absolutely agree.
    But a question comes to my mind: a huge part of activity here on photo.net, but also on other photographic sites is about judging, critiquing and rating.
    Does it mean that everything is possible, as well as the contrary of everything?
    And furthermore, does it mean that in the end, according to the transitive property, any judgement can be considered trash? :)
    What are we then talking about when we critique photos?
    This thread is indeed enlightening.
     
  41. Fred,
    yes, agree.
    I tend to act like this. Normally I have not much to say on photos I consider "good" (I like is something different). They are good. Period.
    Photos which I do not consider "good" (independently from me liking them or not) I do analyse, providing some indications on the features which strike me negatively.
    Still, aesthetic judgements seem to be closely related to "gut feelings".
    The visual message is a sensorial one.
    And we get back to what I said before:
    • judging a photo is something related to experience, education, recombination capabilities. And to personal sensitivity.
     
  42. Can we accept that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Most people would place more value on a technically awful
    photo of their child or pet than some highly crafted photo of something or someone that they don't know. And that not
    quite horrible beach photo that they took on their honeymoon means more to them than any Ansel Adams print ever will.
    Emotional attachment to the subject is a big factor.
     
  43. Luca - "What is then all our high-eyebrowed photocritiquing about?"
    It isn't about any one thing. It varies, depending on who is doing the critiquing, and on their approach. Some people are far better at critiquing than others, some tell you much more about themselves & their likes than about the work in question, and on top of that one has the 10K hrs effect in criticism as well. All critics are not created equal, either.
    What would be the purpose of assembling a list of qualities or metrics for a "good" photograph? So we can put together yet another checklist? It seems like Luca is wanting signifiers that would I.D. a good photo.
    Immediately, hordes of PN snappers would be like a hail of fleas trying to jump on that dog. :)
    Some years ago, some enterprising programmers wrote software that one can upload their photographs into, and the program will rate it as it would be on the average, in Flickr. Many of my friends had fun running photography's masterpieces through it, many of which scored very low. They're working on a version that can be in camera, so as you point the lens around, you're getting a probable Flickr rating, so the 'photographer' will know what is "good" before taking the picture.
     
  44. The recent posts are helpful, including Luca's questioning of objectivity. Getting to know someone or his work was introduced by Julie, and this my be a valid process or an alternative in a personal assessment of what is good photography or good art. Pnina reminds us that the judge or viewer brings his own state of learning and experience to that task, and it may or may not always be sufficient to accomplish the task of evaluation. Steve reminds us of the role of the milieu (intelligentsia, marketers, critics,...) in establishing what may be considered as good.
    My experience is limited, but my feeling about the great subjectivity of the evaluation is tempered by what I see as the "objectivity" (or perhaps "collective point of view") of some serious photo salons that are organised by the more experienced photographic societies. The particular society (a long established "camera club" by a different title) I contributed work to on a regular basis used a system of pre-numbering prints (eliminating the photographer's name) and presenting them in random order to a panel of three professional photographers (chosen at each salon from a much larger group of those willing to judge from time to time). Each image within its group (landscape, human, etc.) is initially shown fairly rapidly on a lit easel and then the prints are re-shown with sufficient time (but limited to a minute or so) for each judge to record his score (based on several criteria). Following computation, the 8 to 15 highest rated (combination of individual judge ratings but occasionally excluding a far off rating which can be mathematically detected) prints are then presented together (although not in the order of initially attributed points) on a stand and the judges then choose their choice of 1st, 2nd, 3rd best prints, requiring about 15 to 20 minutes of discussion amongst the judges (not communicated to the audience). One week following the closing of the two week exhibition of all accepted prints (about 80 to 90% being normally acceptable), one of the judges returns for an evening meeting in which members can present a few of their prints (prize winners or not) for one judge's perception of their qualities and why he or she considers the better prints as good, or the less good prints as perhaps improvable in their message or technical quality.
    Does that sort of judging allow a more objective evaluation of good? It has the advantage of applying accepted criteria of the society to the evaluation and the advantage of anonymity and three opinions during the evaluation. Of course, this is only a question of the "mechanics" of evaluating what is good. What is actually good is a much more complex question, as has been already pointed out by other contributors.
    This is how a well established small photographic society or club presents and evaluates prints of its members. It would be interesting to know how some much larger societies (e,g., Royal Photographic Society of Britain, or some major US museums, Smithsonian, etc.) evaluate the work of their members or invited participants. Do they attain any measure of agreement, of objectivity, that is different?
    Perhaps a case in point about the perception of what is good. Some unique images cannot be evaluated so easily, as they surprise by their unexpected qualities and may not easily fit some prior criteria. It required some 15 or so years for the relativity theory of Einstein to be appreciated for its worth, including many attempts to show that it was bad rather than good. This may not be an appropriate analogy to the case of the surprising image, but sometimes we must judge something that doesn't fit our established notions of what is good, whether those criteria be subjective or "objective".
     
  45. Steve Smith , Aug 10, 2010; 06:33 a.m.
    Good or bad is irrelevant. You either like it or you don't. It's also a mistake to say that something is good just because you like it or bad just because you don't like it. It's possible to dislike a 'good' picture and like a 'bad' picture... It's the same with music.​
    It is not irrelevant. A large part of photo.net and other similar sites is about judgement: people are normally titillated by praising judgements and get angry because of critical judgements. As happened here.
    So good or bad is very relevant in this world.
    There are people who seem to own "the truth" on photography. Where from?
    Since you mention music, think of Stockhausen. Much, much more complex than Mozart or Bach. The fact that I might not understand it, does it make it less "good"?
     
  46. Luis G Aug 10, 2010; 10:37 a.m.It seems like Luca is wanting signifiers that would I.D. a good photo.​
    :)))
    Luis, my confidence is shaken. :)))
    What I want? Don't you think I have some ideas of my own?
     
  47. Luckily, Luca, nobody owns the truth on photography but some have power to decide. In PN the ratings system is indeed such a system, which on the basis of member's subjective understanding of a few criteria, rates photos that then, in case, end up on the top rated photos list. These photos are the show cases of PN to present how good PN and its photographers are.
    Good photos are "good" within a context and never in objective terms. The result is of course that if we as photographers want to play the game we have to be good within that context or skip participating in the game.
    Most of us have examples of photos that we personally like and consider good but which we now would be doomed if they were introduced in a competition. They will for sure received their 3/3s - or equivalent. Some of my own photos that I consider my best and really, really good are of that category. Others, that I like less are sometimes liked by others.
    I find the whole discussion on "good", "bad", "like", "don't like" fairly limited and threatens to lead us nowhere - apart from towards the often mentioned declaration that all that is subjective and that my own feelings about a picture is what counts. I think we can do better than that.
    One could refer back to situations in the history of art where "good" and "bad art" were confronted. For example, the history of schools of art with the confrontations between first Academic art and Realism and then Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism ...... Expressionism all criticized and rejected by some with arguments about "good" and bad art. Art that have been rejected as "ugly" or bad became beautiful and good some years later. Analyzing and "judging" art, here photos, is the act of identifying photos that announce something new or are in line with what presently are considered "good" by the marked, by collectors, by colleagues and trusted friends. Our guts feelings do not reach far in that respect unless we are satisfied with photography as a private sphere pass time only.
     
  48. Of course I think you have plenty of ideas of your own, Luca, and I meant you want signifiers from us about what makes a picture good. I did not mean that you wanted signifiers for yourself to adopt. Also please note that I didn't include you in the "hordes of PN snappers".
     
  49. Fred,
    I am intriqued by your suggestion, "It would be especially helpful to ask us each to critique a photo that we didn't like. The exercise could be to try to make it a good photo (or a better) but one we still didn't like. Then we could separate our taste from our assessment/judgment."
    Therefore, I have dug back through my old, old, old view camera "straight" photos for a picture that (1) I think is "good," but which (2) I don't like. I hope you too find it to be a good photo and/but you too don't like it ... so you can try your exercise on it. [Note: I really, truly don't like this picture. Feel free to do with it what you will.]
    [​IMG]
     
  50. Julie, I'm leaving in 2 minutes for a two-day trip to Lake Tahoe. I probably won't have Internet access. So I'll be curious to see if others come up with approaches to critiquing this and, if it's still live when I return late Thursday night, I'll take it on.
     
  51. "I find the whole discussion on "good", "bad", "like", "don't like" fairly limited and threatens to lead us nowhere - apart from towards the often mentioned declaration that all that is subjective and that my own feelings about a picture is what counts. I think we can do better than that. (Anders)
    Anders,
    To achieve that, I would like to see as a first step a forum discussion in which someone may present a photograph that he considers good, one which accomplishes what he or she wanted to communicate. No title, no explanation, just the image. The members of this forum would then interpret that photograph as they see it. Their perceived "what, why and how""what it says to them", if anything, would result from that. After a certain number of replies and comments, the poster would then express what he or she had in mind, the "what, why and how" of their photograph, as they attempted to create.
    These subjective, and perhaps partly objective, impressions would do a lot for the photographer, I think. They would suggest how close he might have come achieving his or her objective. With that information, the photographer could, if he (or she) wished, modify his approach, or improve it to better achieve what he was thinking when he captured the image and later post-processed it.
    Fred, Julie,
    I am not convinced of the usefulness of the approach of putting up what are thought as failed images by the photographer, because I think it will not be as valuable as obtaining the perceptions of the viewer of what the photographer considers a good photograph. Unless he is a novice photographer, he usually knows only too well the failures of the image, and is not presenting his or her better work, which is likely more related to his or her philosophy and approach.
    By interpreting the message of a good photograph, without the prior explanations of the creator, we are providing the photographer more support and providing what I think is the most useful feedback (how do others actually perceive what I am trying to do? I can go on at length about what I think of my work, but ultimately it is the viewer that is important), whereras how another photographer would (subjectively) modify a bad image really only gives the viewer's manner of achieving a result. Not the photographer's.
     
  52. Fred,
    Lucky fellow. Enjoy your trip.
     
  53. Arthur, I agree that we lack a forum where individuals present their own photos in order to let them be analyzed and "judged" by peers here on PN not in terms of how it could be better, but in term of "good"/"bad" with explicitly formulated criteria and explanations. For it not to be just another "critique forum" it would have to have some initial reasons for presenting a photo. For example a photo that have received 7/7 and the photographer finds it "bad" - or maybe more frequently the other way round. It could be linked to the rating exercise which finally then could have some meaning.
    I'm not sure this present forum is the most obvious place for such discussions. It is my opinion that this forum has to a certain degree lately become a forum of "why I shot the photo and how I feel about it". It is therefor not obviously a forum ready for such discussion unless there is a willingness to change its present way of functioning. But it might be worth a try.
     
  54. Arthur, it is obvious that almost everyone on PN seems starved for having their work critiqued/rated. If we were to do reviews of member's pictures here, it might run contrary to the inherent compartmentalization one sees on PN. And other PN members would soon inundate us, seeking to have their pictures reviewed (think Polaroid riot). Plus, thin-skinned members might be easily offended by the reviews, or psychophants would deliver adulating ones, etc.
    All of these problems can be sidestepped easily in my opinion by using the work of others (total outsiders) to critique (any way they want to), and putting one up per thread, and see what happens.
     
  55. Anders and Luis, you may well be right about the repercussions of analysing another's work in this forum (by the differing methods suggested by Fred and myself), but what is missing from the Photo.Net rating/critique system, in my mind, is the question of the connection between philosophy (and mental approach) and photography, and from the Photonetter's viewpoint. How to bypass the ratings system and its often simply laudatory comments, and seek the viewer's opinion on what the photo communicates to him, then the photographer's outlook or approach on the same, as a valuable feedback for the engaged and progressing photographer?
     
  56. Luis, I'm sure you are right that their is a danger that
    "other PN members would soon inundate us, seeking to have their pictures reviewed"​
    but we could have rule on one photo very week (a voluntarist photo of the week initiative).
    When Arthur writes that
    "what is missing from the Photo.Net rating/critique system, in my mind, is the question of the connection between philosophy (and mental approach) and photography"​
    personally I could not disagree more. In my view, as mentioned above, it is almost the only dimension that this forum seems to cover for the moment. I think sincerely that we need to go beyond mental processes and approach the photo itself : theme, composition, lines, color pallets, sharp/blur, reference-elements to its realities, signs, frame, timing - all the elements that make a scene and a photo and that we decide on, or not, when shooting. These many elements of a photo have surely an impact on "mental processes" that might make us like the photo or not (good/bad) but an analysis cannot stay on that level of introspection.
    Without starting a discussion on a specific photo let me attach an example which surely would get its dose of 3/3s here on PN and that might deserve an analysis.
    00X2o0-267761584.jpg
     
  57. Anders Hingel [​IMG][​IMG], Aug 10, 2010; 11:43 a.m.
    Luckily, Luca, nobody owns the truth on photography but some have power to decide. In PN the ratings system is indeed such a system, which on the basis of member's subjective understanding of a few criteria, rates photos that then, in case, end up on the top rated photos list. These photos are the show cases of PN to present how good PN and its photographers are.​
    I agree that in principle nobody owns the truth on photography. Unfortunately some behave as if they had.
     
  58. Interesting exercise - ask people pick the best photo from a gallery and have them tell you why they think it is the best.
    Different people will pick different photos and some of the comments will be insightful. If you want to up the ante ask some
    kids to do it. Kids have very atrong opinions and have absolutely no problem telling you when they think you're full of it.
     
  59. Anders,
    What is that, anyway? I definitely don't like it very much and I am not sure I can make it "good" but I am prepared to claim that I have moved it from 3/3 to 3.001/3.001. It really doesn't want to fly ...
    [​IMG]
     
  60. "what is missing from the Photo.Net rating/critique system, in my mind, is the question of the connection between philosophy (and mental approach) and photography"​
    "personally I could not disagree more. In my view, as mentioned above, it is almost the only dimension that this forum seems to cover for the moment." (Anders)
    Anders, I have to disagree fully with your statement. What you want to consider seems to be approach related and technical in nature. For me, that is largely (but not completely) nuts and bolts, and why I have always maintained that a sub-forum of PofP could treat that subject and also that of the mental approaches. As that is not likely to happen, we must use either the philosophy forum or the present ratings/critique forum. The latter does not often deal with an analysis of the communicative elements of the image. The former discusses the philosophical and mental approaches, but not so much in regard to how the viewer (other PofP participant) perceives the essence of the image of the photographer who posts his image in this forum, and more often than not, discusses simply the images of other photographers not on the forum.
    I agree that much can also be learned by analysing the images made by past masters or even non Photo.Net current ones, but I am interested mainly in how fellow photographers perceive the message of my own work, in order to aid my own progress in the medium. And I would be happy to do that analysis for others, but mainly from a standpoint of not having a prior statement from the photographer, interpreting what I see, and then learning after the process what he meant when creating his image - what he thought one would take away from it. It's communication with others.
    Let's take your image above. Because we know nothing else about it or why you photographed it, it satisies the above suggested analytical/critique process I suggested. Your image does satisfy my curiosity and liking for well toned black and white reproduction - the silvery grays for instance are nice, on that simple level. I presume it to be an architectural detail and maybe an element of sound baffling in some concert hall - but it's just a guess. More important, whatever it is, it does nothing for me in terms of a visual, emotional or other communication, and thus doesn't satisfy something my deeper curiosity or aesthetic - It says very little to me and I'm afraid I find it just a cold image of less than appealing composition.
    Another person might have a very different feeling about it. This is all very subjective, as you well know. What I think is important is that the communicative aspects of the image need to be treated more here than the technical aspects or compositional rule compliances. And I disagree that that is what we are doing on this forum, in a manner at least that ties the philosophical, emotional, mental thought processes of the Photo.Net photographer with his work and which allows that to be perceived or not by the viewer-participant of this forum and to provide valuable feedback. Such feedback is not what one is normally getting on the ratings/critique forum, or here. And it's bloody important to have.
     
  61. To me, a photo is good when it tells a story with a single glance... and then intrigues the viewer to look closer to see what else it says.
    If it does not capture your interest with a thumbnail view, the compostion is not compelling.
     
