Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2001/01/26

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Subject: Re: [Leica] What makes a good photo (was: Lee's week four)
From: Johnny Deadman <>
Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2001 08:33:03 -0500

on 1/25/01 6:58 PM, Martin Howard at wrote:

> I do agree and don't agree with this.  I think photography should primarily
> be visual and not intellectual.

You mean primarily visual and not primarily intellectual? I agree. If not, I
don't. Visual and intellectual are different axes. I'd say a photograph
should be primarily visual, period. Of course, being a photograph, it IS! It
doesn't sing, or have chapters... it just looks a certain way... So I'm not
sure where that gets us...hmmm

>  In other words, if a picture *only* makes
> sense after giving it considerable thought about the possible implications,
> then in my mind, it's failed.  However, that is *not* the same as a picture
> that works on different levels -- one where you discover subtle references,
> implications, or whatever, on more abstract, intellectual levels, in
> *addition* to being visually interesting.
> Second, I think two very, very good criteria for a "good" picture are from
> two very good photographers: HCB and Costa Manos.  HCB's "one second test" I
> think is great.  Do you look at a picture for more than a second?  Does
> something capture your interest and make you stop at it?  If not, it's not a
> good picture.

'good' is such a tough word in these contexts. Try substituting
'interesting' and I think it all starts to make more sense. Too many
photographers are preoccupied with making 'good' pictures, using standards
of 'good' that they have not examined. Hence the preponderance of sunsets
and naked women, however sharp and nicely exposed. Not enough make
'interesting' pictures without worrying too much about the 'good' part.

In my view, if you try to take 'good' pictures, you're likely to end up
achieving nothing. If you try to take 'interesting' pictures you may by
accident end up taking some good ones... HCB and Manos' tests hint at
> Manos's test is what I call the "surprise test".  When going through
> pictures, flipping the page, uncovering the print, or whatever, a good
> picture is a surprise.  Something unexpected.  Something new.

Yes, and isn't this related to Winogrand's wonderful formulation of a
photograph as a 'new fact' about the world? Are your (or my, or anyone's)
photos 'new facts'? That's a high bar to pass but it's where we should aim.

> The trick, of course, is getting all this *before* you take the picture.
> Not afterwards, with a cup of coffee in your hand, sitting by your computer,
> typing into the email program.  And I'm not there yet.

Duke Ellington (I think) said the important thing in music was to know which
note you were going to play before you played it. It didn't matter HOW LONG
before you played it you knew you were going to play it...two months or an
eighteenth of a second. Of course, being perverse, I'd like to throw in a
little Miles Davis, and say that the really important thing is to know what
note you're going to play, and then play a different one...

thanks for provoking thoughts, Martin.
- -- 
Johnny Deadman

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