from Windows Series:how to read a photograph

Filed under: Collector Prints,Work in Progress; Author: mas; Posted: March 23, 2010 at 6:08 pm;

The trend in editing photographs is to keep the ones that immediately grab your eye and trash the rest.  Then the photographer or editor makes several more passes using his or her own visceral reactions to decide relative strength of the photograph.  This trend comes from the editorial side of photojournalism, where the publishers want to grab viewers’ interest as they wander past the magazine stand or flip through the channels on a t.v.  This method of choosing photographs has resulted in the viewing of some of the best photographs of our times. What happens, though, after your attention has been caught?

It’s kind of like the first line of a great story, e.g. “Gregor Samsa, a hardworking traveling salesman, awoke one morning and found himself transformed into a gigantic beetle.” (Kafka, Metamorphosis)  You need to know how to continue reading.  The same is true of photographs; you have to learn to read them.  At the risk, then, of being self-serving, let’s look at the following photograph.

The first thing you see is the flag, because it’s bright red and white, and you recognize it.  At about the same time you are drawn to the bright white squares in the vicinity of the flag.  Maybe you even see them first.  So then what?  There’s an extension of the white squares reaching back into the picture. Then, there’s a big dividing line across the middle of the image.

Under that line are two men standing in the foreground and a number of bigger squares making up the windows of the front of the building.  These squares play with both the horizontal and vertical squares on top of the line.  Then you notice the man coming out of the corner door and several more people approaching the doors also from the inside.  These people, especially the corner door guy play visually with the men in the foreground.

There are of course other things to look at farther back on the first level.  I’ll leave the rest of this to your imagination and someone else’s directions.  Meanwhile, reading takes practice, so if an image appears to have more content than the first thing you notice, look for shapes and lines and interplay of contents and elements.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Catalog No. 100317082

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