  62. Julie, Fred, and all of you please look here:

    http://www.photo.net/photodb/user?user_id=617763

    It was a group years ago ,that worked on the subject of critique anonymously ,not knowing who the photo belonged to. Not only critiquing but trying to see how it can be enhanced. It was a great school. Observe it a bit,I think it is more or less what Fred and Julie offered.I think as well that a "bad " photo ,( in the photographer's/ viewer eyes) is not a photo which is worth working on, if it has not a priory a potential to get better.....
    (I don't know why the link is not blue...(explanation what I do wrong....? Thanks)
     
  63. Julie, I fully respect your appreciation of a shot like this. Personally, I love it and might be the only one on Earth. It hangs on a wall in A3+ format and represent the dome of the German Parliament (inside). It is interesting, because the only thing you do to it, without hope of improving it, is turning it 180°, which destroys the composition totally for me. It is however, I think a good example of how our eyes are seeing different things when looking at an abstracts like that. Things become easier and more straight forward if I choose a picture of a scene we all can recognize and relate to like this one or this one whether they are considered good or bad.
    Dan, asking people to pick best photos from a gallery would be interesting in my eyes, but difficult to make function. How do we choose a gallery and how do we engage the photographer in the exercise. The Photo of the week forum functions with that logic and it is the elves that choose. Sometimes, that forum functions perfectly, despite the very many contributions with a minimum number of words and more often than not, superlatives.
    Arthur if you read out of my previous mail that I want "technical discussions" I must have expressed myself very badly. I happens, sorry. I have no intention of promoting technical discussions about photography, there are other places for that. What I tried to argue for was a discussion on the medium, the photo, and less a continuing discussion on what happens in my head when I look at a photo, or when I shot it. Your head is surely a starting point, but less interesting for others unless you the person is the subject of discussion. Attention, emotion, interest of the viewer is the starting point. What is lacking here in this forum, in my view, is a place where we translate such starting points into observations on the dimensions of the photo that produces such effects on our appreciation of a photo - and here I come back to the questions of composition etc. Such an exercise is traditionally done on other forms of art (paintings, sculptures, installations...) - like on this painting of André Derain, just to take an example for illustation among many others.
    Concerning your comments on the photos that I took the risk to upload above, again like in the case of Julie's comments, they show how different our eyes work. Julie turned it around and destroyed it in my eyes, and you refer to it's "less than appealing composition". This is where things become interesting because there you touch at how the photo is constructed, as an abstract, with the result of communicating some reactions and emotions. Maybe the chosen photo is more of a provocation (I expected it!). Less extreme examples could have been chosen, as mentioned above.
    Like Pnina writes, a "bad" photo might not be worth working on together. It needs to catch the immediate attention of the viewer that L.J. refers to, and be subject to some kind of shared interest for it to function as a subject of discussion, like the ones we all seem to agree on is needed here on PN.
     
  64. Dan South , Aug 10, 2010; 10:25 a.m.
    Can we accept that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Most people would place more value on a technically awful photo of their child or pet than some highly crafted photo of something or someone that they don't know. And that not quite horrible beach photo that they took on their honeymoon means more to them than any Ansel Adams print ever will. Emotional attachment to the subject is a big factor.​
    Correct. But if, if a judgement on a photo is a mix between subjective perceptions and emotions, and collective imaginary and perceptions, the examples you make would be merely on the subjective part.
    Photographers on another site simply destroyed family snapshots, because of the non-existent collective value.
    That said, a photo which is "good" must go beyond the mere reaction of "I like it".
     
  65. Many of you suggested to give this "judgement" exercise a more practical approach. Let's take a photo and analyse why it's good or less good.
    I think it's not the appropriate way, provided that my original question was posted in the "Philosophy of Photography" forum and not somewhere else.
    At this stage we have more or less agreed that there are subjective and objective elements for photo judgement. That photo judgement requires a context appraisal on the photo and the photographer part, as well as experience, education and recombination capability on the viewer part (to walk outside traditional paths).
    Therefore I would like us to stick to the more conceptual aspects of photo judgement, trying to find an approach to photo judgement - the activity is much too indeterministic and non-linear to be able to stick to a "methodology".
    Of course, talking concretely on a picture would be an empirical application of the approach to photo judgement, but I would like to keep it on another level.
     
  66. Luca you are the toast master here so be free to define what this thread is about. In my eyes we are still in the realm of your main question:
    why is a photo good, which elements make it good.​
    I don't think that some kind of agreement on general very abstract categories (subjective, objective elements, context appraisal, and the viewer characteristics in terms of education, experience etc) leads us very far. Even if we could develop such an agreed conceptual framework for analyzing photos, few would stick to it or care to understand it.
    This is why I think that we need to go to the more practical phase and start discussing specific photos, here or in some other forums if needed. By such discussions we would further our shared understanding on "why is a photo good, which elements make it good" - which is your aim too.
    An ad hoc exploratory forum for playing around with the idea to see whether it leads us further might be something to propose to our friends deciding such things here around.
     
  67. [laughing at Anders reaction to my abuse of his photo]
    Anders,
    I hope you will (eventually, if not today) forgive me for using your photo as an example of what I think usually happens when a photo is offered for critique. Either there is rather obscene flattery and gushing or there are unhelpful comments like those I gave ("I don't like it") accompanied by some dreadful re-editing of the photo. The nearest thing that I ever see to honest and useful critiques are done very, very, very gingerly, tentatively, obliquely; so cloaked in apologies as to be nearly useless.
    On the other hand, if we stick to conceptual aspects with no specific personal examples, as Luca requests, we can all be above average -- Lake Woebegone photographers. I like it ...
    Pnina,
    I found your linked page and pages linked from that to be interesting for two reasons: first, the desire to learn which is no surprise, but second that the anonymity of critique requests didn't seem to me to help at all. Quite the contrary. People seemed, in there comments to be even more nervous and restrained, presumably because they knew that the person was there, listening and it was worse, not better, not to know who it was.
     
  68. I don't have to forgive you for anything Julie. I respect your comments, having seen your qualified contributions to this and other fora. What needs to be done is of course that we are ready to invest in explain the great "WHY" we have this or that appreciation of a specific photo. This is where our exchanges become interesting. Your link to the Lake Woebegone effect is clearly showing the dangers of trying to satisfy imaginative opinions of peers like our friends here on PN. If we all showed motherhood-and-apply-pie pictures we would surely fast be loosing our interest. Hope that can be said here without provoking a discussion on motherhood or for the sake apple pie!
    I do surely support showing specific "personal examples", but the discussion about such photos should not concentrate on the person (unless somebody is interested in the person as such, but it could happen by e-mails) but be a discussion on the photo and its qualifies (good/bad) seen from the viewer. The quality of Guernica is not hidden in the fact that the painter was Spanish, lived difficultly with Dora Maar in a hotel particular in rue des Grands-Augustins in Paris end of the 30s, but in the effects on the viewer and the reference to a specific act of cruelty (the context). So, on our level, our photos have context, that might in some cases help the viewer forward (a title) but most happens in the process of viewing. This is where the good/bad crude criteria come to the fore. This is also where we can learn something from each other.

    Concerning the link that Pnina kindly gave us, I must agree with Julie that anonymity does not seem to help. I think we all just have to make the big effort of accepting critics of our photos (why are we here if not for that! !) being it positive or negative, as long as a certain level civics is respected.
     
  69. Julie and Anders
    I understand both your reservations, It was great at that time( at least for me), I learned a lot from that period (again, personal feeling) nowadays I know a lot more ,still learn all the time, and don't need the anonymity...(BTW it has changed later on and was continued with names ,not at PN though.;-)).
     
  70. Julie,
    On the other hand, if we stick to conceptual aspects with no specific personal examples, as Luca requests, we can all be above average -- Lake Woebegone photographers. I like it ...​
    Let me try to be clearer. It's not that I don't want to move over to the empirical application of judgement criteria.
    I consider my photography a craft, a concrete activity, so I can't imagine it without action. Also judgement, in itself, I consider a way of supporting photography. Knowing how to judge helps thinking when photographing, and, in the end, to take better photographs.
    Researching judgement approaches helps photographing.
    My idea of sticking in first instance to a conceptual approach relates to the development of photography-related capabilities.
    These can be then applied to concrete cases.
    Anders, by the way, I don't want to be considered the master of this thread. Ideas have to flow freely. :))
    What I'm reading here interests me a lot. And for sure it's not my merit.
     
  71. Julie, turns out I have Internet access here after all, and am up early in the a.m. while everyone else is still asleep, so . . .
    I don't like that photo you posted way back there because it's flat and doesn't reveal anything more to me as I look at it. There's no depth. It simply seems to lie there, no particular energy, dynamic, pull, or draw. As a matter of fact, the angle of shooting feels like it's keeping me away rather than drawing me in, but not in a challenging or even off-putting way (which might help me like it more), rather in just a lump of coal sort of way.
    [In this paragraph, what's in italics has more to do with my taste, what's in roman type is more about its quality (goodness).] Regarding its "goodness," texture seems to be important to the photo and the textures are brought out well by the lighting and exposure. There's a delicate use of shadow, well done but not advancing an aesthetic interest for me. The composition is good insofar as it shows a conscious intention (at least an echoing of the two holes of each other) but leaves me cold. You handled the strong highlight well, which probably gives the photo its main dynamic charge, but again that doesn't seem to really relate to the subject matter itself or the overall composition of the photo so it's like an unhinged element. [Not sure, but this last part of the sentence seems maybe a little taste and a little judgment combined.]
    When photos are submitted to this forum, I take them as illustrative of a point being discussed and try to keep my discussions of them to that. I generally don't see them as appropriate to be "critiqued," especially from a taste point of view. Here, because we are discussing taste specifically, it was important, and I was asked, to differentiate between the photo's goodness and my like or dislike of it, so I got into taste.
    Caveat: Some will disagree with my assessment of the photo as good. That will not prove to me that "goodness" is subjective. We'd have to get into why someone else called it "not good" and what we are actually each seeing. It might be that we were expressing similar things differently or that we hadn't agreed on the parameters or the context for this kind of more objective judgment. I wouldn't expect or even attempt to achieve the same sort of agreement relative to taste. Though I think tastes can changed and be influenced and our tastes can be refined, especially with more exposure and learning.
     
  72. Dern it, Fred. You're no fun to play with. You nailed it, first try.
    That picture was made back when I got my first 4x5 camera and I was simply in love with the camera. I went out looking for things that looked like pictures. The photo posted looked like a picture (and that's why, to some shallow, superficial extent as Fred immediately spotted, it has no depth -- the longer you look at it, the less you see -- yet to the extent that it is what I intended (if looking for things that look like pictures is much of an intention) I do think it's "good").
    Happily, I eventually got past going out and "looking for things that looked like pictures." I will add, however, that I still, to this day enjoy, sometimes just for fun and relaxation, going out and shooting "things that look like pictures." It's sort of like finger-exercises for musicians or maybe doing crossword puzzles.
    Thanks for the spot-on analysis, Fred. You're hard to fool. *sigh*
     
  73. The general thrust of responses are based around assessing whether a photo is good or not. But should we be looking at photos in order to establish whether they are good? Or do we look at them because we hope that we may find something in them surprising that we haven't seen before?
    Sometimes it might be the former, but I think the latter is more productive and interesting. And if it is, then trying to establish a formula, rule, or even guidelines as to what is good and what isn't is I think not only a waste of time, but a distinctly bad thing to do. Rules, guidelines, formulae, are only useful for people who are unable to develop their own opinion and understanding of a photo.
    There is a temptation to go for the first approach - to look at photos and judge them by our existing preconceptions. That is because we all like to think that we are experts on photography and think we know what we like and don't like what is good and what is bad. Every photographer I ever met thought they were an expert. Approaching each photo to say whether it is 'good' or 'bad' makes each of us a judge, which puts us in a superior position. Every tabloid reader is able to say 'this is rubbish' or 'I know what I like', without pausing to think whether their taste is defined by ignorance and visual illiteracy or on the contrary based on some real kind of insight.
    It seems to me that a more intelligent approach to analysing photography is to approach it with as open a mind as we can manage, and to try to understand the photograph, not immediately try to assess it. There may be a reason why it is what it is that is not immediately obvious. Later, after thinking about it and doing your very best to understand, then you can file it in your mind as crap, not so crap, good or brilliant - or just interesting - if you want.
    But it seems to me that the whole approach of trying to define 'what is a good photo?' is really the cart pushing the horse.
     
  74. My last response was partly prompted because I've been going to a monthly meeting of photographers who each put up 4 or 5 photos on a theme. Then we all discuss each in turn and have a big discussion/argument about what we think is good/bad about each series.
    I was struck that very often I start off by looking at some work, and thinking 'that is nothing interesting'. By the end of the evening, having argued about it, my opinion of it is transformed, and I realise that it has a lot of worth after all. Other items, on the contrary, after an initial favourable impression, my opinion of it goes downhill after the discussion.
    Of course, I'm heavily influenced by the discussion - and some people believe that you should be able to assess a picture just by looking at it - that you shouldn't have to talk about it, or read any text about it. To me that is just an example of a meaningless 'rule' about what is good and bad, that is counterproductive. I don't believe it - I think there is nothing wrong with a photo having a title, or an accompanying text, or that its impact and meaning is transformed when you are told some background information about it, or that you start to appreciate it after discussing it and understanding what the photographer was trying to do, or that it grows on you six months later, or after you've seen the res of the photographer's work and started to understand where he/she is coming from.
    To me that's much more important than being able to stick a picture up in an online gallery and have people say 'this is good because...' or 'this is bad because...'. To me, that approach is meaningless, and the main reason that I don't bother posting images on sites with galleries where there is a risk of these superficial assessments or point scoring systems.
     
  75. Simon to a certain degree I agree with you that the above repeated wording "good/bad" is in it self a bad wording for describing what we all seem to discuss. I don't think anybody here would be satisfied with a labeling exercise (like the rating system). What we look for is some kind of argument on why we, each of us individually, like or dislike a photo and why we find it good or bad or, and mostly, anything in between. Fred's (welcome back!) analysis of the photo of Julie is a good example of such argumentary.
    Whether discussions explaining a photo is the way forward as you suggest, I'm not convinced. To a certain degree a photo cannot travel with explanations. It needs to live its own life and be "judged" by others, the viewers, according to what it can transmit by its inherent qualities. It is those qualities, or lack of the same, that we especially should concentrate on I would think.
     
  76. Anders,
    First, a not so small "mea culpa" for commenting your photo by (confusedly) looking at the upside down reproduction of it that Julie posted. It changes things a bit for me (as a viewer) to see your original, in that the abstract is less abstract and the architecture discernible. I am sorry I misread it initially, although I did read and understand your well thought out text. A little more on that point in the third paragraph, below.
    When I mentioned that the image does little for me, I was not responding uniquely from a compositional or aesthetic viewpoint, which does leave me cold, but from a viewpoint of trying to perceive something that communicated something else to me (emotion, delight, repugnance, fantasy, symbolism, etc., etc.). I could not respond to any of those or any other feelings, although I tried to understand the image. Although I found it intriguing, it did not beckon me to further understand it. However, when you subsequently mentioned that it is a part of the ceiling of the German government assembly I can understand (perhaps) your connection with the architecture and place. It is no doubt symbolic of the State and the modern Germany and has reflected thesounds of many discussions and debates within it. Like Simon says, we need to live with an image for some time to fully explore all its meaning. That may well be the case here. Some of the paintings I love most are those on my walls that are abstract and more difficult to appreciate at one go, or those with a mystery or complexity (darkness, multiple facets, or visual incongruities despite an overall simple form) that make my return to them a frequent activity. If I was to place an interesting architectural shot of the new AGO in Toronto, or Lepage's transformed fire engine house-studio for Ex Machina in Quebec, I may well have considerable difficulty in transmitting the non-visual currents in the image to others. This may be the case with my perception of your posted image, which I trust I honestly commented.
    (I do like the two French scenes you subsequently posted, as they create (through their simplicity and interesting light) in my mind a palable desire to taste the undeniable pleasures of the Ile St-Denis and of an unnamed restaurant or Bistro. What am I doing here, instead of being there?).
    My use of the word "technical" was meant not as much in terms of exposure and focus or perspective, but in the use of the practical photographic approaches we employ, such as lighting effects, balances of masses and colour, form, composition, angle of view, texture, etc., that is, the elements of the type that Fred mentioned above when discussing Julie's image. Others may not refer to these as "technical", but it suits me as a term in contrasting or separating those technical aspects or qualities from "what the image says". A different analysis.
    When I think I understand an image that interests me, it is usually from the feeling I obtain from it, it's "whole", rather than aestheic, compositional, lighting, or other "technical" aspects. That is why I am so concerned with the mental approaches of the photographer to his subject and how that influences the end result in the image (is it imbued with a feeling or appreciation other than the visual aesthetic?). It is the feeling we bring away from the experience of the image, and not so much a perception of what are its building blocks, that we might discuss to advantage.
    How many photographs really affect us in that manner? That critique is what I would also like to have, or not, as feedback from viewers, if I was to put up an image for critique.
     
  77. What we look for is some kind of argument on why we, each of us individually, like or dislike a photo​
    This I can absolutely agree and sympathise with. I enjoy discussing, arguing, thinking about the photos as much as anyone else. It's part of trying to understand it.
    and why we find it good or bad or, and mostly, anything in between​
    and I can also sympathise with this. In the end, we'll make some kind of judgement on it.
    But I think that is different from trying to come up with guidelines or trying to define in advance what is good or what is bad. If we applied the same to, say philosophers, can we define in advance which philosophical theories are good and which are bad? Or do we want philosophers to surprise us with a view of life that we have never thought of before?
    To a certain degree a photo cannot travel with explanations. It needs to live its own life and be "judged" by others, the viewers, according to what it can transmit by its inherent qualities. It is those qualities, or lack of the same, that we especially should concentrate on I would think​
    And to me this is a perfect example of why it is bad to try to define what is good and what is bad. Why can't a photo travel without explanations? If I see a photo of a man lying down, I may look at it in a different way if I know that the man in the picture is the photographer's father, and that it is a photo of the moment that he died. Is that photo a bad photo if it needs that bit of information to travel with it to attain its full impact? I think it is rules like this ("to be a good photo, we need to be able to look at the photo and judge it without any written information" the picture needs to be able to travel without words) that illustrates the problem of trying to define in advance how we judge.
    We should devote all our efforts to trying to understand the pictures, and debating them, making judgements using all our ciritical faculties, not analysing what the rules are according to which we should judge.
     
