Friday, 17 May 2013

The 'Wow factor' - and why to avoid it

When I got back into photography I couldn't work out why my pictures didn't look like the majority I saw garnering praise on photo-sharing sites, or those one the sites and blogs of the photographers which my Google searches or link followings threw up. Everything looked 'stunning'. Then it dawned on me that my photos never used to look like those in the popular photography magazines thirty years previously. In fact I had stopped buying those magazines after about twelve months and started looking at books of photographs by the likes of Cartier-Bresson, Lartigue and Kértesz.

History repeated  itself. I stopped looking at the 'great captures' on the web and found myself seeking out more serious photography. The sort which always seems to get labelled as 'boring' in the comments when it is posted on photography sections of the general internet media. I check the Guardian and BBC photography sections daily and the comments are so predictable. The condemnation of 'boring' will be followed/preceded by another comment claiming the commenter could have taken a better photograph with their camera phone. An example can be found here.

This has made me realise why so many 'art' photographers shun the 'wow factor' and make their work deliberately dull and seemingly boring. It's so the process doesn't get in the way of the picture. A simple point clearly being missed by a whole swathe of photographers. It's also why I found the pictures in Sebastião Salgado's widely praised new book, Genesis, looked too beautiful when I picked it up to browse in Waterstones the other week. Every picture was perfectly composed and processed to have impact. I was admiring the technique and not looking at the pictures.

'Boring' pictures aren't inherently great or interesting, but neither are 'exciting' pictures full of 'interesting' content and beautiful colours or tones. Maybe this is just a reflection of my personality - I enjoy listening to repetitive, often minimalist, music. The kind of stuff you can't sing along to. The kind a lot of people find 'boring'. Sometimes being boring is the point. Art can be meditative.

The picture above is pretty boring. It's not a great shot, but I'm glad I didn't delete it immediately - which I almost did. On the camera's screen I hadn't noticed the dark patch on the Tarmac balancing the white line and helping the not-quite-symmetrical composition with it's subtle Yin and Yang elements.

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