We can all look at a photograph and immediately decide whether or not we like it. We can distinguish between what we believe to be a ‘good’ photo and a ‘bad’ one. However, if we were to be asked the question, ‘why?’ , would we be able to answer?
Just what makes a photograph good or bad? Is it the lighting, the subject or maybe the composition that makes it good, or is there something more that makes it stand out?
Without giving a photograph meaning, the viewer can place very little value in what they are looking at. Yes, the photograph may contain excellent skills in exposure, composure and so on, but if there is no narrative to the picture, how can the photographer expect the audience to build up emotional connection to their work?
Firstly ask yourself, how many people make a photograph? 1, none, as many as can fit in the frame? My first response to this was 1, that being the subject. A photograph is after all, a 2D representation of what the camera captures. However, upon further reflection I realized that there are in fact 3 people that make up a photograph. The subject, the photographer and also the viewer. The dynamics of this relationship are unbalanced but equally , the relationship between the 3 is what makes a picture good or bad.
The subject of the photograph relies upon the photographer to tell their tale, with sensitivity and compassion. The subject , without whom the picture would be impossible and the viewer, who makes sense of the final image. All 3 are intertwined to create a good picture but who holds the position of power in the relationship?
Ultimately the power lies in the hands of the photographer, they have the responsibility to create an image that tells as story, to pre-visualise the impact that they want the photo to have upon the viewer.
It is important that in order to give a photograph meaning you must give it both context and provenance. Context , why the photo was shot, for what purpose? Provenance , the history of the image, what is the story of the subject , what are the events that are leading up to the image being taken. To both context and provenance to an image gives a narrative, a story, sometimes this is called the endowment effect. It allows the viewer to place meaning and value to the image that would not be possible without it.
As a photographer you are entrusted by your subject to document their story, to give them a voice. It is your responsibility to do it well and to create a good picture.