  78. The feelings I get when viewing a photo may come from subject matter alone but more often come from what I see beyond the particular subject matter, the way the subject matter looks, the way it's presented. I don't need to keep it free of descriptions. I am free to get an immediate and perhaps long-lasting gut feeling and then use both my intellect and knowledge of photographic history to gain some perspective on it. For me, it's like patting my head and rubbing my tummy at the same time . . . not all that difficult. As a craftsman, I do well to analyze (especially in a learning environment like PN) why I feel the way I do or respond the way I do. When I'm at a gallery, I may have a very different experience. I don't find it necessary to imagine what the photographer was feeling, though I sometimes might. I mostly look and respond to what I see. The technical, for me -- whether it be lighting, composition, focus, paper printed on, frame used, height the photo is hung at -- is not a separate matter from aesthetics. Aesthetics are transmitted via technicals. The aesthetic, for me, is a combination of emotional and technical matters.
     
  79. a whole lot of superlatives have been used here and still no answer. Of course there is no answer. At least you came to the right forum Luca because after all, philosophy essentially deals with unanswerable questions ;-)
    If there was an answer we would all be better, though fairly predictable, photographers.
    "Photo's should not be analysed" Why not? We all do it and with good reason to boot. Analysis is based on context and reference and without those no coherent opinion is possible.
    Jon Wilbrecht mentioned Terry Barret's book which is indeed a good starting point. At least it offers a reference of sorts.
    Analysing, evaluating, reviewing (or whatever you want to call it) photos is based on a few criteria which can and will differ individually. But in the end it's all about skill because, and make no mistake about it, it is a skill just as photography is a skill.
    All we as photographers can hope for is that the twodimensional image we produce does transcend something beyond a mere representation. Isn'that what we strive for? Isn't that what we look for in other peoples work? Therefore the only important reference is your own.
    Still, I think I know where you're coming from Luca and it's true that a lot of junk is indeed intellectualised and being "sold" as something other than the junk it really is,
     
  80. Ton,
    "Photo's should not be analysed" Why not? We all do it and with good reason to boot. Analysis is based on context and reference and without those no coherent opinion is possible.
    Jon Wilbrecht mentioned Terry Barret's book which is indeed a good starting point. At least it offers a reference of sorts.​
    I believe it's all about the use of words.
    The word analysis was used by me in the sense that I don't believe in an approach that takes a photo apart looking at its single elements and features.
    This would be a literal understanding of the term.
    In a broader sense I agree that viewing a photo means understanding and maybe interpreting the interplay of the single elements of a photo, appealing to senses and emotions. This is analysis, too. And this type of analysis is perfectly suitable for me.
    However I do not agree with you, Ton, when you say that this is an unanswerable questions. This thread provided a lot of answers, at least to the meaning of "good". Of course a general answer to the question, applicable to all photos, is not realistic and I knew that. But we received a lot of interesting input to the issue of photo judgement.
     
  81. Responding to Simon, Anders and Fred's exchange about the role of the picture's maker to/with the viewer, I tend to agree with Anders but I think an interesting contrasting view is offered in the following quotes from experimental filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha:
    "... in the context of "alternative," "experimental" films, to know or not to know whom you are making a film for can both leave you trapped in a form of escapism: you declare that you don't care about audience; you are simply content with the circulation of your work among friends and a number of marginalized workers like yourself; and you continue to protect yourself by remaining safely within identified limits. Whereas I think each film one makes is a bottle thrown into the sea. The fact that you always work on the very limits of the known and unknown audiences, you are bound to modify these limits whose demarcation changes each time and remains unpredictable to you. This is the context in which I said that the filmmaker is responsible for building his or her audience.
    "So of importance today, is to make a film in which the viewer -- whether visually present or not -- is inscribed in the way the film is scripted and shot. Through a number of creative strategies, this process is made visible and audible to the audience who is thus solicited to interact and to retrace it in viewing the film. Anybody can make Reassemblage [one of Trinh's films] for example. The part that cannot be imitated, taught, or repeated is the relationship one develops with the tools that define one's activities and oneself as filmmaker. That part is irreducible and unique to each worker, but the part that could be opened up to the viewer is the "unsutured" process of meaning production. ..."
    "... Once your film is released you may have to travel with it and the direct contact you have with the public does impact the way you'll be making your next film. Not at all in the sense that you serve the needs of the audience, which is what the mainstream has always claimed to do, but rather in the sense of a mutual challenge: you challenge each other in your assumptions and expectations. So for example, the fact that a number of viewers react negatively to certain choices you have made or to the direction you have taken does not necessarily lead you to renounce them for the next time. On the contrary, precisely because of such reactions you may want to persist and come back to them yet in different ways."
    "... For me, interacting with the viewers of our films is part of independent filmmaking. The more acutely we feel the changes in our audiences, the more it demands from us as filmmakers."​
     
  82. I'm very late to the party, but some crumbs are left on the table!
    I don't believe in an approach that takes a photo apart looking at its single elements and features.​
    Well, yes and no for me. It's not so much the taking apart that is wrong in my view (quite the opposite), but it's the risk of not being able to put it back together. But identifying the seperate elements, seeing how they interact with one another and how one element may catch the eye more than another are the types of exercises that (in my belief) are making me a better photographer. The insights that come from these "torn apart" photos are the chunks of information I take with me behind a viewfinder again.
    As we're all photographers here, I think for all of us working on critiques, formulating them, describing the taste as well as a "use of generic goodness" is, most of all, a learning experience. So, any approach that works for you individually (for getting grips with what works and doesn't work for you), is valid, good and useful.
    As for the generic goodness; I think most of it boils down to taste. Fred's well-written critique above (I came no further then: "what am I looking at?"), for me, most of it boils down to taste still. Noting a technique being used would be generic goodness. To say it's used well, or to good effect or anything similar, is already subjective.
    But among those techniques, there are quite some seemingly subjective tricks, which may not be that subjective at all. Colour theories, generic perceptions of light, contrast, focus and out of focus, and some more things are well researched matters. It can still be a matter of taste, but instinct reactions play a significant role too. Isn't that explaining already a large portion of the "good"?
     
  83. This thread provided a lot of answers, at least to the meaning of "good".​
    I don't read it that way myself Luca. As far as I can see it generated a lot of answers about peoples individual criteria to what they deem to be good which was as predictable as it is valid. At best it only tells us something about peoples individual interpretation of the meaning of good.
    As far as analysis is concerned both peoples background and individual perception are important. One could argue that on its most basic level analysis reverts to like/dislike. Personally I don't think that it is the negative it sometimes is made out to be. Sure one would expect a more indepth analysis/evaluation/review from a curator than from someone who's just starting out but I think both are equally worthwhile and valuable.
    On another note there is a lot of work that I get to see that I think is good (for a variety of reasons) but which I don't particularly like. On the other hand there is also work that I like but don't think is especially good. Nothing new for all of us here I suspect.
    If this thread has indeed come any closer, to whatever degree, to the meaning of good why then is it so damned difficult to evaluate other peoples work, let alone our own. Why then is individual perception the all overriding factor?Why do we sometimes get raving reviews on our work (if we're lucky that is) while on the other hand we f**k up as much if not more?
    Yes Luca, I think it's a unanswerable question.
     
  84. Thanks Julie I did not know Trinh's work but a person that during the Vietnam war studied piano and music composition at the National Conservatory of Music and Theater in Saigon, must be somebody off the common track. She sounds very interesting indeed and the quote you have chosen is bull's eye. Just the small formulation:
    " the part that could be opened up to the viewer is the "unsutured" process of meaning production. .." and not the "the relationship one develops with the tools that define one's activities"​
    She is fully right in her formulation on the relationship between the audience and her and its impact on what she does next in her film productions. It is because of this that I would concentrate on the "consumption" of photos more than on the "production" - if it can be formulated like that.
     
  85. Arthur thanks for your comments on the photo I uploaded. You mention that you understand it better now that you know were its origin is to be found (after confronting a waiting line to visit the place worse than in any airport on strike!). You write:
    It is no doubt symbolic of the State and the modern Germany and has reflected thesounds of many discussions and debates within it.​
    Not for me. For others and especially maybe Germans you might be right, but I see it in totally abstract terms and like as mentions what I see (especially in big format I must confess). For me, there is nothing to gain from "understanding" this photo in context terms. No, what matters in my eyes is the dynamic force between forms (sharp straight lines, curves, patterns etc), lights and the role of the deep black and the general composition and framing (nothing outside the frame seems to be able to add to the scene). For me it is violent and disturbing and not necessarily a good life companion but it is also, still in my eyes, a composition in some sort of (mental?) balance. This is not how I shot the photo. It is how I see it as viewer.
     
  86. Ton - "One could argue that on its most basic level analysis reverts to like/dislike. Personally I don't think that it is the negative it sometimes is made out to be."
    Like/dislike is not analysis. It is tastemongering. Someone who's never taken a photograph can do that. Is it negative? Only in the minds of people caught up in the good/bad dichotomy. It is very simplistic, and there's a lot more to it, of course.
    TM - "Sure one would expect a more indepth analysis/evaluation/review from a curator than from someone who's just starting out but I think both are equally worthwhile and valuable."
    All talents being equal (which is a big qualifier), the guy that frames pictures 8 hrs a day does it better than you. The printer that's put in his 10,000 hrs (while you, of course, were putting in your 10,000 hrs of shooting) prints better than you can. The critic/academic who has put in his 10K hrs can do that better than you, too. However, taking the context of the experience of the reviewers into account, both reviews are equally valid.
     
  87. I analyze photographs to help me (learn to) see.
    Talking about a "well-used" technique isn't, in my mind, a matter of taste. "Good" is a judgment, though it is a different sort of judgment than "I like." Just noting techniques wouldn't, in my mind, describe "goodness". Goodness lies beyond such neutrality. Judging something good requires more of a commitment than simply establishing the technique used. I can judge someone to have used a technique well and thereby say they have a good sense of how to accomplish certain looks . . . and still not like what they've accomplished.
    There are many reasons to analyze and not all analyses are equal any more than all photos are equal. On that point, I think Luis nailed it. I may analyze according to what I think the photographer was feeling, what I as viewer am feeling, etc. Ultimately, though, I get the most out of analyzing what I see and how what I see can be put in terms of photographing. Looking is looking, of course, but looking at photographs (and producing them) is different from looking at the world. Analyzing some of those differences seems to me essential in honing the craft of making photographs.
     
  88. About analysis.
    In the end we (viewers) are shown only a small rectangle. All the rest - and it's much, much more that what presented in the small rectangle - we can only imagine.
    Julie, Fred stick to the emotional and sensorial reaction caused by a photo.
    And that's what counts for me too.
    When I rejected "analysis" I was thinking of the singling out of elements, some according to some aesthetic rules, others relating to different features.
    Regardless of the way it's analysed, the visual message of a photo has to be considered in its entirety, in my opinion.
     
  89. Fred if you permit (I'm not always sure!) I think your formulation above pinpoints one of the question we have discussed earlier in the thread. You write
    I may analyze according to what I think the photographer was feeling, what I as viewer am feeling, etc. Ultimately, I generally get the most out of analyzing what I see and how what I see can be put in terms of photographing. Looking is looking, of course, but looking at photographs (and producing them) is different from looking at the world.​
    I believe that your analysis of "what the photographer was feeling" is of little interest to us as photographers if you do not immediately go further and tell not only how you as viewer feel but how these feelings can be traced back "in terms of photographing" - not in general, but concretely as it is done in the photo you are viewing. This is where we learn something from each other, as photographers. I would for example learn what photographic means to use if I wish to produce feelings in the head of Fred. If such means start being detected by several people I might have come nearer to mastering means in general when shooting photographs. "Means" are here of course: themes, compositions, symbols, light contrast, lines, DOF, sharpness, blur etc etc.
    Your last sentence above is more tricky. First part is self obvious, but that "looking at photographs is different from looking at the world", I'm not at all sure. That looking is different from living in the world should never be forgotten, but for me at least when I carry a camera I look at the world as a photographer. I see scenes, scenarios and frames. Looking at photos is just constrained by the fact that you do not see what is outside the frame. Apart from that the activity of "seeing" is the same.
     
  90. Anders, not for me. The camera doesn't just eliminate what's outside the frame. It can focus what's in the frame differently, just framing what's framed changes it, it emphasize elements differently, relates them to each other drastically differently in terms of perceived scale, even color and shape. When I am photographing with intention, I have the photograph in mind at least to some extent, even if I can't fully pre-visualize it. Looking with an eye toward that photograph is, for me, seeing differently than when I am just looking around me. Looking at someone as the subject of a portrait is different for me than looking at them when I'm off on a walk with them or in the midst of a discussion with them. The photograph is not the same as the photographed, and I don't expect the same things in visual terms from the world around me as I do from my own or others' photographing or photographs.
     
  91. Fred,
    I agree on framing.
    Increasingly I try to visualise my "frame" not using the camera actually.
    Funny enough I walk around framing situations virtually. Even if I don't have a camera with me.
    That's the craft part of photography.
     
  92. "Why (when) is a photo "good""
    I want to give my honest answer.
    My answer is:
    I do not know.
     
  93. Timing. Let's keep it on that.
     
  94. Luca
    Very good post, I share the same feelings. Sorry for skipping the whole discussion above but my English is to basic and slow to be able to catch up. I hope somebody here will be able to give you a clear answer but I doubt it. I will try to write my feelings, hoping not to make my ideas (and yours) even more confused than they already are. Here we go.
    We do actually live in the magic world of relativism and I believe we must talk about perceptivity (insight), sensitiveness and intelligence if we want to be able to define what's good and what's bad. Whatever answer we'll come up to, it will be always very subjective. Starting from the aesthetic values that we learn growing up in one or another society, we must use our intelligence, senses and intuitive ability to go beyond just the values themselves. You did that in commenting one of my photos (below) and you perfectly understood the sense of that shot (I encourage the readers to check out that comment, it's very interesting). There, we connected and we shared the same thoughts getting to a common understanding of certain aesthetic and philosophical values.
    Having said that, I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to define what's good or bad. It's so subjective anyways (Glenn Gould hated Mozart). Of course, the technical quality of a photograph can be determined by evaluating data with specific knowledge. However, the difference between a bad shot and a decent one can be determined by using mere instinct; the aesthetic values that have been imprinted on our subconscious speak to us. If you listen to a bad violinist doing his best and to a good one just strumming on his fiddle, you'll hear the difference. If you watch a real painter doing abstract and a wanna-be one doing portrait, you will realize that the first one can really do a portrait and the second one can't (if you know what I mean).
    [​IMG]
     
  95. Hi Antonio,
    true!
    Somewhere here in the "philosophy" forum somebody wrote (apologise my imperfect quotation) that photography is so diffused and that everybody can produce a photograph.
    The challenge is to understand what is conscious in a photo and what not.
    Anybody can take a painter's canvas and produce cuts in it. Or burn it with a welding flame. But that does not mean that they become Alberto Burri out of a sudden.
    Anybody can photograph the wheels of a truck trailer, but this does not make a William Eggleston of them.
     
  96. Exactly. That's why it is very important to follow our instincts. Sometime we force ourselves to find a style or follow a specific path in order to reach a goal but I believe it is better to let it be. Panta rei, the ancient Greeks used to say, that means everything flows. I guess it's important what's good for us, not for others. Let others express their opinion on your work.
     
  97. Antonio,
    your words resound a reflections going on these days.
    In fact it has a very practical implication: I have nearly completed a photo book on my late father-in-law (the one with a character you noticed in my photo.net portfolio).
    About 40 photos of the ones which strike me most.
    But.
    But I'm emotionally involved, since I knew him quite well. To what extent should I give way to my "bias". Should I ask somebody not "involved" to do the final editing?
    There are very many different ways to look at a photo. There are many different features to highlight.
    Take this photo, for example.
    The object is wonderful (the Jaguar E-Type, a piece of modern design). I forgot that placing the main subject in the dead centre of the photo does not always make it interesting. :)
    Ok. I realised that there was the woman looking at the car, so I changed the crop, placing the car on one side to emphasise the woman.
    But: the room has delicate hues. The blue from the outside sky, the yellow from the indoor lighting and some red from other rooms.
    There are many ways to look at a photo. Not all are immediate and some require external input to come up.
     
  98. A good photograph in my opinion is one that "means" something to the people who are not in it other than the photographer. It either conveys a message to the viewer or reminds them of their own experience usually in a positive way ie they have some " empathy " to its message.
     
  99. David Joseph,
    I agree.
    A good photo cannot be just based on the empathy its author has with it.
    Therefore I think that there needs to be some "external" input for photo editing.
     
