Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

What makes a good photograph?

Photoworks, I know their name does seem awfully similar to ours but we started in 1982 and are still going more than 30 years later, back to the point, they have a very interesting series of articles under the umbrella title, What makes a good photograph? I do have to encourage you to go and have a look and a read. You are interested in photography otherwise why are you here?

We’re All Editors by  in the series says…

Among my recurring mantras, I acknowledge the simple efficacy of Mark Twain’s brutal: “If you have nothing to say, say nothing.” There are far too many pictures in the world, and it’s the work of a moment to spot the ones that say nothing. Having something to say really is a good start; it’s a communication medium, after all.

I have always been irritated by photographers who are illiterate in their medium; and not in a know-it-all Professor of Photography kind of way, either. I don’t mean that everybody has to know what an ambrotype is or the date of birth of James Jarché. I mean something much less dry than that. In other art forms, creators gauge the level of knowledge of the audience and build upon it. Put another way, creators know that their audiences work hard to extract meaning and emotion from their stuff, and they pitch it where that effort can be rewarded. Thelonious Monk most assuredly knew the simple cadences of the Protestant hymns which underlay the classical chord-sequences of the piano blues that came before him. He didn’t want to play like that, but he knew that his audience knew it, and he could quote and refer and paraphrase and make fun of that stuff confident that his hearers would ‘get’ it. That is literacy…….I’ve always pleaded that photography is a perfectly ordinary cultural activity. What that means is that it has to respond to analysis. Photographs are good or bad for understandable reasons. That should be an article of unshakeable faith. But in every other culture that I know, citation and reference and parody are the absolute basis of communication, and unpicking them the basis of analysis. Somehow, in photography, we often allow that to slip. So many photographers think that they are inventing the wheel, and that their viewers can be ‘wowed’ by their lonely vision, isolated from all that went before. It isn’t so, and it shouldn’t be so. If photography is a cultural activity, then those who engage in it have to own to a culture. It need not be that of the conservatoire or the museum, of course not; but without one, they can only reach audiences by chance. That is the cost of illiteracy.

The bold type is mine, I think it matters so much. Make the time to go and have a look at the series and read what is being said about this thing called photography that matters so much to us. READ MORE HERE

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