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Photography and Interestingness Part 2: Questions and Audience

April 28, 2014
Pictorial Sunset, David Thompson Country

“Pictorial Sunset”. Here’s an abstracted composition. This isn’t about details or any specific grand mountain location, but about murkiness, mood and some odd atmospheric colours at sunset. Even though this is my second-highest viewed post on one photo sharing site, it has received zero “likes”, “faves”, etc. Nor has it sold. For some reason people like to look at it, but it doesn’t click with them enough even to respond with a social thumbs-up. I don’t care, though, because I made it as a direct result of seeing a vintage Edward Steichen print of “The Black Canyon”. Google for it and you’ll see a hint of the inspiration. Steichen’s work has been very influential on me, so this is an example of a photograph I made for myself.

The good folks at The Camera Store blog recently published part 2 of my article series on “photography and interestingness”. In part 1, I put out some ideas about how to add interest to your photographs. (You can find a link to part 1 if you click here.) In part 2, I carry on with one idea I mentioned in passing in part 1 — asking questions.

Did you know that young children typically ask hundreds of questions per day, while by adulthood the number of questions drops to perhaps a couple of dozen a day? The nature of the questions changes as well. Children are naturally inquisitive, curious and imaginative, and their questions show it. Whereas often by adulthood many of us lose that spark, replacing it with a focus on facts and pragmatic tasks. Creativity requires us to re-ignite the spark of curiosity; asking questions is a good way to add interestingness to photography.

In part 2, I also talk a bit about thinking about the audience for your photographs. If you make photographs as a form of art or more generally as a means of creative expression, then a key audience is yourself. If you’re highly engaged or not that interested in something you’re photographing, it will come through to viewers either way.

If you’re making work that’s entirely personal — and many do just that — you can stop after considering your own response. But if you make work for others, you may wish to add their interests to the mix because you hope for your work to connect with them. Many authors and other artists think about their intended audience as part of creating their work. You can do the same by considering what’s interesting to a desired audience, and balance that with your own interests without “selling out”.

To read the full article, please click through the link to Photography and Interestingness Part 2.

Secrets of the Ice World

“Secrets of the Ice World”. This photo was awarded Merit at the PPOC 2014 national Image Salon.

Speaking of making work that better strikes a balance of being interesting to both myself as the creator and to audiences, as part of my membership in the Professional Photographers of Canada I submit photographs to various judged events. I do some of these to achieve professional accreditations in various genres of photography, while others are more like competitions.

The best competition, I believe, is rarely against someone else but rather against oneself. Looking to push my own work further is exactly why, this year, I submitted a set of 4 images to the PPOC’s national Image Salon. I’m quite happy to say 2 of the photos were awarded by the judging panel.

From the PPOC salon summary: “The first level is simply known as ‘Accepted’ and denotes that the image is of a high enough level to warrant being displayed in a prestigious national display of photography by the members of PPOC. The next level is known as ‘Merit’ and indicates a clear step above the first level of Accepted. The highest level is known as ‘Excellence’, which really says it all. Excellence images are a very small and elite group of images that have risen to the top. These are simply remarkable images.”

Relating this back to my ideas in part 2 of the article series on photography and interestingness, clearly a panel of professional photography judges is different than fine art print buyers, who are different in turn from my friends & family or commercial stock photography clients. And more. Each type of audience bears some consideration, because they’re looking for something. While I make work for myself, and always try to do the best I can based on my own drive and purpose, I also want to understand what any particular audience is looking for as well. Photography judges are particularly interested in both technical and artistic qualities that go into photographs, and so can be more critical in their view of a given photograph. It’s important to understand this and be prepared to handle the feedback appropriately. 🙂

Melting At a Glacial Pace

“Melting At a Glacial Pace”. This image was not accepted at the national salon, but a monochrome print of it did take a blue ribbon at our local PPOC branch monthly photo shoot-out. I like it either way because it tells part of the story of what’s happening with glaciers around the world. Different images appeal (or not) to different audiences, for different reasons.

Since 2 of my submitted photos were awarded, that means 2 were not. Do I take that as a crushing blow? Not at all; in fact I still like both non-awarded images a great deal on a personal level, and feel they have potential for success in other ways. (In fact, one of the non-awarded images took a blue ribbon in our monthly PPOC branch photo shoot-out just after it failed to appeal to the national judging panel.) But I also take the judges’ input under consideration in terms of potential improvements to these and future images. Part of that relates to improving my craft at image-making, but more so it relates to creating images that better connect with my chosen audiences.

Do you photograph for yourself, for an audience, or for both? Do you know or think about what different audiences find interesting about your work? What about judged, competition-style events — do you participate in them, or think they have no bearing on your work? Feel free to share your thoughts on the question of audiences and interestingness…


Enchantment, Cypress Hills

“Sunset Enchantment”. This photo was awarded Accepted at the PPOC 2014 national Image Salon.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2014 09:04

    Congrats Royce on your 2 awarded images! Keep up the great work!

    • April 29, 2014 19:37

      Thanks Craig! One goal now is to have better “judge appeal” next year for my next submission of 4. 🙂

  2. April 29, 2014 11:50

    Good article Royce

    I photograph because I enjoy it (especially the part that includes spending the time outdoors) and because I want to tell a story. To show people the beauty that exists out there. I have not been contributing my images to camera club competitions for a while, because I noticed that there are certain requirements and ways to photograph in order for your images to achieve high marks. Quite often, images in club competitions fit into certain mold and I am not interested in becoming part of it. This “mold” is also obvious in the type of images that get a high number of “likes” and “G-plusses”. Over-saturated, perfect and in-your-face. Just look at the high ranking images on 500px and you will know what I mean. So, in my opinion, photographing for -me- and photographing for -an audience- are two different goals that a photographer can strive for.

    • April 29, 2014 19:46

      Thanks for the comment, Branimir. You’re absolutely right — doing work strictly for oneself vs. for any sort of external audience can be a completely different kettle of fish. And of course audiences are not all the same, either. I’ve sold prints to people who love them and hang them on the walls of their homes 365 days a year, while competition judges have rejected the same because the images lack some formal quality. Each response is valid in its context, none of the responses are the whole truth.

      Beauty, story, meaning, connection, resonance… these are all in the eye and imagination of the beholder. Whose eyes are we going after as photographers? It’s an important question to at least try to answer… not that the connection always works even when we think we know what — and whom — we’re shooting for. 🙂

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