  100. Like/dislike is not analysis​
    sorry for my belated reaction Luis but that's not what I said
     
  101. Ton, *I* said that in reply to you. Note I used quotation marks properly to differentiate between what you said and what I said. The quote is:
    "Ton - "One could argue that on its most basic level analysis reverts to like/dislike. Personally I don't think that it is the negative it sometimes is made out to be."<--- End quotation mark
    My Reply ----> Like/dislike is not analysis. It is tastemongering. Someone who's never taken a photograph can do that. Is it negative? Only in the minds of people caught up in the good/bad dichotomy. It is very simplistic, and there's a lot more to it, of course.
     
  102. It is very simplistic, and there's a lot more to it, of course​
    of course Luis but sometimes using a simplification helps in making a point.
     
  103. Ton - "...sometimes using a simplification helps in making a point."
    That's true. What point does like/dislike help to make when it comes to photographs? A quick, unfounded opinion?
     
  104. now you're merely turning cynical. The point it I note a sentiment quite often that like/dislike is looked upon as not relevant or something easily dismissed while I think that most people for a large part judge a photo on that basis, at least for a major part and therefore it's as relevant as it is valid.
     
  105. Like/dislike has a value, definitely!
    We should not forget that photos appeal to our senses and emotions in first instance. For example: being pushed to open a thumbnail is a matter of curiosity, which is something in the like/dislike realm.
    The real problem comes up when the personal like/dislike is not sufficient. In the end the like/dislike is not only subjective. It's marked by a lot of internal and external emotional, rational and experience features of our own.
    Luis: like/dislike might not be unfounded at all. It might be very founded if the viewer is emotionally sensitive, conscious about his senses and experienced in looking at photos.
    PS: experience is intended in a broad sense: not only in the specific area of photography and imaging.
     
  106. Luca, I agree that like/dislike has value. And I say this even though I would ask the same question as Luis about it being (or it seeming to be) a quick, unfounded opinion. Lately, I've noticed myself underplaying taste, perhaps more as a reaction to the devotion others seem to give it ("it's all subjective" kind of stuff). For me, curiosity may or may not begin in the like/dislike realm but usually goes beyond it. I'm as likely to be curious about photos I don't like, and open thumbnails I don't like, as I am about those I do. Therefore, it seems like something other than taste is motivating my curiosity.
    I saw an incredible play on Broadway yesterday called "Fela", an African musical that made me wonder about a lot of things, especially the ease with which sexuality was incorporated into rhythms and dance. Though I liked and was fascinated by the entire thing, there was a bit of production right at the climax of the second act that I really disliked and I have found myself the most curious about that as a choice the director and designers made. If I had the opportunity, that would be the thing I would first ask them about. Though I disliked it, I think my curiosity is born out of wonder, not taste.
    That having been said, there is something very elemental (not elementary) about taste. It does seem to come from the gut and be immediate (even though I know there may be traceable reasons for it and it can be honed, developed, and even learned). When people ask me why I don't like tomatoes (and they are usually horrified by that!), I can't give an answer, let alone a rational one. There's something very raw about that, and very compelling. So, I certainly wouldn't want to dismiss it.
     
  107. You can't account for taste.
     
  108. Alan,
    it's not only taste.
    Don't forget that also taste benefits from experience and education.
    Who would eat snails right away? Education tells us that they could be nice food and experience confirms this.
    Taste is developed and educated.
     
  109. Ton, Luca, Fred: I did not say that like/dislike was not valid -- or irrelevant. I did say it was taste-mongering, not analysis. I was not cynical in the slightest about asking: "What point does like/dislike help to make when it comes to photographs? A quick, unfounded opinion?"
    Luca, in retrospect, I'll concede that, as you so carefully put it, "it might" have a foundation, although in my experience, when I ask someone in the US why they like/dislike a work of art, most often, it is: "I just do", a shrug, or something in their personal experience: "Looks like my hometown", "reminds me of my childhood", "that's my favorite color", "it's so pretty", "we vacationed there", "I had a boat like that", etc. Aesthetic concerns are seldom voiced. Taste may be influenced by experience and education, but if nothing else is said, how can we know that?
    Imagine I look at one of your pictures, and say "I don't like it". What do you make of that? How useful is it to you (or the viewer, for that matter?). While better and far more valuable than silence, a yawn or belch, it's a meager human exchange. Just a few bits of information.
    A lot of people feel they are doing something for the photographer by giving them a pat on the head. Lovely gesture, but...
     
  110. Luis, I understood that. I did not at all think you were being cynical. I thought we were exactly on the same page.
    As for pats on the head, I'll take them (though I want and expect more from some). To me, a pat on the head means "I noticed." That's way cool (as my younger family members, in whose presence I've been for a week or so, would say).
     
  111. Thanks for clarifying, Fred. The pats, while well-meaning/loving, and instantly gratifying, can be a double-edged sword, unless the recipient keeps things in perspective. I know people who've taken the pats very seriously, mistaking them for informed commentary, resulting in a nonsensical reinforcement schedule that lead up to them asking me: "How come everyone says my work is great, but I'm hardly selling anything?".
    Anyone in the creative field needs at least one straight-shooter in their inner circle. It's like the guy the Roman Emperors had standing behind them on triumphant parades to prevent death by hubris.
     
  112. Luis,
    good clarification. I get the relationship between "I like/dislike" and a simple pat on the head (shoulder).
    It's not a typical US attitude: in Latin countries I notice "mate-patting-on-the-head".
    The ancient Romans got it, but probably their culture was one of the more pragmatic, before the decline of the Roman empire, of course. :)
    Anyone in the creative field needs at least one straight-shooter in their inner circle.​
    Perfect, that's what I would be looking for - seriously!
    I just have some difficulties to find one
     
  113. Luca: Actually we don't disagree. We're just coming at it from different angles. My quote "You can't account for taste" frankly was presented in the negative. Did you ever see a guy looking at his new girlfriend, you can see his heart pumping right through his shirt, his eyes are glazed over in love, and you see the ugliest girl you've seen since last winter? So you say to yourself under your breath, "You can't account for taste." Or words to that effect.
    That's what I meant.
     
  114. Alan, ok.
    But each of us know "when a girl is beautiful" also quite independently from our personal tastes.
    So there must be a mixture of general and personal qualities we see in a photo.
    That was what the thread should have been about.
    Do we come to the conclusion that "all girls are beautiful"?
     
  115. A photo is often good because it gives you a good kick in the balls. The same can't be said for girls.
    Ugliness in a photo can be good. Not in girls, unless you're into that kind of thing of course.
    Girls have breasts. Photos only have them sometimes.
    Generally, I reckon they're two completely different things.
     
  116. Luca, Well, my point was all girls are pretty to someone. But that doesn't mean that all girls are pretty to everyone. That's the only point I was making. Likewise a certain photo may be attractive to someone, if only to the person who took the photo or his mother. But I agree that, there are certain qualities in photos and women that are innately attractive to us. I recall a survey they did in all parts of the world and through different cultures. They found that certain qualities, such as ratio of waist to hips to breasts made woman who had the right dimensions attractive to all men regardless of where they were from.
    Likewise I believe with photos. Who doesn't like a beautiful sunset? If you look at the sunset pictures posted at this site or others, they are posted by photographers in all parts of the world. Even "badly" composed sunset pictures look good if the colors are vibrantly red and orange. Surprise pictures or funny pictures of someone slipping let's say, we keep looking at like we would slow down at a car accident. The thing is that most people also instinctively know what looks good and bad. If you look at the contests you can often say that the top few were top because they deserved it. We could disagree who might be first second or third, but we would agree that those three were really good. And you don't have to be a teacher of photography to know that.
     
  117. Who doesn't like a beautiful sunset? If you look at the sunset pictures posted at this site or others, they are posted by photographers in all parts of the world. Even "badly" composed sunset pictures look good if the colors are vibrantly red and orange.​
    I dislike most sunset pictures. I can't for the moment think of one that I like.
    I recall a survey they did in all parts of the world and through different cultures. They found that certain qualities, such as ratio of waist to hips to breasts made woman who had the right dimensions attractive to all men regardless of where they were from. Likewise I believe with photos​
    It illustrates the fallacies of comparing photographs with beautiful women. We are hardwired genetically to go for attractive women, in order to promote reproduction and the propagation of the species. With a photo there is no reason why it should make us want to shag it, so there aren't the same 'rules' about what is good and what isn't. Scientists have demonstrated (incidentally, research carriedout by a friend of ours) that women with big breasts and narrow waists are more likely to be reproductive. So there are sound reasons for finding girls with big bazookas attractive. The same doesn't apply to photographs, and most of the 'rules' that people dream up for photos (rule of thirds etc.) are more or less nonsense, attempting to simplify or create order around something that shouldn't be simplified or ordered.
     
  118. It illustrates the fallacies of comparing photographs with beautiful women. We are hardwired genetically to go for attractive women, in order to promote reproduction and the propagation of the species. With a photo there is no reason why it should make us want to shag it, so there aren't the same 'rules' about what is good and what isn't.​
    Simon: I think you're discounting DNA too much when it comes to pictures. I looked through you gallery and I really liked your pictures. But how can that be? You're from Scotland and I'm from The Bronx. You never played stickball and I never wore a kilt.
    Yet, your photo of the children touchiong the penguins through the glass delightfully surprised me as I'm sure it did you when you took it and smiled when you looked at the image you just created. Likewise the couple with the two light fixtures about equally offset from where they were standing. You liked those fixtures enough to include them equidistant in your picture. And I like them enough to comment that I liked it. Why were we attractive to the same image? We're 3000 miles apart. In thinking about it, the fixtures are a surprise, an offbeat counterpoint to flesh and blood people. It stops you to look at the whole picture. That's DNA. That's the women's figure all over again, just another part of the human DNA.
     
  119. "We are hardwired genetically to go for attractive women"
    Nope!
     
  120. I'm glad that you liked them, and willing to acknowledge that our reaction to people in photos may be connected with our hormones, or DNA, or whether they look scary or not (defensive instinct) etc. Especially, say, an erotic photo. But think that extending it to our reaction to lamposts is stretching it a bit! Scientists can just about prove that we reacts to breasts and bottoms because of our reproductive instinct, but extending that to explaining our visual reaction to a picture of a lamp is, I think, taking DNA theory a bit too far!
    Maybe one day we'll be able to explain whether a photos good or not by referring to our DNA, but I think it's a loooooong way off!
     
  121. There's some interesting work being done which suggests adaptive and reproductive evolutionary benefits to the fact that some men DON'T react to women's breasts and bottoms the way you guys do. If you're interested, read especially the latter few sections of the article:
    http://www.adherents.com/misc/paradoxEvolution.html
     
  122. Alan, Simon, Fred,
    Metaphors are difficult, very difficult!
    The results of this posts are peculiar:
    1. most seem to know when a photo is good;
    2. there is a general agreement on the difference between "I like" and "it's good" but both approaches seem to be heavily related;
    3. each of us seems to agree that photos are made of innumerable elements (visual elements) and that not all (or only few) of these can be controlled;
    4. Nobody could really say "why (when) a photo is good".
    Alan,
    your photo-human being metaphor (I would not consider just women) works only as a representation of complexity. But human beings appeal to all senses.
    Photos do not, they are created for the sight.
    And I do not equal "good" to "pleasing": as Simon says, photos can be a kick in the balls, they can please.
    But they can also be boring.
    That's the reaction I have in front of the majority of pictures I see.
    Simon,
    try these photos. Maybe a bit repetitive, but you might find one you like!
    Or these others.
    :)
     
  123. Simon, I like women but personally I find them attractive when they intrigue me, from every point of view. It could be the way they laugh, their intelligence combined with beautiful eyes and a nice butt, their hair, the sharpness or sensitivity of their thoughts, their smell... Or a combination of all these things. Definitely, I don't find them attractive for their "bazookas". Same with photos.
     
  124. Simon,
    try these photos. Maybe a bit repetitive, but you might find one you like!
    Or these others.​
    Those really made me feel queasy, definitely not my definition of good photography. I think the second one did have good photos tucked away in there, but I couldn't bear to look for long enough to find them. Apologies to the photographers, but it's not my thing.
    The results of this posts are peculiar:
    1. most seem to know when a photo is good;
    2. there is a general agreement on the difference between "I like" and "it's good" but both approaches seem to be heavily related;
    3. each of us seems to agree that photos are made of innumerable elements (visual elements) and that not all (or only few) of these can be controlled;
    4. Nobody could really say "why (when) a photo is good".
    Which is why this kind of post, for me, is not useful, because it tells me nothing, while making me think that I have addressed the question. For me an image is good if (and I've probably forgotten something vital, but off the top of my head):
    • it has some kind of meaning; this could be irony, a clever observation about humans and the way we live, a philosophical observation, a powerful emotion that is not trite and cliched, telling me something that I have never thought before.
    • it is original, it is showing me a visual message, feeling or effect that I have not encountered before.
    • it is visually powerful (and preferable in an original way, though that is not essential if the first couple of points are fulfilled);
    • it is honest - it tells me something about the photographer that is candid and/or heartfelt, preferably something that is not obvious - that I have not thought of before;
    • it looks at something that you walk past everyday in a new way;
    • does the photo have some historical or symbolic importance;
    • it impresses me in some other way, or appeals to me in an intuitive way that I can't quite put my finger on
    The last bullet point is the vaguest but also the most important. Because I shouldn't refer to a list of bullet points in working out whether I like something - ultimately my intuition is far more powerful than we think, we should try to tap into it and develop it and trust it.
    Damn, now I tried to define what is good, which I didn't want to do!
     
  125. It could be the way they laugh, their intelligence combined with beautiful eyes and a nice butt, their hair, the sharpness or sensitivity of their thoughts, their smell... Or a combination of all these things.​
    Yes, I say the same after a few drinks. But really it's the bazookas ;)
     
    • it has some kind of meaning; this could be irony, a clever observation about humans and the way we live, a philosophical observation, a powerful emotion that is not trite and cliched, telling me something that I have never thought before.
    • it is original, it is showing me a visual message, feeling or effect that I have not encountered before.
    • it is visually powerful (and preferable in an original way, though that is not essential if the first couple of points are fulfilled).
    • it is honest - it tells me something about the photographer that is candid and/or heartfelt, preferably something that is not obvious - that I have not thought of before.
    • it looks at something that you walk past everyday in a new way.
    • does the photo have some historical or symbolic importance.
    • it impresses me in some other way, or appeals to me in an intuitive way that I can't quite put my finger on.
    Simon: Those are all very good reasons. Let me add other things about good photos that are also in there:
    • beauty - prettiness and color just for the sake of it such as pretty landscape.
    • escape - when I sit at my desk grinding away and look up at an Hawaiian sunset, I can escape for a moment from life's mundane and dreary and monotony.
    • nostalgia - memory of things past that have happened whether a picture of our youth, our child when he or she was small or a wedding ceremony.
    • pride - how many people post a picture that they made that everyone else thinks is just awful but it's theirs? And they think it's great, nevermind what anyone else thinks, screw them! It's mine!
    • love - You look at at a picture of someone who you love and ... well what can I say?
    Probably the best photos are personal where the photograph has meaning and gives joy only to the photographer.
     
    • beauty - prettiness and color just for the sake of it such as pretty landscape.
    • escape - when I sit at my desk grinding away and look up at an Hawaiian sunset, I can escape for a moment from life's mundane and dreary and monotony.
    Don't get me wrong, I love sunsets, I just don't like looking at photos of them. I can sometimes appreciate pictorialist photos too, but I absolutely detest and despise anything that reminds me of the 'camera club' aesthetic (you know, oversaturated landscapes, milky water, Robins sitting on frosted twigs). For me that kind of thing is a kind of insult to photography that I believe in and feel passionate about, because quite a lot of the general public think it is good to copy that kind of junk, and this kind of visual illiteracy and love of kitsch means that much more valuable things don't get attention (or funding). Amateur photography magazines are probably the most to blame for this.
    So for me, the words "prettiness and color just for the sake of it such as pretty landscape" pretty much summarise all the very worst and most horrible about widely held sensibilities about photography.
    Which I suppose, brings us back to the fact that what is good and bad is a personal judgement according to ones own preferences and moral code. Which is the way it should be perhaps.
     
  126. Luca, those were technically sound illustrations of dramatic landscapes, and little more. The photographers seem distanced from their subjects.
    Sunset pictures? I'm with Simon.
    To the inventory list for photographs (with which I am generally in disagreement), I'd like to add: intelligence.
    DNA? Thanks to what is commonly referred to as the Great Narrowing and contrary to popular belief, humans have very little diversity in their DNA, which probably explains Komar and Melamid's findings.
     
  127. Discounting "prettiness" as a reason millions of people think a photo is "good" seems rather elitist to me. Does this mean the people who like color photos are know nothing aesthetics because they think color more attractive than the "professional" and "distinctive" texture and form of B&W? Pretty soon you'll get down to B/W photos that are off center, out of focus, etc etc because only "that" represents true photography. Aren't we all better if we understand that everyone is different and should be allowed their interpretation of what's nice to them?
     
