We live in a voyeuristic world where everybody is a photographer. We are inundated with imagery through social media sites like Facebook, tumblr, and G+. Often, the images that seem to get the most immediate attention tend to be the flashy ones…bright colors, over-processed garish HDR’s and images all dressed up with photoshop actions and Instagram filters. Our lifestyles are so fast-paced that photos have to be flashy to get our attention. The majority though, fade into that vast caldron of the “same old same old” after only a few seconds. We click on the next, and the next, and the next, looking for some kind of superficial stimulation.
However there are a few images that simply don’t care about grabbing our immediate attention. In fact, at first they don’t seem like anything special. But it’s often this kind of photograph that as time passes, becomes more meaningful.
Throughout the history of photography, some of the most wonderful photographs are ones that are not technically excellent. They may be slightly out of focus or blurred from motion. They are not flashy or trendy, but they have survived the test of time. These are the images we find in books, on gallery walls, or on our desks reminding us of something that seems to transcend the medium. They contain artifacts and imperfections, but yet convey enough meaning that we enjoy seeing them again and again.
The best images are often the ones that don’t make much of an initial impact, but for one reason or another, we can’t stop looking at them. Could it be that like humans themselves, they contain flaws, something unsaid or a little mysterious, and in this sense they hit us deeper, closer to the core? These are photos that show life as it really is…unposed, raw, and at times gritty. These are portraits that bring out the characteristics of who someone really is without fake smiles, fancy lighting, or staged pretenses. These are landscapes that make us appreciate nature’s plan. These are images that tell a story or make us ask questions.
Its true. We all value images for different reasons. Some are struck by composition, others by the subject matter itself. Some enjoy brilliant, highly-saturated landscapes. Others prefer portraits with as much out-of-focus background as possible. Still others need context. At what point do we grow tired of seeing over-processed landscapes of Mt. Rundle or long-exposure photos of a pier? When will we get weary of seeing liquified barbie doll girls on magazine covers? When can we expect the next gallery exhibition of plastic-skinned newborns with alien eyes?
That’s what’s so great about photography. That’s why it’s so hard. If the search to find that something unsaid, to find a timeless truth was easy, we probably wouldn’t be as interested in buying all those new cameras that take better pictures 😉
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos