Does an image have to be “about” something

Does an image have to have deep and obvious meaning to be worthwhile?  I don’t think so. I am reluctant to read too much into an image. In general, it is just a collection of pixels. Those pixels are perceived by our visual system and reconstructed as something in our brain. The viewer is responsible for interpreting the image, and that will be a function of their experiences, mood, context, etc.

There are images that do have a powerful message. They are generally a few exceptional photojournalism images or some advertising or illustration images that state their message clearly. These are not what I am talking about here. I’m talking about “fine art”, whatever that is. Fine Art is generally referred to as works that are done purely as art, not for commercial purposes.

As an image creator, I better have a “why” in mind for an image or it will be just a record shot — just an “I was here; look at that”. Now, some of these record shots can be very nice and I may really like them, but they are not generally what is considered fine art.

But just because I have the reason in mind does not necessarily mean it should be obvious to the viewer. The viewer should discover his own joy in the image. Maybe it is the combination of colors; maybe it is the shapes; maybe it is the composition of the graphical elements; maybe they just really like pictures of horses. It doesn’t matter. If the image challenges or pleases the viewer, if it causes them to ask questions or produces an emotional effect in them, it is successful.

Take this image, for instance:

It probably violates every rule of photography I ever learned (more about Rules later). But to me it has a staying power. I can stare at it for a long time just exploring the colors, movement, etc. I could say a lot about possible symbolism here, but it doesn’t matter unless you, the viewer, ask those questions yourself.

33 Replies to “Does an image have to be “about” something”

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    1. Katie, great to hear from you. I assume you are referring to the blog part of the web site. How much work it is is a hard question to answer. I consider writing to be one of the hardest creative activities to do. Like photography, anyone can do it but few rise to the level of doing it well. And no, I’m not claiming that I am great at it. If you are in the habit of writing you are already ahead of where I started. I am not a journal keeper.

      Going into it, I thought coming up with topics would be one of the challenges, but that has not been the case. I have much more I want to write about than I would have guessed. The challenge on a given week is which topic to choose.

      All I can say is, just do it. Start. Commit to doing it on a regular basis. Set aside the time – whatever it takes you. Be hard on yourself. Proofread very critically. Force yourself to rewrite as necessary to make yourself clear. Decide who your audience is and target them with your voice and style.

      Thank you for reading my puny efforts. Great luck to you in your blogging!


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