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Saturday, April 21, 2012

How photographs are read

The old age adage, ‘A picture is worth a 1000 words’ has been true from time immemorial. The adage, had been derived long before the advent of photography as we know it, in fact it is even older than the invention and evolution of photography. The earliest, references point to the Renaissance period artists who painted on canvas, paper etc. using various drawing materials like charcoal, water colors, oil paints etc. 

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In modern parlance, in this digital age and with easy and affordable availability of digital cameras there are millions and millions of photographs been “taken” by general public, amateurs and professionals on varied subjects and locations. With almost, no thought given to the technical and aesthetic aspects of the photography, people just click images, which are generally mundane in nature to say the least. This results in disappointment for the viewer as well as the photographer, why?

The answer lies in how the photographs are read by the viewer. What is being conveyed by the image, where it is displayed on screen or printed on standard 4”x 6” photography paper, is important? Why do most of the photographs “fail” to communicate anything and generally assigned to be only archived in the hard disk and almost never visited again?

There is a deep connection between the photographer and the photographed image. What the photographer wants to convey is very evident by the medium of his photography. But does this message get translated to high-impact emotion to the viewer? In most of the cases, the answer is NO.

The interpretation of every photograph depends on various factors, mood of the viewer, location, presentation, medium and manner in which the photograph is displayed and where it is being displayed. It is a well know fact that human interpretation of a same object changes dramatically due to ambience and location. For example, a viewer’s experience after going through an exhibition being held in a high end art gallery will be very different than viewing the same photography exhibition held for a charity organization.

The emotion conveyed by the photograph has to be conveyed to the viewer in the best possible manner for the highest impact. The photographs are read in conjunction with various other factors as illustrated above but there is one aspect that helps a photographer to communicate effectively is to ‘capture’ photographs that are minimalistic in nature, clear to human eye, free from technical photographic flaws and draw the human eye from edge to the central figure in the photograph and then again view the entire photograph in its totality.  

In addition to the above points, in many cases, photographers add caption / title to the photograph with is a good idea to guide an uninitiated viewer towards the subject of the photograph. Although, most of the times, captions are adequate, there are some photographers who supplement their photographs with description and their own interpretation of the situation. There being no standard practice in displaying photographs, it is completely at the discretion of the photographer.

Although, a written word requires a reader knowing the specific language, there are no such boundaries on reading a photograph, which makes photography cross all manmade boundaries and reach out globally.

Read visually some of the best commercial images by Industrial Photographer