What is a Photograph?

On Friday 12th October 2012 I had a lecture entitled “What is a photograph?” that was taken by lecturer and photographer Jonathan Worth. Within this lecture we discussed the ideologies of what made a photograph and studied the different photographers that were mentioned in Stephen Shore’s book “The Nature of Photographs”.

Below are my key notes that I took during the lecture that has really inspired the way in which I look at photography and the photographer themselves.

So what is a photograph?

  • A photograph yields a trace of the real world
  • It is 2D
  • It flattens the world
  • Photographs have a limited in scope
  • A photographer has to choose what is in and out of the photograph
  • It is a still
  • Photographs can be multi-coloured or monotone
  • Everybody sees things differently – The viewer and the photographer
  • Cameras will render an image depending on the film or sensor
  • A photograph is fixed in time
  • It has a time and place as an artefact
  • The context in which it is seen affects the meaning
  • A photograph can either be ‘Utilitarian’ (useful) or a work of art
  • Depending on where the viewer sees a photograph, the meaning will change

A photographer can reference the context of an image to give it a completely different meaning.

Photographs can be used to record things – they tell the truth, a photograph doesn’t lie.

When talking about a photograph, start with the obvious:

  • Style
  • Dimensions
  • Colour – era e.g. 1960’s
  • Describe
  • Angle
  • Middle
  • Foreground/background
  • Intimate? Casual?
  • Tell us what the image DENOTES – literally what is there
  • CONNOTATION – what it represents, what it means
  • Why do we feel the connotation?
  • Try to put the photograph in a certain place, time and context

As the photographer makes different photographs, they frame the world
Photographers construct a cogent visual statement and try to portray a sense of depth

Some photographs can literally stops the viewer dead – they have no route for the eye to take and have to be viewed as a whole

Some photographers deliberately create tension in their photographs by using a point of focus and the way in which they frame an image

“Tilt and Shift” Process:

  • 5×4 – large format
  • Lens baby – can be put on the front of a camera’s lens
  • The photographer can also tilt the lens to a certain angle
  • It is functional
  • This process can be used in creative applications – Jan Groover

Mental Modelling” – Also known as pre-visualisation

  • The photographer filters out anything that does not conform to their preconceived view on the world
  • The photographer can also experiment with new perceptions

Bernd and Hilla Becher:

  • The photographer edits the world
  • Cogent – something that makes sense very quickly
  • Express their sense of the world and articulate a meaning

Lee Friedlander:

  • Ironic
  • Typical leaning tower of Pisa style
  • Relationships don’t exist anywhere apart from the photograph – framing
  • Makes reference to things that are behind him and in front of him in his images

Thomas Struth:

  • Eye cannot go through the image
  • Stops the viewer dead
  • Tension
  • Construct a narrative – more than one photo
  • Invites the viewer into the illusion of depth

Stephen Shore:

  • A photographer doesn’t see a photograph but solves a photograph
  • Monocular – Single lens
  • A photographer chooses simultaneously what to include and what to leave out

Gary Winogrand:

  • Humour
  • Shows a new language of imagery
  • Visual puns – tongue just in line with hat
  • Photograph stops things dead

Larry Fink:

  • Stop the moments
  • Dancers movements
  • Discreet parcel of time

Jonathan Worth:

  • Photographed Gilbert and George – Artists
  • Shown in the National gallery
  • Changed the aperture
  • Shutter speed – 1/8 seconds

Edward Weston:

  • 6 minute exposure
  • Pepper

William Eggleston:

  • Used a camera without looking through the lens
  • Slide – less than half a stop out then it will go wrong
  • Di-transfer printing from slide
  • Sink bathed in light – exposed over night

Robert Adams:

  • Outdoor theatre
  • New Topographies

August Sander:

  • German
  • Street photographer
  • Photographed portraits of ordinary people
  • Rise of Nazi’s in Germany
  • His photographs didn’t fit the Nazi aesthetic

Andreas Gurskey

  • Took digital images all pasted them all together

Aaron Destin

Helen Levitt

Robert Frank

Eugene Atget