A photograph is intriguing, not from how a subject is composed or portrayed, but because of a photographer’s ability to impose emotion in a fleeting moment. Photography is emotionally driven work and reflects the photographer’s subconscious; it is not exclusively an act of capturing images to document moments.
With the technological boom of the 21st century, public accessibility to cameras — such as mobile devices — has ensured the rise of personal photography and created an oversaturation of the quantity of photos we digest daily. The quality of these photos is extremely varied and holds a vastly different weight in the viewers’ visual stimulation. Social services such as Instagram, a photo-sharing platform for mobile phones, contribute to our daily interaction with photos. According to Instagram’s official site, there are over one billion active users using the service. The images shared on Instagram are frequently modified to appeal to its algorithm which increases the poster’s impressions or viewership — represented as “likes”. Instagram encourages work that is far closer to modern commercialism and generally strays from the original intent of photography.
The Klagenfurt University, Universitätsstrasse, held a study on the intent of modern photography–specifically images intended for a social platform–and concluded that “While many users capture precious moments they want to remember, no one actually reported [a] search for pictures out of emotions”. The reason for taking a photo simplifies down to a few categories: social-functional, social-affective, individual-functional, and individual-affective; photos can be placed fluidly between all four. The study also highlights that the technology used to capture a moment was secondary to the convenience of the actual act of capturing it — whether someone has a DSLR or a mobile device is purely situational.
The lenses with which a viewer interacts and understands both the work and the surrounding world are an image’s intent and function. As Vilém Flusser describes it in his book, Towards a Philosophy of Photogrpahy: the modern function of images is “magically restructuring our ‘reality’ and turning it into a ‘global image scenario’… their lives [have] become a function of their own images: Imagination has turned into hallucination.” The creation of an alternate world, developed through the eyes of another, lays omnipresent before us and is aided by our own experiences. Purposeful intent can certainly electrify a photograph and propel it to a higher form of art, but each image captured by an individual holds a snapshot into their world, and consequently, their own mind.
Though the photographer is integral to the creation of a photograph, viewers rarely think about them. As mentioned before, the photographer’s emotional influence holds a great deal over what people see on the other side. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is a great saying for a simple reason; a photograph can easily entrance the viewer and transport them to the exact moment in time the photo was taken through a different pair of eyes, almost as if the viewer is invading the photographer’s mind. Photography can create an intimate relationship between the viewer and the work at hand, thus a perfect catalyst to embed personal meaning to the work.
Dave Sandford is a brilliant photographer whose subjects are simple, yet emotionally complex; he captures the very instant two waves collide on Lake Erie. In Dave Sandford’s Bane of the Great Lakes, he describes that strictly through movement and form, he captures the rawest form of character and allows the viewer to assign feelings to the collision as if the waves were alive. What ultimately defines this feeling of intensity is the photographer’s motivation to go into the cold, chaotic waters of Lake Erie. Sandford describes his relentless endeavors to capture his Great Lake wave series as grueling, taking “over the past 4 weeks for 2 to 3 days [and] sometimes 6 hours a day”. This drive affects the mood of his photography, whether it is directly noticeable or not. The image’s simplicity is like a canvas that allows for bold reactions to happen.
A painter can physically manifest in a painting through the application of paint, a clear advantage of its engaging process, but it begs the question if photographers can achieve this effect as well. The application is different, but the results are similar representations of the artist. Viewing art, as described by Wendy Richmond in her book, Art Without Compromise, can allow for a greater appreciation and understanding of the artist and their work. Thus, viewing a photograph intensively can create a direct link between the viewer and the photographer.
Art consumers seek work with emotional depth, beauty, and meaning, not just the accuracy of a rendered scene. Photography does not differ from the intent of paintings and other forms of art. The photographer’s serious emotional impact on the audience far outweighs the technical ability to capture a moment in time. A photograph is a canvas that the artist paints their experiences onto; the subject is a mirror that defines the mind of the photographer.