  128. Allen, elitism may just be vital and necessary. Plumbers think they know better than the average guy whether a particular plumbing job was done well or not. And they do. Photographers think they know better than the average guy what's a good photograph. And they do. Not all people who use pipes are plumbers and not all people who take pictures are photographers.
    If someone dismisses black and white because they think color is more attractive, without looking a little deeper into what the photograph actually is, they are certainly entitled to their opinion and I'm just as entitled to think their opinion is shallow and ill-considered.
    The fact that some of us recognize the myopia of limiting what is liked or what is good to certain strict guidelines (like I only like color) does not mean we will then impose limits on what is good. My suggesting to someone that they not automatically limit their likes to color photographs is NOT the same as my telling them they should only like black and white photographs.
     
  129. Simon
    I agree with your points about good photography.
    About your last bullet
    • it impresses me in some other way, or appeals to me in an intuitive way that I can't quite put my finger on
    That is exactly what makes me like a woman, not the bazookas.
     
  130. Fred
    Good words. There are a lot of professional musicians that don't quite understand music (in my orchestra I know many...).
    I believe each photo has its own color and there isn't enough space for much interpretation. You get it right or you don't.
     
  131. Fred: I was describing a "good" photo from the standpoint of the average viewer not the photographer. Sure, photographers will understand and appreciate more than the average guy the techniques and difficulty that goes into making a good photo. However, I can look at a house and say that's a really pretty house, I like the way they arranged the rooms, I like the faucets they installed, nice landscaping, etc. without having to be a carpenter or plumber or horticulturist. Do you have to be an autoworker to know the difference in quality between a BMW and a Chevy? (sorry Chevy owners). I was describing from the aesthetic standpoint of the person looking. Even amatuers and non-photographers can instinctively pick a good photo. For the most part anyway.
     
  132. photographers will understand and appreciate more than the average guy the techniques and difficulty that goes into making a good photo​
    With a good photo, techniques are, or should be, unimportant. It is given that to achieve the photo, the creator will have had to overcome whatever was necessary to do so. Otherwise what you have is not a good photo, but a good demonstration of a technique.
    Shakespeare was good not because he could use an iambic pentameter and made it rhyme nicely. That may be hard at times, but it was just a technique. We can admire his use of technique, but it's not what made him great. It was the power and originality of his writing, the fact that it spoke honestly and straightforwardly of human emotions, the fact that it took his audience and twisted them around his finger to make them weep or laugh, or perhaps even experience subtle new emotions they didn't even know existed.
    Photos should be a bit like that. If they make you admire the technique of the photographer, that's a sign that they are not good photos.
    So in that sense, the general public, and an educated viewer have a level playing field. The educated viewer however is likely to be quicker at spotting a cheap trick that has been done a thousand times before and has been copied from elsewhere, and getting to the heart of whether the photo has some originality or power.
    For that matter, education and reading can help when it comes to reading and fully appreciating the depths and intricacies of Shakespeare.
     
  133. Simon, I was at the Matisse exhibit at New York's MOMA this week (I'm on vacation here), his work from 1913-1917 where he was leaving the imprint of technique all over his canvases. Some of my favorite photographers on PN make apparent a lot about technique and the plasticity of the photographic medium. (I'd link to them but I'm hesitant to name people as examples in a public forum without asking their permission.)
    I am mindful of the fact that the Greeks had no word for art other than techne, and how important craft is to the expression of that human emotion you talk so passionately about. I agree with what you've said on that side of the coin. I think you are most likely talking about the negative aspect of unconscious wearing of technique on the sleeve or accidentally leaving its marks, which can often just be a mistake. But when a photo has me admiring technique (like a Weston print or the Nan Goldin prints I just saw this week), it is not a sign to me that they are not good photos. I don't think Shakespeare's abilities to craft his meter well was "just" a technique. I think a lot of artists access their emotions precisely through technique. It's the audiences and viewers that usually get more into the emotional aspects because that's what's accessible to them. But for the artists, the best of whom are craftsmen, their hearts and hands are bound together.
    I'm not sure if you meant to imply this in your last statement, but I just want to make sure to add that just as education can help reading and fully appreciating Shakespeare, it can help seeing and fully understanding visual art. We can learn to see.
     
  134. Guys,
    I'm not a fan of sunsets. Nor do I search for sunsets. I did one recently, but just because I liked the colours, and left it as it was.
    Julie somewhere posted:
    From many of Luca's comments, here and elsewhere, it seems to me that he's particularly interested in drama, but starting from a base of presence.​
    • texture (presence)
    • story (drama)
    She hit the nail on the head as regards my photography.
    I just realise that irony is very difficult to bring through in forum threads. But we knew that, didn't we? :). Despite :)!!!!!
     
  135. Simon,
    Damn, now I tried to define what is good, which I didn't want to do!​
    Because you are wrong in your initial statement:
    Which is why this kind of post, for me, is not useful, because it tells me nothing, while making me think that I have addressed the question. For me an image is good if (and I've probably forgotten something vital, but off the top of my head):​
    Human beings have, since their existence, searched for categories. That's what philosophy is about. Posing questions which are impossible (or very difficult) to respond to.
    In the end you yourself seem to have the same need, even if you initially denied it.
    Let's not forget that aesthetics is part of philosophy.
    ________________________________________
    The mainstream way of thinking influences aesthetics in a determining way.
    The "golden ratio" (at the basis of "the rule of thirds" in photography) and the "Canon" were used to judge visual effects, of pictures, statues, photos ... by ancient Greeks. I believe the Romans were much more pragmatic (until the decline of the empire).
    Nowadays "relativism" is much more common in aesthetics and elsewhere.
    However:
    there seem to be people who believe they own the truth about aesthetics.
    More than finding out 'Why (when) a photo is "good"', my intention was to uncover the certainties cast in stone of people who seem to pretend to own the truth about photographic aesthetics. And moreover, the truth about their own photography. :)
    Your list of "good" elements:
    Have you noticed that most of your bullets contain "me" (telling me, showing me).
    Your points reflect my points: when somebody says that a photo is good, the value judgement of this person needs to be considered along with
    • emotional/sensorial perception
    • experience
    • culture and education
    • background
    • his/her recombination capability
    • his/her capability to understand visual innovation.
    Subjectivity before objectivity. But some objectivity is not completely ruled out.
    I simply love Fred's equation of photography with craft.
    And IMO he nails it saying:
    Plumbers think they know better than the average guy whether a particular plumbing job was done well or not. And they do. Photographers think they know better than the average guy what's a good photograph. And they do. Not all people who use pipes are plumbers and not all people who take pictures are photographers.​
    And Antonio strengthens the statement:
    There are a lot of professional musicians that don't quite understand music (in my orchestra I know many...).​
    And lastly, Simon, quoting (sigh!!!) myself (August 15, 11:04 a.m.)
    Anybody can take a painter's canvas and produce cuts in it. Or burn it with a welding flame. But that does not mean that they become Alberto Burri out of a sudden.
    Anybody can photograph the wheels of a truck trailer, but this does not make a William Eggleston of them.​
    (Please, this is not to start a discussion on Burri or Eggleston, they are just examples)
     
  136. The mainstream way of thinking influences aesthetics in a determining way.
    The "golden ratio" (at the basis of "the rule of thirds" in photography) and the "Canon" were used to judge visual effects, of pictures, statues, photos​
    Ah the Rule of Thirds! I did a blog post on it a couple of days ago which is relevant. Coming up with rules to judge what is good and what isn't is deeply damaging.
    I never could understand how the idea came about that the 'rule' was given legitimacy by the Golden Ratio, The golden ratio is a precise mathematical formula that isn't even particularly close to a third. It is used by people like the one I referred to in my blog post to assess photography in the way the person in my blog post does.
    I have a feeling that in a few hundred years, someone will come up with "ten note theory". They will have got hold of a copy of Berg's violin concerto, and will say: "The ancient Europeans believed that to be good, music had to follow twelve note technique. That's a bit too complicated for us, so we'll call it ten note technique - any music that complies with ten note technique is good, music that doesn't - isn't. It's an ancient rule of musical aesthetics, you know'
    I simply love Fred's equation of photography with craft​
    And I on the contrary don't like it at all!
    I wasn't trying to say that good photography can't use good technique, or that we can't admire it. But the technique is very much secondary to the reason why it is good. Matisse is a good example - we admire him for his bold and dynamic compositions, stripped down, the colours, the fact that he is expressing raw emotions, the fact that his paintings reflect something very vital about the zeitgeist - it was a time when beneath the elegant surface of Vienna 1900, savagery and basic ugly human instincts were just below the surface. His painting of savages dancing in a circle pared painting down to its raw elements, created a new kind of dynamic visual look that had never been seen before, and expressed the spirit of a generation, all at one go. The First World War was about to happen, Egon Schiele was showing the base and ugly side of human nature. The Rite of Spring was about to create a savage revolution in music, that also showed this raw savage side of human nature. The world was about to change. Matisse, wasn't just using interesting brush strokes - he was part of this revolution.
    Yes, he used an interesting approach to using his brush to achieve all this. But if our primary reaction to his paintings is 'nice technique' then we've totally missed the point and are in urgent need of a lobotomy.
    So this is what I meant by: if we find ourselves admiring the technique in a photo, it's a sign that it's not a good photo. We can admire the technique in a good photo, but it's not why we like it, it should be waaaay down the list. It's an afterthought - great photographers should use the technique appropriate to achieve what they want to.
    As an aside, it's probably one reason why I'm not a great fan of Ansel Adams. He was a brilliant printer, a superb technician, a great writer who came up with an excellent zone theory, and - a pretty good photographer. But not, for me, a brilliant photographer. His use of craft was more important than his photography. No doubt others will violently disagree with that.
    However:
    there seem to be people who believe they own the truth about aesthetics.​
    I suspect most people think that, including the taxi driver who says 'all art is bullshit'. Maybe everyone does own the truth about aesthetics??
     
  137. Just a minor qualification, Luca. I don't equate art with craft. I said the Greeks did. I talked about art and craft being inseparable in terms of process and in terms of my response as viewer. I was trying to emphasize the role of craft even when it comes to emotion, which many people, viewers especially, don't seem to connect.
     
  138. My post was not about rules.
    Look at my bio and you'll see what I think about rules.
    I never said that a photo should be judged looking at it's technical features.
    I believe exactly the opposite: I talked about
    • emotional/sensorial perception
    • experience
    • culture and education
    • background
    • his/her recombination capability
    • his/her capability to understand visual innovation.
    Saying that photography is like craft does not mean reducing it to mere technical aspects.
    What I noticed is that you, Simon, in a previous post reject the utility of reasoning about aesthetic categories in one sentence and in the immediately following sentence develop judgement criteria.
    In the same vein, you reject the comparison of photography and craft and in the immediately following sentence you recognise the relationship between the visual message of a photo and the technique, even if
    it should be waaaay down the list​
    Nobody here - and I think I can speak for Fred, too - wants to adopt a technique-based approach to photographic judgement. By no means.
    I'm annoyed about this rejecting arguments picking out statements and discussing them completely out of context.
     
  139. Fred,
    maybe I used the term "equation" in the wrong way.
    I intended the relationship as you put it
    I talked about art and craft being inseparable in terms of process and in terms of my response as viewer. I was trying to emphasize the role of craft even when it comes to emotion, which many people, viewers especially, don't seem to connect.​
    And I agree.
    Synthesising unfortunately leads to oversimplifying sometimes.
    Sorry about that.
     
  140. I don't think the rules of thirds or more precisely the golden ratio is an artificial contraption. It provides balance to a photo that becomes pleasing to the brain. It's in our DNA. Before I ever heard of these things I was composing pictures that to me were most pleasing when I composed to those effects. It was subconcious. After I heard of the rule-of-thrids, I looked back at my pictures and noticed that many comported to this. Who learns that sweets are tasty? Our brains are set this way and the mathematical calculations and "golden ratio" explanations came afterwards.
    Of course, not every picture is or should be set this way. But it is a tool to assist especially those just learning. I probably use this most when cropping when I don't get the original shot just right. Because this is the brain, and not learned, amateur and experts can tell a "good" picture from the "bad". Maybe a better word would be more "pleasing" since that's an emotional responce rather than "good" which is a judgment word. Maybe that's where we are getting mixed up. We're comparing "good" with "pleasing". A sunset photo may be pleasing but not good. And a good picture might be aesthetically ugly.
     
  141. Luca, no need to apologize. I knew you got the spirit of my post. Just didn't want to leave the idea dangling that I might think craft and art are equivalent.
    As for quoting and responding, it makes for easy reference to what another said and it's done a lot and I do it myself, though I try to limit it. Not speaking about this thread or anyone here participating, but I think it's a bad habit to get into. Because often responding to a one-liner is playing a game of gotcha. I've seen many times where the spirit of an entire post is quite clear, yet another poster will zero in on one line that may be in some way off or not quite said accurately and just pounce on that one line, rather than addressing the spirit of the post. That always seems unfortunate and is a bad way to establish communication.
     
  142. In the same vein, you reject the comparison of photography and craft and in the immediately following sentence you recognise the relationship between the visual message of a photo and the technique​
    Yes. It's perfectly logical. Photography requires a certain amount of craft to do it. Some photographs require more craft than others. But the amount of skill used in the craft has little to do with whether the photograph is good or not. It has a little bit to do with it, but only a little.
    The problem is, that there's a great tendency for people to admire technique - the craft - without actually thinking about whether a photo is good. This is what you typically see at camera clubs all around the land. People concentrate on technique because that's easy, and means that they can take great photos by applying a formula. You don't need much of an aesthetic sense or experience to be impressed with a snappy technique. Like the guy in my blog. That is why I reject it. It is not 100% wrong, it's only 95% wrong.
    That is why I say that, if you hear everyone praising a photo for its technique, the chances are it's not a good photo.
    I don't know where you see the contradiction in this.
    As for the contradiction in trying to define what is a good photo. A definition is a kind of rule. If you define an elephant, then you refer to that definition to work out whether something is an elephant or not. It becomes a rule.
    I enjoy arguing, discussion, and my point is that you cannot define what a good photo is in advance. So yes, I am joining in the discussion even though I think it is not possible or desirable to define what a good photo is. Rather than providing a definition, I tried to set out some bits of experience that might help (or can equally well be rejected), but the important bit is not to follow them, or to apply them to a photo as a formula, like the rule of thirds - but to use experience, and then reject it, and to take a decision based on intuition. The important point is that these should not be taken as a definition of what is a good photo, they are just a process that you can go through in helping you make your own decision. You may see this as a contradiction, I see it as common sense.
    So my list of criteria for what makes a good photo - the whole point is that they are not in fact a list of criteria. The important point is not to apply them, but to use them, and then reject them. The important bit is the rejection - 'this photo has no power, tells us nothing about the human condition, is not especially original etc. but I really like it anyway'.
     
  143. I don't think the rules of thirds or more precisely the golden ratio is an artificial contraption. It provides balance to a photo that becomes pleasing to the brain. It's in our DNA​
    We will just have to (strongly) disagree about this. Perhaps it's a discussion for another thread, I think it would be too much of a diversion to go into it here, it's quite a big subject in itself.
     
  144. Look at my bio and you'll see what I think about rules​
    Looking at your bio I see:

    There are rules. But sometimes they are there to be broken.​
    I'm sorry, but I really don't like it. It's a trite camera club orthodoxy that I often hear repeated. You hear judges in local camera club competitions all the time "this picture is good because it deliberately breaks the X rule'.
    It would be much, much better to ignore the X rule to begin with, preferably not to know about its supposed existence. Use mind bleach to get rid of it. A picture is not good because it breaks the rule. It is a picture, it should be assessed as a whole by looking at it, really looking, why it was taken, what is it overall effect. This stuff about complying with the rules or breaking the rules, it just gets in the way.
     
  145. Alan,
    this thing about the rule-of-thirds might be just an ex-post conceptualisation.
    What's actually important in my view is to decide about which element in the scene has to be placed where, or, in other terms, how to place the photographic frame around a scene we have seen and we want to portrait.
    This is simply composition.
    It's impossible to develop ex-ante rules for composition, because the placement of elements in the frame is only one of the elements of visual communication of a photo.
    And after all it is desirable to me that photos are worth not only because what's depicted is placed in the right corner. :)
     
  146. As with anything, there needs to be tension and a sense of balance. The balance may lean more to the technical or more to the visual and emotional. Rarely is there an equivalent amount of each.
    There are many photographers who concern themselves only with craft, gear, and a search for technical perfection. Generally, they don't make good photos. There are as many who seem to think that emotion is the only important thing and they don't want to take the steps necessary to learn their craft. They make pictures that are just as bad as the first group. Those who marry the two sides of the coin are the ones whose work I'm usually the most interested in getting intimate with, though I come across exceptions, ones whose technique wows me in the absence of much else and ones whose vision wows me in the absence of a honed craft.
    When the craft isn't there, I usually find that the vision itself and the emotion put into it is lacking precisely because of the lack of craft. Attention to craft helps refine vision and emotion. The expression of emotion is not the same as having emotion. There's much more to expressing it than having it. And the expression of emotion is, indeed, very much a matter of crafting something that expresses it.
     
