What is a photograph?
I asked this question of a group of colleagues at work during a short seminar on Improving our PR Photography that I gave recently. The answers came from several different angles:
- there was the obvious – it's something you take with a camera!
- there was the techie angle - 'a collection of pixels' which seems related to the above, with a bit more emphasis on process;
- there was the 'photo as a record' angle – a picture that captures a moment in time, which moves beyond the obvious and starts to consider why we might take a photo;
- and finally, at the other end of the discussion, there was a photo is all of the above, but a good photo also captures a feeling, a concept or story, or tells you something or hints at something about the subject.
This seems to catch people's views of photography in a nutshell – at one end is the belief that it's all about equipment and cameras – obviously the manufacturers like to promote this view, because it makes them money. At the other end is the 'It's the photographer that makes a photo, the equipment is not important' which in my view tends to be promoted by idealists, but does at least give the photographer some credit for his/her input.
In reality, the real position is somewhere in between. If it was all about the photographer, then pros wouldn't need top-notch equipment, because their customers wouldn't care about technical quality. On the other hand, if it was all about the equipment, then all I would need was a 10x8 camera and I could be the next Ansel Adams (clearly that ain't gonna happen).
So why does it irritate me when people say 'That's a nice shot, you must have a good camera' or 'Your camera doesn't have many megapixels, does it?' The simple answer is because it removes me from the equation. Part of me wants a superior camera, because sometimes, as I get more experienced, I hit the limits of my camera's capabilities. At other times, I am conceited enough to believe that the thought I put into the photo transcends the equipment and conveys the idea I had in mind.
That's when I feel like a photographer, not a snapper, and to my mind it's what make a photo a photograph and not just a snap(which isn't to say snaps don't have their place - it's just a different place).
Thursday, 19 February 2009
What is a photograph?