Thursday, 17 February 2011

What makes a great picture? Kittens


Andrew Buurman provides a late entry to the Success strand. Again, it's a very common question, an easy question to ask, but oh-so-difficult to answer. This is what Andrew says:

What makes a great picture? Kittens

When I was working as a photographer at The Independent the chief photographer was brilliant but could also be little terse. A student had written to him with the same question: What makes a successful photograph. He looked at the carefully prepared sheet of follow up questions and ,in large bold black biro, wrote "Kittens" and sent it back. 

Obviously it was a flippant answer though he had a point. The natural reaction when seeing kittens is ,what a friend would call, "a big girlie aaah".  It's one of the reasons you see gift shops with books of cats and dogs. This shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. These images cause a response, they get  a reaction.

These days we are bombarded with thousands of images per day.  Photographs can have more impact than the moving image because you can come back to them time and time again. You can  transpose your own values, ideas and judgements on them but what picture do we stop at? Surely one that creates an reaction.  War photographer Simon Norfolk produces beautiful large format photographs about the awful power of military technology. I've  heard him talk about the beauty wanting to initially draw the viewer in and then the subject slap them on the face.

On the front cover of my book  "Allotments" there is  a man looking lovingly  at the chrysanthemums that he has grown.  His name was Mark. He was a lovely man who had a passion for growing flowers. He encapsulated the way that most people think about allotments as a retreat, an escape, a rural idyll in a urban environment. I wanted the book to explore this as a metaphor for how we view England. It might not be a face slapping subject but I wanted the immediacy of the image to get the viewer to look at the pictures closer and ,maybe, get interested in my ideas of what allotments what they represent in the UK.

Mark was down the allotments quite a lot when I started the project and less so at the end. I later learnt, from his son, that he was ill.  When he passed away his son got in touch and asked for a print to put on his coffin.

The picture always gets a positive response whenever I show it. For me its a successful photograph even though there are no kittens.

1 comment:

Stan B. said...

These kittens... should I stick with full frame, or can I sacrifice some IQ with the new translucent mirror technology and go for the fleeting, unguarded moments? Also, should I get an agent?

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