  147. Simon,
    "It's a trite camera club orthodoxy that I often hear repeated"
    I never belonged to a camera club, never discussed with judges, never heard this phrase from others. It's an original quotation of myself.
    Your interpretation of my quotation is wrong.
    It is not in support of rules, but in support of the non-applicability of rules.
    As said, I'm annoyed by this approach to discussion. It completely disregards context.
    Since you recognised at the very beginning (you were the first respondent to my OP):
    Hello Luca :) I think that's a good starting point. A certain amount of humility when assessing other people's photographs - try to delve down into why they took them. Maybe they saw something the viewer didn't, and maybe you have to look hard to see what was good. Maybe that is what is good about the photo - they saw it, and you the viewer didn't. Maybe it's good because it makes you think. If it was obvious why it was good, maybe it would be obvious and therefore not good.​
    your polemic in these final posts is unfounded.
     
  148. Those who marry the two sides of the coin are the ones whose work I'm usually the most interested in​
    Fred, I sort of agree that the two should be married. Though I think the emotion/originality side is much much more important. I just take it as a given that a good photographer should be in control of his/her technique. I don't admire them for it, I just expect it of them. Even when they're in control of technique, the best photos are often the simplest, the least difficult.
     
  149. "It's a trite camera club orthodoxy that I often hear repeated"
    I never belonged to a camera club, never discussed with judges, never heard this phrase from others. It's an original quotation of myself.
    Your interpretation of my quotation is wrong.
    It is not in support of rules, but in support of the non-applicability of rules.​
    It may be an original quotation by yourself, but it is said by thousands of camera club judges around the world - the 'rules are there to be broken'. Sorry, it's a cliche, and it's generally used to justify the rules in the first place.
    As said, I'm annoyed by this approach to discussion. It completely disregards context.​
    Sorry, not sure what I can do to make you happy about it! Which context would you like me to have regard to?
    Since you recognised at the very beginning (you were the first respondent to my OP):
    Hello Luca :) I think that's a good starting point. A certain amount of humility when assessing other people's photographs - try to delve down into why they took them. Maybe they saw something the viewer didn't, and maybe you have to look hard to see what was good. Maybe that is what is good about the photo - they saw it, and you the viewer didn't. Maybe it's good because it makes you think. If it was obvious why it was good, maybe it would be obvious and therefore not good.​
    your polemic in these final posts is unfounded​
    I must say, reading through that I completely agree with myself! The man talks sense ;) Now which bit don't you like?
     
  150. the 'rules are there to be broken'. Sorry, it's a cliche, and it's generally used to justify the rules in the first place.​
    Just in case that wasn't clear: the example being 'this photo is great because it dares to break the rule of thirds'. It is only daring to break a rule if the rule actually exists in the first place. And it's not very daring to break something that doesn't exist. Why not actually look at the picture, forget whether it's following or breaking 'rules', and judge it for what it is.
    This is the stuff that camera club judges pedal around the land all the time - this picture uses this rule, breaks another rule, plus 3 points, minus two points. Breaking rules is daring and innovative, plus another two points. And so on. It is a nonsense game made up because they can't be bothered to actually look at the picture. The problem is that very many people take it seriously, and seriously start to assess pictures in this way.
    In other words - rules are not made to be broken - rules simply don't exist. Forget them.
     
  151. Thank you for the lesson, master.
     
  152. Simon, for me technique is much more than something to be in control of. It is something to be continuously considered in terms of how it will convey the emotion. It is not something I simply get or don't get, or just bring to a certain point and then forget about. It is something I engage with and engage my emotions with. There are an infinite variety of techniques and ways to use them, an infinite number of ways to approach and work with craft. When I view photographs where it looks like the technique is one-dimensional and not in harmony or intentional counterpoint to the emotion, I usually find the emotional expression less compelling. Technique should be affected by emotion, not just a static given used to convey it. Technique and emotion are both dynamic, and I think photos are at their best when technique and emotion are interdependent and aware of each other.
     
  153. Thank you for the lesson, master.​
    Not sure about the need for rudeness/sarcasm. I am expressing an opinion. It's obviously a long way from yours, and you don't like that. I can't bring myself to agree with you, when I don't.
     
  154. technique... is something I engage with and engage my emotions with.​
    That's fine for you - but not for me. For me it is just a means to an end. But I don't see anything at all wrong with having differences in approach or emphasis like this.
     
  155. Simon,
    The real issue that we see these things exactly the same.
    The reason for my annoyance is that you don't seem to realise it. Every attempt on my part to clarify only makes misunderstanding worse.
     
  156. That's OK, but in that case I think your clarifications were not quite clear enough for me!
     
  157. Simon,

    Others in this forum understand very well what I write.
    Your misunderstanding may very well depend on your attitude.

    My little advice: participate more in this forum, infer less and listen more.
     
  158. I agree with you Fred that emotion and craft are important. Craft supports the image. I also think craft is more important to photographers than non-photographers. When a guy checks the sunrise tables, gets up 4am in the dead of winter, hikes up the mountain in snow with a heavy 4"x5" camera to catch every pixel in sharp relief and then frames and focuses an amazing and beautifully inspired shot, (think Galen Rowell), photographers who find it hard to get out of bed by 10am really appreciate the skill, dedication and craft as well as the image that work created. Of course, if the image fails despite his hard work, no explanation of all the trouble he went through to get it will make the picture more acceptable. Nobody really cares if he got his feet wet. Getting the technical and aesthetic both right at the same time is always the challenge.
    I need to improve in both areas - a lot. Of course, learning technique is usually easier than being inspired.
     
  159. Alan, for me you're not describing craft, you're describing dedication, which has its own significance. Craft to me, in painting for example, is honing your skill at creating expressive brushstrokes, nauncing color mixtures. Dedication is spending your last money on canvases instead of heating your house, or getting up in the middle of the night to work on an idea or early in the morning to catch the right light. In photography, craft is about things like dodging and burning to get the effect you want, about getting the exposure not right but appropriate for what you want the photo to be, about learning how to print so you can make light glow in a way that works for a print unlike the way it might work on a monitor.
     
  160. Addition: Regarding the viewer's relationship to craft, I think viewers are affected by craft and respond to it emotionally, though most wouldn't articulate it or be able to or even recognize it. Photographers are more likely to notice it and be aware of it. But craft has its effect even on the layman. People love Weston's pepper and may get all emotional about it. It wouldn't be the same, even for those who don't know why it's affecting them, if the craft wasn't so well executed and so in tune with the subject and the emotion of it. Were Weston not as good a craftsman and not as good at knowing what kind of technique and technical approach would bring out that pepper in just the way he wanted, the responses by all viewers, no matter how schooled or familiar with photography, would be different.
     
  161. My little advice: participate more in this forum, infer less and listen more​
    I can only base my understanding on what you write. No matter how hard I look, I don't see you saying the same thing as me at all. Quite the contrary. So how can I infer that "we see these things exactly the same"?
    My advice: if you have an opinion, and either agree or disagree with something I say, then express it!
     
  162. Here's something I just discovered that shows dedication, craft and and outstanding composition in 100 year old color pictures. Simply amazing. To shoot three field camera shots of the same subject with three color filters and then project them in a triple projector so the Czar of Russia can see these black and white shots in color was quite a feat 30 years before Kodachrome. What I found interesting is that so many of his pictures are composed I believe instinctively using the Golden Rule or rule-of-thirds. http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/08/russia_in_color_a_century_ago.html
     
  163. They're fascinating pictures - they've been doing the rounds on the internet for a few years, but nice to see them in higher resolution than normal.
    They show dedication and craft certainly. Outstanding compositions? The compositions are fine but I wouldn't say outstanding. The subject matter is outstanding - the record of Russian life at the turn of the century is unparalleled, and the compositions are perfectly competent.
    As for the rule of thirds, I couldn't see any evidence of him following it either consciously or unconsciously. It's quite hard to take a picture without some feature appearing somewhere around a third into the frame. But he has important bits in the centre, on the edges, on the 1/4th's, and yes, sometimes some bits are somewhere near the thirds. Evidence of the 'rule of thirds' beng applied? No.
     
  164. I think almost all of his compositions are wonderful. He didn't "plop" the key figure in the center except for a couple. He went to deliberate lengths to compose in a pleasing way. I can sense that. Does anyone else feel it?
     
  165. I think his pictures are wonderful.
    He didn't "plop" the key figure in the center except for a couple. He went to deliberate lengths to compose in a pleasing way. I can sense that. Does anyone else feel it?​
    Yes, I feel that too. But I don't think that requires outstanding composition - I think that it requires just thinking about the picture for a bit, and the way he wants it to appear. They've been framed very carefully (as you expect with a view camera using such a process, you really have time to think about it).
    He seemed to like a lot of the time to stick the main subject three-quarters or even seven eighths into the frame. Sometimes dead centre. It's all very carefully done. And the photos are a wonderful record. But I don't think it proves any rule... if anything, the opposite, it proves he was open minded enough to experiment and vary it from one picture to the next.
     
  166. Well Simon I just saw your web page and I think your compositions are superb. They're really wonderful in all ways. I enjoyed them all. So I'll defer to you as you have immensely greater talent then I do. My only point is that aesthetic composition comes from the heart; and the brain is inately tailored to compose in a pleasing way. Maybe we should drop the word "Rule" as in Golden. It does smack as some simple formula that anyone could just simply follow to get good photos. But pictures are pleasing to others because we first composed them to please ourselves.
     
  167. Alan, that's really kind of you to say so, and now I feel guilty at arguing my point of view perhaps too hard, so apologies if I come across as doing so, but I just enjoy the discussion. It's just this 'rule of third' thing is a bit of a red rag for me personally - as you can maybe tell from that last blog entry of mine!
    My only point is that aesthetic composition comes from the heart​
    Amen to that!
     
  168. firstly,,, dont be discouraged luca,,,hang in there with the rest of us... i know what you mean about the burn out... WHY IS A PHOTO GOOD? my thoughts... i dont think that a good photo really ever exists? i think its the PHOTOGRAPHER. may sound like a simplistic view? it is the ability for the photographer to connect in some way with his subject. a good portrait is one that isnt just the surface. it goes deeper than that... the photographer has to capture the essence of the being the soul. that cant be achieved solely on equipment and lighting .... there must be a connection.same appllies to landscapes.what provokes us to feel a certain way about a photo? its a feeling we get that the photographer is part of that image in some essence. and lastly i think if a photographer has the ability to provoke us in anyway .... then he has successfully created a great image ... the greater the provocation the greater the image?
     
  169. Visually stimulating/entertaining/engaging? Ha, ha maybe as simple as it being an excellent representation of the artist's
    expression? I've seen some recent Facebook cell phone photos that lack quality/technique, but are a joy to see...then the
    portraits of masters that I can look at for extended periods, just enjoying the delicate use of light. Is a good photograph
    defined by the subject? Sometimes. Message? Yes - some universal, and others not so obvious. Technique can be a
    strength, but often seems to take a backseat to capturing the wonderful spontaneity of life...two cents...
     
  170. Simon
    I used to write a lot on the forums and this lasted for a few months. I even got the "three rolls". Now I simply read, because you guys have a lot to say that I don't know (not sarcastic) and I don't get to talk about this stuff everyday. However, I don't write much anymore because my time is limited (it takes me a long time to write in English...) and discussions never get really anywhere. It's like going in circle. Sometimes I see two people arguing like madmen and basically saying the same thing.
    Anyways, I think your stuff is pretty good (although you seem to be using the rule of thirds every now and then ;-). The question is: why get so strong-headed about certain values-ideas-concepts? I am like that in music: after studying and thinking and experimenting my whole life, I am just learning how to forget everything and start from scratch. We spend so much time and energy to learn and when we are up there, we realize how little we know (I have always been a fan of Socrates...). Just when I think I'm getting somewhere, I loose grip and get lost again.
    What I'm trying to say is that I really don't care about what's good or bad because there is no good or bad. It's subjective. I look at so much different photography and have tons of books but I realize the more I look and learn the more I get confused. Sometimes, I come up with a new idea and later find out that it was something important for many great photographers and then I am proud of having figured it out on my own and that it doesn't take to be a genius to figure it out, just be sensitive and intuitive. The best way to go, for me, is to just do it without worrying too much about what I'm doing. And do it with 35mm film.
    Here are some of your words:
    As an aside, it's probably one reason why I'm not a great fan of Ansel Adams. He was a brilliant printer, a superb technician, a great writer who came up with an excellent zone theory, and - a pretty good photographer. But not, for me, a brilliant photographer. His use of craft was more important than his photography. No doubt others will violently disagree with that.​
    I agree. But I also disagree. I don't think he cared to become a brilliant photographer. He cared to do well what he liked. Adams was indeed more interested in the technical aspect. So what? He made amazing prints, probably still unmatched, and that's what he did. Period. Good for him. When I want to learn more about darkroom stuff, I also look at his work and read his books. Definitely not my favorite photographer, though.
     
  171. (although you seem to be using the rule of thirds every now and then ;-)​
    Around half the area of an frame is on either a vertical or horizontal third, so I find it almost impossible to avoid getting some subject elements in those parts of the frame - I see no reason to try to bend my pictures to avoid using those bits of the frame. I have no desperate urge either to break, or for that matter to comply with, a rule that to my mind doesn't exist. So yes, for people who believe in it, some of my pictures will comply with the rule, some won't.
    The question is: why get so strong-headed about certain values-ideas-concepts?​
    Photography is my life, so I find it hard not to be passionate about it. But I don't think I'm strong headed about particular values-ideas-concepts. In fact I think my own personal philosophy is to try to avoid having fixed values-ideas-concepts (though it's possible I misunderstood myself!). I think what I was saying in the thread was rather about trying not to have preconceptions or fixed ideas about what is good (the rule of thirds was an example) but instead to try to look at each picture, have an open mind, and really try to understand it and the photographer.
    I really don't care about what's good or bad because there is no good or bad. It's subjective.​
    I agree of course it is subjective. But I really think that even so there is good and bad. You mention music. Mozart really is good. There is some music that is just bad. And, you just said: "I think your stuff is pretty good". So I guess you really think there is good and bad too, even if it's subjective and our tastes and understanding can develop and change with time.
    just be sensitive and intuitive. The best way to go, for me, is to just do it without worrying too much about what I'm doing.​
    In a way, what I was suggesting was to do something similar when assessing images. I was arguing not to be influenced by 'rules', but to look at the image, do your best to work out where it (and the photographer) is coming from, but ultimately use your intuition when working out whether you really like it. On other words, be sensitive and intuitive. You seem to want to be 'sensitive and intuitive' when taking pictures, so in theory there is a potential there for understanding between photographer and viewer.
    I don't think he cared to become a brilliant photographer. He cared to do well what he liked. Adams was indeed more interested in the technical aspect. So what? He made amazing prints, probably still unmatched, and that's what he did. Period.​
    You may well be right, I don't know how he saw himself, whether he thought he was, or wanted to be, a great photographer. I also think that he was an amazing printer, and not really such an amazing photographer. But a lot of people seem to regard him as one of the greatest photographers.
     
  172. I see we are pretty much on the same page
    I agree of course it is subjective. But I really think that even so there is good and bad.​
    I don't think there is good or bad, there is music or non-music, photography or non-photography. What we might consider a bad photograph it isn't actually a photograph. Mozart wrote music but there are or were a lot of composers that didn't write music... If some guy asked you: "Do you think it's better Picasso or Van Gogh?" (And people ask those kind of questions...) There is no better. However, there is good and bad between Picasso and some guy improvising painting but that's because the first is a painter, the second isn't.
    I also think that he was an amazing printer, and not really such an amazing photographer. But a lot of people seem to regard him as one of the greatest photographers.​
    I agree.
     
  173. Antonio, you're suggesting a very ancient Greek way of seeing things. Plato's example is "doctor." If you don't heal, you are NOT a doctor. Only a fullness of doctoring is doctoring. In essence, there are no mistakes. A doctor can't make a mistake because the mistake is not the practice of doctoring. While there's something to be learned from that perfectionist way of seeing things, I think there's something very unrealistic and false behind that way of thinking as well.
    I think Mozart wrote good music and Salieri's was bad, to use a cliché example. I think we diminish Mozart if we say only he was a musician and people whose music was not good were not, in fact, musicians.
    Now, I think it's true that many people claiming to be photographers are simply taking pictures and not photographers at all. But I think it's also true that many photographers are simply not that good. There are photographers who are dedicated to the craft and even getting paid for it. They are most certainly photographers by any definition and some of them are simply not good.
    I think JUDGMENT is an important part of morality, art, and life. Take away bad art and bad actions and you've taken away judgment. Take away judgment, you take a part of humanity away because you make everything deterministic and lacking in free will. If a musician can only make good music, what responsibility does he bear and is he free?
    Plato believed in ethical determinism: if we truly KNOW what is good, we cannot help but DO good. There's something fascinating in this way of thinking, to be sure. But I think Plato undercuts freedom and responsibility by asserting it.
     
