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22 - What's a Good Photograph?

You may say:

This book is about me, the photographer.

Why is there a section on photographs, our product?

Let's just define what we're working toward, as we go about doing our ways-of-working.

And, suggest that a primary reason for a photograph being good, is that it was produced by a good way-of-working.

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams wrote:

I have been asked many times, "What is a great photograph?"

I can answer best by showing a great photograph, not by talking about one.

However, as word definitions are required more often than not, I would say this: A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a full expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.

And the expression of what one feels should be set forth in terms of simple devotion to the medium—a statement of the utmost clarity and perfection possible under the conditions of creation and production.

Henry Geldzahler

Henry Geldzahler was the first director of the National Endowment for the Arts, was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and was commissioner of cultural affairs during the Koch administration.

In an article in the Village Voice years ago, Richard Goldstein quotes Geldzahler.

"One question I'm often asked," the commish writes, "is, ‘How can you determine quality?' That there is no short answer to this question is axiomatic; 150 years of aesthetic philosophizing has left us without formulas for divining ‘quality.' I do, however, find two criteria to be of some use in measuring my own feelings."

"The first is memorability; if you remember a work, if its forms cohere in your memory, or better still, if the works calls itself to mind like a melody in an opera, and you feel you must return to view it again, it might well be good."

"Second, if there is a narrative, an unfolding in your relation to the work; if, on subsequent viewings, it reveals more, suggests more, it is a work that you will continue to live with, whether or not ownership is a practical possibility."

Can a photograph that has an immediate, but fleeting, impact, be good?

Other Things

Here are some other things that make for a good photograph.

The photograph:

• Grabs your attention.

• Does what you want it to do.

• Communicates.

• Transports the viewer elsewhere.

• Transforms the viewer elsewhere.

• Elicits a thought/emotion within the viewer.

• Uses all of the tools of photography effectively