Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rambling About a Photograph

There was an interesting concept to the July 1st meeting of the NWHPC. Several weeks prior to the meeting, the members were furnished a list of photographic themes from which they were to choose one theme to do a single photograph. The finished photographs were anonymously judged by the members as to which theme the photographer was attempting to convey. After which there was a group discussion of how well the photographer met the theme challenge as well as how to improve the image on those that seemed to fall short of the goal. This is a great learning concept and a great opportunity to practice reading the works of other photographers.

One of the themes was Youth and one of the members entered a semi-formal portrait of a young lady, maybe in her twenties, in the Youth theme. I do not know the photographer but the image received considerable attention mostly because the men found the young woman attractive, even sexy (at the average age of most male members, all women under fifty-five with no further qualifications automatically fall into that category.) Many commented the lady was too old to convey Youth, which may or may not have been a valid comment. I am seventy, so I saw it as Youth and did not question a dividing line. Too me she was darn young, maybe not juvenile, but young.

However, the most interesting thing about the photograph was the overall green cast, which many mentioned. There was no discussion as to whether or not the green cast was intended, only that it should go. That carte blanche dismissal of elements in a photograph bother's me.

One of two things occurred. Either the photographer was aware of the green cast and was pleased with the overall appearance of the image or the photographer subconsciously accepted the green cast as adding an element to the image that they approved. I believe that if neither of those two things happened the photographer would have reprinted the image or selected another image rather than displaying an image that he/she felt was below standard. Therefore in my world of photography the question should have been why the green cast and what can we, as readers of the message, decipher from the green cast.

Of course, the jump to conclusion is that the photographer is an inept printer. I don't think that holds water even if it is assumed true. I am an inept printer, yet I am very aware when my images are not well printed. No, what has to be examined is not the photographer's printing skills, but why the photographer found the green cast acceptable to be displayed for critical analysis.

It has to be examined as an element that the photographer allowed into the image, which therefore gave meaning, through that element, to the photograph.

I do not know what the green cast added to the image, but I can say that I cannot phantom any complimentary meaning in giving a person a sickish skin coloration. That does not mean that there was no meaning. Just because I did not understand it does not mean that it should not have been approached as having meaning. It probably means just the opposite that it was a lost opportunity to expand either the group's knowledge or the knowledge of the photographer.

During the discussion of how to make the young woman appear more youthful it was suggested that she be photographed with an older person, which was agreed to by several members. Very true, she would have appeared younger by contrast, but then the image would not have been about Youth but about the relationship between her and the older person. That would have removed the photograph completely out of the intended theme but no one seemed to take notice of that.

The discussion should have been, how to adhere to the theme using this young woman, not how to make the young lady appear younger. It was a missed opportunity for discussion on several levels.

Whether intended or not, every element in a photograph has meaning. It is simply not our nature to stick a sentence into the middle of a paragraph that has no meaning or bearing on the subject of the discussion. The same goes for elements in a photograph. In this case, the green cast is a modifier no less so than an adjective modifying a noun/pronoun in a sentence.

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