  174. Fred, do we choose to make mistakes? Do mistakes just happen, while we take credit for the moves that have desirable outcomes? We edge into dangerous (and sadly familiar) territory in this forum whenever we begin to judge between "real" photographers and other kinds, particularly to differentiate between ourselves and our lessers (not that you're doing that).
    There's "snap-shooters", "duffers", "hobbyist", "amateur", etc. To designate levels of involvement and commitment. Judgment assumes a capable judge, of course, and there are damned few of those, though everyone thinks himself a critic because he likes or dislikes. Who judges those making judgments? Pretty soon we are between two funhouse mirrors with an infinite regression behind us.
    One can be a perfectly capable portraitist by making their clients happy. Getting paid is no guarantee of greatness, but it is of being good enough to meet the client's expectations. How high is that bar set? While being a Avedon might please many critics, the fact is that in certain contexts, it's not required, or even desired. A lot of conventional clients would never want that kind of portrait even if they could afford it. Sometimes being a Disfarmer, Keita, or Bellocq (all in the absence of critics) is more than enough. A capable judge or critic has to know and understand context.
    _________________
    FG - " Take away judgment, you take a part of humanity away because you make everything deterministic and lacking in free will. If a musician can only make good music, what responsibility does he bear and is he free?"
    So what if you aren't free? BFD. What if true free will, is in fact, not a part of humanity? You, just like me, would stubbornly continue to cling to the illusion that you are, and would function exactly as you presently do. So would society, like the rest of us, merrily disregarding science. Just as religious people do. That's decidedly human. Free will is, historically speaking, a persistent core holdover from the heyday of religion, one of the few that has been adopted by many of the same philosophers who otherwise reject, if not ridicule, religious ideas.
    In the case of heterosexual couples (no studies done on gays yet), most people believe in love, consciously free-willing themselves a mate based on a lot of qualities, and to an extent that appears to be true. Somehow, most of us mysteriously end up with a mate that has a MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex), an immunological profile, that is complementary to our own. This, perhaps not coincidentally, happens to give the potential resulting offspring from that union the strongest possible immune system. We're not conscious of it. Does that happen by chance? Are we free-willing it? Did we choose it before we knew it existed?
    For centuries, field observations led behavioral zoologists to believe that a certain type of tick (that hangs out on branches) knew when a mammal came by, and dropped onto it. Now we know the tick's nervous system is sensitive to butyric acid, one of the components of sweat. When it gets a waft of it, the tick's legs, which are simply holding onto the branch, are momentarily forcibly relaxed, and it lets go, sometimes falling on its hapless new host. The initial response is extinguished, and the new arrivee begins to make themselves at home. It looks like a choice, but is not.
    The illusion of free will, just like religion, has obvious survival value for the species. Otherwise it would have naturally selected itself into oblivion. Like billions of others, I happily go through life under that illusion, even though I know almost every single bit of science points in the other direction. Living a lie... Woo-hoo.
     
  175. Luis, yes, I know there is an entire school of thought, one that I find compelling and as convincing, that thinks free will may be an illusion. Through my years of study in Philosophy, I usually took the same stance as you. Now that I'm photographing, I feel much more inclined toward the view I expressed above. I won't be surprised if at some point the pendulum swings back. Though perhaps, through my work, I'll be able to let go completely of the dichotomy.
    As to who will judge, like you, I believe that will be context driven. I've never used Avedon as a measuring stick. I also think those of us who make judgments will always make some bad ones. I like the flavor of commitment and responsibility in judging.
     
  176. Fred, I'm largely agreeing with you on the value judgment business and its limitations. I am adding the substrate that there probably isn't a free will (not much evidence for it), and if there isn't, it doesn't make much of a difference in our lives. The idea, like religion, has ample survival value. In other words, no dichotomy, they coexist in equal weight and simultaneously in my head and heart, and I think the absurdity and seemingly contradictory aspects of that scenario are peculiarly and intensely human. They augment, not diminish, our humanity.
    I know you don't worship Avedon (nor do I), I only used him as an example, precisely because he is often judged as some sort of pinnacle (and often totally out of context). I did not mean to give any impression that you held him in any particular regard, and if it came across that way, I apologize.
     
  177. I am adding the substrate that there probably isn't a free will (not much evidence for it)​
    Not being a philosopher, there's no doubt a whole world of argument that I'm missing out on here. But the supposed non-existence of a free will sounds very close to the views of the Marxist historians like Christopher Hill, who believed that history is determined by economics rather than individual choice.
    Unless I'm out of date (which is highly possible) I thought that that approach to historical analysis had been largely now been discredited, and that historians were generally nowadays much more in favour of analysing history in terms of the impact of the individual. That Napoleon's or Hitler's character - their free will - really did make a huge difference to history. And so on down to a macro level - a butterfly taking some kind of decision to flap its wings.
    Which would seem to point in the direction of there being an awful lot of evidence (much or most of history) that there is a free will. Whether or not that evidence constitutes proof is another matter.
    Or do historians and philosophers not see eye to eye on this?
    I guess it's a long way from what makes a photo good (if there is no free will, then I guess it's pretty much determined in advance exactly which photos we will all take, in which case maybe there's not much point in taking them?), but I was curious. Or have I totally misunderstood what you mean by a lack of free will?
     
  178. I am free in the many circumstances that I have to choose from and which will lead me in either this or that direction, but I'm not free in the choice of those circumstances. Just like I am perfectly free to choose and make my own pictures but not in the pictures that are chosen for and presented to me. We're free to make a choice, but not in making choices.
     
  179. Simon, this came up primarily in response to the judgment part of this discussion. It's not historians and philosophers that do not see eye to eye. It's physicists and scientists in general that have discovered as much evidence for Free Will as they have for God(s) and his (or her) angels. Do understand that I am not positing a negative proof against Free Will of any kind, simply citing that at this moment in history, there's no real evidence, let alone proof, -- and the lack of evidence is not evidence.
    Assuming that all the photos you ever have and will make were predetermined, if there's no free will, whatever decision you think you are making about whether to continue, turn into a space monkey, become an alky, or base-jump from a high place w/o a chute, is also determined.
    [Just be sure to mail me the cameras & lighting before you quit! :) ]
    Free will, like the existence of God, is an extraordinary claim, and there is simply no proof, not even mediocre scientific evidence.
    However, I think the possible illusion is part and parcel of what passes for consciousness in human beings, and has significant survival value. I don't have any problem living (and judging) as if there's free will, knowing well that it doesn't seem to exist.
    Free Will is probably not the only illusion we live with, and no, the others are even further off-topic than this is, so I won't go there.
     
  180. Free will, like the existence of God, is an extraordinary claim, and there is simply no proof, not even mediocre scientific evidence.​
    Most things that we learn about the universe seem pretty extraordinary. Quantum physics seems pretty extraordinary. The fact that I have the 'illusion' of my own personality is pretty extraordinary. Free will doesn't seem quite so incredible alongside all that. The very use of the word 'extraordinary' is an un-scientific value judgement, it proves and disproves nothing.
    Approaching it as a lawyer, where evidence and proof are kind of important - I have to say there is plenty of evidence of free will - for example, the fact that I have the impression that I have free will, and at any moment feel that I can decide whether to take a sip of tea or not - or whether to take a photo - is evidence. We are the judge and jury, and the fact that we at least feel we have the illusion of free will is pretty good evidence. It doesn't prove that it's not an illusion, but it's strong evidence.
    Speaking as an ignorant layman, it seems to me that surely that reports about apparent choices made historically, or our own perceptions of choices that we have made, must be regarded as scientific evidence, in so far as science involves studying everything we know about the universe. Isn't excluding facts or observations - evidence - just because they don't fall into a one branch of science rather than another un-scientific? History is a branch of science after all. Sociology is also a kind of science, and it includes studying the choices that people make, and the consequences of those actions.
    Whether the evidence that people really are making choices is mediocre or strong evidence, is surely a value judgement, unless one can find an objective way of measuring its reliability or non-reliability, so it's impossible to establish proof from it either one way or the other. It seems to me that it is scientific evidence, but you simply can't say whether it is mediocre or strong evidence.
    Anyway, that's the way things seem to me, as an ignorant layman, and no doubt appearing naive to a philosopher! But to me, determinism seems to be a leap of faith as great as any belief in a religion.
     
  181. If you could prove everything, what would be the point of faith? If choosing right from wrong had nothing to do with free will because we are all automatons, what would be the point of the universe? And getting back to the topic, how would inspiration help you take good photographs if we are all robots?
     
  182. Simon,
    "Free" requires an uncaused cause. "Will" means "random" or "uncertain" is not good enough.
     
  183. "Free" requires an uncaused cause.​
    Does it? Not sure I see that. But if so, then why is that a problem?
    "Will" means "random" or "uncertain" is not good enough.​
    I don't understand this. No doubt my ignorance!
    I had understood free will to mean the ability to make a choice. A choice which is not predetermined (otherwise, it isn't a choice, just an illusion of a choice).
    For a branch of science studying choice, see: Rational Choice Theory. Of course, that is no proof that choice exists. But that particular branch of science is studying evidence relating to choice. In the same way that physicists are studying the behaviour of atoms and quarks - that is not absolute proof that quarks or even atoms exist, but there is certainly lots of evidence that they do. The same applies to choice - one can, surely, say at least that there is plenty of scientific evidence of its existence.
     
  184. Simon - "Quantum physics seems pretty extraordinary."
    Until one realizes that in spite of its many oddities, it is one of the most mathematically worked out theories in physics history (even if the maths have no known connection to the real world -- as far as we know). For example, the microchips designed with this physics, that drive everything from our cameras to you-name it, work.
    Fabulous as all this is, we know much more about Quantum physics and have infinitely more workable math than we do about/for free will.
    SC - "that is not absolute proof that quarks or even atoms exist"
    Einstein's third paper was an experiment that was done, and the results taken as scientific proof of the existence of the atom. Scientific proof is not the same as absolute proof, of course, but we stake our lives on it every day. There is no scientific proof for free will. I know, you sense it, human consciousness was weaned on it, it's part of our consensual reality, etc.
    Practically everyone on the planet wants free will to be proven right, because it corroborates their reality bubble. Again, from my POV, it really doesn't matter. Just like religion, it neither needs proof, nor evidence. We can carry on regardless.
    _______________________
    Alan - "And getting back to the topic, how would inspiration help you take good photographs if we are all robots?"
    What makes you think we are robots? We are subject to, as far as is known, to the other known physical laws of the universe. In this discussion, we've not quantified or formulated what makes a good picture, so your question is unanswerable.
    Besides, for all we know, we might be characters in a computer simulation, not robots.
     
  185. So let me adjust my question. If we were all robots, or automatons, or computer simulations, and had no free will, how would we take "inspired" photos?
     
  186. Scientific proof is not the same as absolute proof, of course, but we stake our lives on it every day. There is no scientific proof for free will. I know, you sense it, human consciousness was weaned on it, it's part of our consensual reality, etc​
    Of course, we also stake our lives on people's choices every day.
    Choice is a bit like a brick. It is something that I perceive (and, I presume, we all perceive) directly all the time. The brick may be an illusion, there is no absolute proof it exists, but as a direct perception, I trust it even more than I do any scientific theory.
    To put it another way, I suppose that the idea is that sociology can ultimately be explained purely in terms of quantum theory etc. - the unified theory if and when it is ever found. But there is currently no scientific proof that that would be the case. So, even if I am a pure scientist (which I'm not), why should I believe it? It would be illogical, a leap of faith based on prejudices about the way that I might think science might be heading.
    A view of the universe that is predicated on scientific cause and effect - something is only proven if [I have the illusion of having perceived or understood] a scientific experiment, seems to me as equally two dimensional as the Marxist economic theory that decides that history is predetermined by economics. An attractive and interesting theory, but ultimately an oversimplification and - (in the case of Marxist theory, it seems to me) wrong.
    Maybe I should stop wittering about things I don't really understand - but I think I'll carry on believing in my brick!
     
  187. Besides, for all we know, we might be characters in a computer simulation, not robots.​
    If we were *characters in a computer simulation* we could never refer to ourselves as possibly being a character in a computer simulation as a refutal of the real world, without us not also having an actual experience in that real world, to measure its refutal or acceptance of against. We could all be just dead pixels on a sensor though, not really helping to create pretty pictures, for all we know.
     
  188. Alan - "So let me adjust my question. If we were all robots, or automatons, or computer simulations, and had no free will, how would we take "inspired" photos?"
    The absence of free will does not mean a flatline of emotional affect. Causal ripples and aggregate 2nd generation effects shift our mental state, sometimes into what one might call the inspirational, which would in turn prompt us into photographing. In a computer simulation, either a particular contingency, or an input from the designer or player, could alter the inspirational level of one or a multitude of characters.
    Please do not miss my oft-repeated point that even though I do not see evidence for free will, I act as if there was.
    _______________________
    Simon - "I think I'll carry on believing"
    Believing is the operant word.
    ________________________________
    Phylo - "If we were *characters in a computer simulation* we could never refer to ourselves as possibly being a character in a computer simulation as a refutal of the real world, without us not also having an actual experience in that real world, to measure its refutal or acceptance of against."
    You might be surprised to find out that more than a few very serious physicists think just that, and they do not list your objection, which doesn't mean it's not valid, but perhaps it's not as exclusive or absolutely required as you think it is. There are similarities between what we know of our universe and computer simulations.
    _______________________________________
    I think we're Tower-of-Babbling here. Maybe if we showed how we, individually, look at particular photographs (not member's photos to eliminate the usual bruised egos and personal crap)...yes, it would lack the endless discussion and arguments we're so fond of here, but it might reveal a little about what we individually see in photographs.
     
  189. Believing is the operant word​
    But ditto for the alternative view... believing that there will one day be a unified theory that will explain all our actions and choices without more.
     
  190. One is a belief in one's own direct personal experience, the other is a belief in a scientific theory that does not (yet) exist and may or may not be proven in the future, and which even if eventually proven, we don't yet know what it will say.
    Which involves the lesser leap of faith...?!
     
  191. Fred's right. It's more of a short hop.
     
  192. Determinism:-
    [​IMG]
     
  193. Perhaps free will simply (!) can't be conceptualized in our four dimensional, linear-logic-ed minds.
    For a fairly easy conceptual exercise, try thinking of free will as being like the Koch's snowflake. The snowflake's boundary (edges), which is infinite, could be analagous to freedom and the snowflake's area (interior), which is finite, could be analagous to will.
     
  194. Whether or not free will exists does have some practical consequences. Throughout most of the literature on Free Will and Determinism, it is the effect on how we proceed with regard to assessing praise and blame that is the key factor and the vital and practical result of the different systems of belief. Consider the justice system. A more deterministic view approaches prison as a protective mechanism for society, done to prevent future actions and harm. It is more likely to seek rehabilitation (based on its efficacy given the crime and criminal) rather than punishment. A deterministic view is more likely to look for causes -- genetic, environmental, cultural -- for the commission of crimes and seek solutions based on those causes. A less deterministic view will hold the individual more morally responsible and will often seek punishment in addition to or even rather than societal security.
    Faith is in a different category from free will. There are many logical and rational defenses for free will. I can't think of anyone, and don't even think I've ever heard of anyone, who claims not to live as if (as Luis has pointed out) free will exists.* Yet there are many who live successfully without faith. Some try logically and rationally to defend faith but that seems to go against the very idea of it, since the essence and beauty of faith is that it is beyond such logical defenses.
    __________________________________________
    *Daniel Dennett, a professor working in the field of Philosophy and Science of Mind and also Cognitive Studies, approaches consciousness from a very scientific and physicalist perspective, yet still believes in the role of intention in assessing moral responsibility. In his paper, "Mechanism and Responsibility" (can be found in Free Will, a series of articles edited by Gary Watson) he makes sense of the two-stance position Luis is referring to. It is a pragmatic approach. Here's one line out of the paper: "The Intentional Stance tends to be most appropriate when the system one is dealing with is too complex to be dealt with effectively from the Mechanistic Stance."
     
  195. A more deterministic view can (and research has shown, does) lead to a "there's no point in trying to change/save them" attitude. Less forgiving, not more.
    "I can't think of anyone, and don't even think I've ever heard of anyone, who claims not to live as if (as Luis has pointed out) free will exists." -- Fred
    Galen Strawson
     
  196. Julie, many philosophers and writers think free will is impossible. I wasn't questioning that. I don't know enough about Galen Strawson to know whether he actually lives his life as if he has no free will, which is what I was saying.
    As for your first claim, I hadn't read that. A lot of what I remember reading several years ago on the subject had said the opposite. But the claim you're making certainly makes sense. I'll be interested to read up on that research. Thanks.
     
  197. Julie, I wonder, though, if death sentence cases are more extreme and special cases, where the idea of rehabilitation is virtually impossible due to the overriding deterministic causes that might have been in place and reinforced, etc. In lesser extreme cases, looking at causes and addressing them with an eye toward rehabilitation would seem much more viable. In cases where a defendant will get out in 5-10 years anyway, a "there's no point in trying to change them" attitude seems both counterproductive and dangerous, since the safety of society may very well depend on some behavioral intervention during the period of incarceration. I would think the rate of recidivism, in at least some cases, could be reduced by doing more than simply blaming and punishing the perpetrator. After all, even determinists get out of bed in the morning. I don't think you have to buy into complete inertia in order to be a determinist. But I admittedly have not looked into this stuff much in recent times. In any case, I'd want to read more varied assessments of the legal matters this article introduces in order to judge the efficacy of the claims being made. But it's a great start. Again, thanks.
     
  198. I was away from internet for a couple of days. I noted some new posts here: "there is no good or bad, there is photography or non-photography" (Antonio).
    And then: "people claim to be photographers and they are simply taking pictures and are not photographers at all" (Fred).
    More than judgement being an important part of morality, art, and life, I would say that judgement stems from morality, art and life.
    But there we are again.
    • on what do we build these judgements?
    subjectivity, objectivity, how do we form judgements? Are there collective judgements and how are they conceived?
    Judgement is inherent to the human nature: Adam and Eve were chased from the garden of Eden exactly because the decided that they wanted to know the difference between good and bad. :)
    Free will is to decide whether something is good or bad. If I decide that my photo is bad, I delete it. Out of free will.
    Humans are free to decide. Of course there are situations which are imposed on us. But still we have the final decision to accept a situation and stay in it or to quit it. (Simon supports it).We might not be able to force somebody to love us, but we are free to accept or reject love.
    Of course we do not have the free will to accept illness, injury or death, or birth, but that's not the point here. Human nature is as it is.
    We have the free will to decide about most disposable acts of our life.
    Alan says "If we were all robots, or automatons, or computer simulations, and had no free will, how would we take "inspired" photos?".
    I think he mixes up free will with the ability, talent, capability of taking "inspired" photos. "Inspired" photos are not taken because of free will, they are taken because the photographer is able to take them. For whatever reason.
    And since we are not robots, the speculation is unfounded to me.
    In the end all of you are talking about judgements. All the time.
    But nobody can tell how judgements are formed. Nobody here can even tell how their own judgements are formed. Some agree - including myself - that there are photographs and non-photographs. As there is music and non-music.
    How do we know?
    Why?
     
  199. Luca: What you're defining as good pictures is technique (talent, capability,etc.) not inspiration. Inspiration comes from God as does free will. As I mentioned earlier, inspiration comes from the "heart" not our ego driven brain. Animals and robots do not get inspired. Only man can transcend his instincts and ego and decide in favor of God's commands. That is free will. To be inspired, one must decide to align himself with God to hear Him so you can become inspired. I believe what we're all trying to say about "good" photographs are that they transcend tehnique and ego and are "inspired".
    So to bring this back to the topic, if by good we mean inspired, how do you propose we get inspired if not by free will deciding to listen to the Source rather than our ego?
     
  200. I don't think about God. My inspiration comes from my relationships with other people, sometimes it comes from my penchant for logical thinking, it can come from walking along the beach in the evening (even though I rarely would want to photograph it), it can come from a warm breeze, a memory, a scent. My inspiration comes from my subjects, from a desire to reach out to viewers, even those I may never know.
    Free will that would be given or granted to me wouldn't seem free.
     
  201. You might be surprised to find out that more than a few very serious physicists think just that, and they do not list your objection, which doesn't mean it's not valid, but perhaps it's not as exclusive or absolutely required as you think it is.​
    I might but I'm not. Feel free to think that you might be a computersimulation or a brain in a vat or what not though, but I don't think you really do believe that scenario, do you ? If you did and you indeed possibly were, you couldn't think or refer to yourself as such, it would be self refuting. It's not an objection that I have, but an observation come through logic and philosophy in this world, not physics in another possible of worlds, regardless of what *serious physicists* might or might not think about it in this one.
    There are similarities between what we know of our universe and computer simulations.​
    I thought that the computer simulation was to possibly be our universe, and if possibly so, than surely there's no need to suggest any similarity between our universe and that of a computer simulation, is there. But it makes for an interesting movie, that's true.
     
  202. Phylo - "Feel free to think that you might be a computersimulation or a brain in a vat or what not though, but I don't think you really do believe that scenario, do you ?"
    Thank you for your condescending generosity, but it is not a question of faith to me. The possibility exists. I neither rule it in, or out. I certainly hope you are not referring to the Matrix (or Matrices 1-3) and making the erroneous and brickbat simplistic assumption that is where I got the idea. It's not. It's coming from reputable physicists, not movies or Wikipedia.
     
  203. Yes, like I said, I got that already, am not "surprised" by it.
     
  204. Alan,
    Luca: What you're defining as good pictures is technique (talent, capability,etc.) not inspiration.​
    Although I believe in God, I don't think God makes you take good pictures.
    I did not define good pictures, I just said what you probably need to make a good picture. Most of us mention judgements here, but nobody ever said according to what judgements are made.
    I do not claim everything is rational, absolutely not. Call it instinct, call it sixth sense. Whatever it is, it is related to our sensitiveness and to the rest of "how-to" stuff.
    Good=inspired? Not necessarily.
     
  205. luca you brought up an interesting point about your comparison are all woman beautiful? we may find another person to be strikingly beautiful but have no attraction to that person.... and i am not referring to chemistry but just by our visual stimulation. does this not apply to photography as well? all the elements and tecnnical aspects to a photo could fall into perfect alignment, and we recognize this in the photo but still are not connected to the photo in anyway?so even if a photo looks good visually is that enough to consider it to be a good photo?
    00X9eP-273219584.jpg
     
  206. luca you brought up an interesting point about your comparison are all woman beautiful? we may find another person to be strikingly beautiful but have no attraction to that person.... and i am not referring to chemistry but just by our visual stimulation. does this not apply to photography as well? all the elements and tecnnical aspects to a photo could fall into perfect alignment, and we recognize this in the photo but still are not connected to the photo in anyway?so even if a photo looks good visually is that enough to consider it to be a good photo?
     
  207. :)
    "so even if a photo looks good visually is that enough to consider it to be a good photo?"
    samme, another very difficult question. I don't have an answer but would guess that "liking" and being "good" are intertwined.
     
  208. no ........ not always luca... sometimes a photo can be considered bad ... because of unflattering exposure or poor so called traditional rules of photography however we somehow may be attracted to it because of its flaws? like beautiful woman............ you really know how to get people conversing dont you?
     
  209. Hey, what about beautiful men?!
     
  210. Ever see the film version of "Death in Venice" of the early 20th century writer Mann with that very good English actor (name forgotten) who played the ailing professor and his encounter (distant) with a very beautiful boy on vacation with his family. That is appreciation of beauty on a non sexual but visual plane. Wonderful film, with the amazing Adagio of Mahler's fifth accompanying the long journey into Venice over hazy waters.
    Such "slow films" are great, and perhaps their equivalent is a still photograph of an engrossing image. Come to think of it, an engrossing image (one you have to go back to, if not already riveted to its charms) has to be among what we would discern as a "good" photograph.
     
  211. fred... of course let us not forget the men.... epecially applies to the beautiful men...
     
  212. We have all seen here on PN and elsewhere very good photos of not very beautiful women and visa versa. This being said if you aim at receiving an 7/7 you are advices shooting photos of what most viewers would consider both beautiful and attractive women. If that counts for men too I will let others appreciate.
    As concerns "Death in Venice" if is first of all a novel of Thomas Mann but secondly an Opera of the British composer Benjamin Britten first performed in 1973. The film from 1971 is maybe what most people would refer to, but I would advice first of all to read the novel or go to the opera. The film of Visconti is sentimental where the opera and the novel are philosophical. It is a novel on life and death and not on gay relationships. It was by the way the companion of Benjamin Britten that sang the main role, the old man, in 1973.
     
  213. Although I love slow films and inspired photography, sometimes I like to watch Rambo IV and some high-tech landscape photography...
     
  214. OK. Death in Venice and "good."
    Seen the movie and the opera. Read the novel a long time ago.
    It is certainly not limited to homosexuality and it certainly transcends homosexuality and sexuality itself. But it is very much about sexuality, a homosexual attraction, Aschenbach's delusions over his physical attraction to Tadzio. If we don't want to call it "sexual" we at least have to call it foreplay. It can't be denied even though it is transcended.
    No, I don't think it's about gay relationships, certainly not in the way we come across those now or think about them now. But it is about a homosexual attraction that is not just visual. To me, that interpretation plays it way too safe and from a distance. Tadzio, to me, is not some removed symbol of ideal beauty. One of the dilemmas about Tadzio is precisely that he is very much flesh and blood. His ideal-ness comes from his groundedness as an object of Aschenbach's desires.
    Of course, it is about life and death, ultimately.
    How this relates to good. Good often operates on more than one level. Whether it be a superficial and a deep level or several levels or layers. I can't think of many, if any, things that are good in only one way . . . if they're really good.
     
  215. Viewing someone else's work, when my first gut reaction is jealously, I know I am looking at a good photograph. Good tests of my own photos are: is it good enough to make a print of; is it good enough to post on my website; is it good enough to post on Photo.net.
     
  216. Fred,
    As you an Anders say, it was not only sexual or visual attraction but about life and beauty releasing to death. What made me think about the novel and film was your reference to a beautiful man (both seen and imagined in Aschenbach's mind in DinV). I missed the Britten production at the Garden in England, left and and have only seen his Billy Budd in Canada (Toronto, about 5 years ago), but would line up for a Britten opera any day.
    Anders,
    "It was by the way the companion of Benjamin Britten that sang the main role, the old man, in 1973."
    Peter Pears. Great lyric tenor, if that is the right word (re his roles in Britten's War Requiem, Billy Budd, and other Britten operas and vocal works recorded by Decca (London)).
     
  217. Arthur I saw the Deborah Warner "mise en scène" of the opera in Brussels last year. I think that is the one you refer to. This is a good example where Opera has a visual presence very near good photography.
    "Death in Venice de Benjamin Britten, livret de Myfanwy Piper d’après Thomas Mann. Orchestre symphonique et chœurs de La Monnaie, direction Paul Daniel, mise en scène Deborah Warner, décors Tom Pye, costumes Chloé Obolensky, lumières Jean Kalman, chorégraphie Kim Branstrup. Avec John Graham-Hall (Ian Bostridge chantera les deux dernières représentations), Andrew Shore , Leon Cooke, Williams Tower…"(ref: here)
     
  218. Anders, that must have been some performance in Belgium last year. According to the article you sited, the opera is very difficult to stage, given all its scene changes, but the English producer, who came from doing Dido and Aeneas in Paris, apparently mixed the singers, dansers and music very well. The photo shows what seems to have been a very visual performance.
    Intersting that a lot of operas are being staged by photographers, rather cinematographers, like recent North American operas with film directors Atom Egoyan, Francois Girard and Robert Lepage
     
  219. Guys,
    how to we get from photo judgement to discussing an opera?
     
  220. Quit simple Luca. I don't know if you go to operas, but if you do, you should know that you go away with not only singing in your ears, but also with visual inspiration. Just like some very good films, paintings, sculptures - or culinary art (food!). The world is visual Luca.
     
  221. After a pause of reflection, I think that a good photo is based on a "good" approach and serious work.
    There are no rules.
    There are key characteristics of a photo - and of the photographer - which I would summarise in:
    1. viewing ability (look around, and see behind the obvious)
    2. originality (something you don't see every day or from a common point of view);composition (the "art" of placing a frame around a scene;
    3. research (interesting places for interesting situations);
    4. study (knowing things may happen in certain places: actions but also lighting situations);
    5. patience;
    6. time (related to patience: waiting for things to happen);
    7. knowledge of the tools and usage skills;
    8. experience of photographs;
    9. personal style;
    10. constant and serious application, review and discussion;
    11. editing.
    And another one: a skilled mate to help gain a distance. :)
    Some are probably innate, some can be acquired.
    Combined together they could make a good photo.
     
  222. It seems to me to be spot on. The only thing is I think there are two slightly different things in there - the likely conditions that may go to creating a good photo, and evaluating whether a photo is good.
    I would add to your list what might be one of the most important of all - the photographer's passion for the subject. Of course, that may come through in the amount of time, research etc. spent, but with passion comes understanding and without it the picture may be dry.
    So for example, a viewer may not know or care how much research or time went into creating the photo - they are just looking at the finished result. The finished result either has to be judged on its own merits, or perhaps with the benefit of some outside information too (nothing wrong with having some text, or being able to see the image in the context of the photographer's other work for example).
    Having said that, it seems to me that the viewer should do his/her best to try to understand these things, insofar as they come through in the final image - in other words, be sensitive to where the photographer is coming from and try to understand it. That could mean that the research, study (and, hopefully, passion for the subject) comes through in the final image. The viewer can help by looking and trying to understand, even if the research etc. is not immediately obvious to the viewer. To put it a different way, the image may have a slow fuse, instead of presenting all its charms up front, the viewer may read more things into it the longer he/she looks at it.
     
  223. Simon,
    I would say that probably
    • creating a good photo, and
    • evaluating when a photo is good
    are the two sides of the same "coin".
    I find it difficult to keep them apart.
    Viewing, as you say, probably means understanding what is behind a photo. Two factors help: experience combined with talent, and time. Not everything is immediately perceptible.
    As to passion: I did not mention it - and I did not think of it - because I consider it implicit and I believe that without it photography would not work.
    It has to be there, also considering the strong emotional element of photography and the (potential) strong sensorial involvement.
     
  224. My passion thought was prompted by something I read by Martin Parr - along the lines that good photography doesn't come from a passion for photography, it comes from a passion for the subject you're photographing.
     
  225. riz

    riz

    Photograph is not Good or Bad.
    Photograph is a document, an evidence. It's a reality; in my opinion its the viewer's mindset who declares it Good or Bad. Photograph can be categorized as Artistic, when perceived one level higher than a document, and, that again is based on viewer's thinking i.e. some may classify a photograph as a work of art and some as just a document.
    Would be happy if you put my statement on a firing range :)
    Riz
     
  226. Riz,
    it is not necessarily reality.
    Not at all.
    Even the strictest documentary only can show a scene with a rectangular frame around it. Leaving alone all those photos which are altered.
    Photographing is manipulating. Framing manipulates, toning manipulates, black and white manipulates.
    Around a photograph, but also around a painting, a statue, a creation, a musical work, any other sensorial experience there is the interaction between the one who produces it and the one who sees it, hears it, tastes it.
    One may like it or not, but we make a judgement, at least to ourselves.
     
  227. Hi Luca, what an interesting thread. I think we may be making too much of this though. When used to denote a photograph, the concept of good can mean:
    a) Having the right or desired qualities
    b) Enjoyable or agreeable
    Whether something is enjoyable or agreeable is clearly idiosyncratic. Therefore, there can be no list of criteria or rules that define this. However, it is possible that the right or desired qualities of something are given by a set of rules or criteria. For instance, the right/desired qualities of a psychological test are reliability and validity. These criteria are given in the "Standards for Educational and Psychological Tests" and so are not idiosyncratic.
    I know of no such authoritative source for photographs. If no source exists, then it follows that right/desired qualities are idiosyncratic as well.
    So, what is a good photograph then? By definition it is one that an individual believes has the right/desirable qualities and/or is enjoyable to look at. These are personal. This is why we don't all think the same photographs are good photographs.
    Now, should we CARE what a novice thinks a good photograph is? If we want to sell it, perhaps. Otherwise, perhaps not.
    Should you trust yourself? Well, if you want to be able to guess what other people think is good, then perhaps not (as it seems from your post that you aren't very good at this). If you want to understand what great photographers think a good photograph is, then just read what they have written on the matter. If you want to please yourself, then trust yourself! JJ
     
  228. Why is a Snicker's bar good? Why is Seared Ahi good? Rocky Road Ice Cream? All subjective.
    Why is Mozart good? When you compare Mozart to Beethoven who is better? All subjective.
    Photographs? The degree of "acceptance" of a good photograph will be marginally different depending on the person(s) who perceive it. If you are a photo competition judge, "good" means something different than it might to someone browsing in an art gallery and a photo exhibit. Is there good or bad art?
    My understanding of a good photograph is one that leaves me satisfied with what I have seen. Did I experience something? Maybe it was the composition. Maybe it was the subject. Maybe it was the colors or lack thereof (nice black & white tones). Maybe it was all of these.
    All forms of art requires some degree of technical skill. Some people will be impressed with the technical skill and say "that's good". Some will simply feel something and say the same.
    Then there are those who really don't pay that close attention but they like what they see and just peripherally indicate "that's good".
    All subjective. And...that's good. :)
     
  229. Jeremy and Lou,
    thank you for your thoughts.
    The matter of subjectivity is very important. I deliberately said "good" and not "like" to mitigate this a bit, but I don't know to which extent I succeeded.
    In any case, everybody everywhere seems to be very conscious about what is good and what is not. There are strict raters, fierce editors, brutal directions towards the garbage can.
    And high praises ...
    Rules, apparently, do not apply. Or do they?
    There are mistakes, or not?
    My post came from the clear perception that yes, subjectivity is dominant, but also that there has to be something else.
    Maybe the capability to stir an emotion even without building on a relationship between the viewer and the subject ...
    Who knows?
     

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