What are these tulip photos about?

An important question when looking at a photo is, What is this photo about? In the case of an image of a single flower blossom, likely candidates depend where the image is on the documentary straight photo to would-be high-art spectrum. The photo could be intended as an illustration in a horticultural catalog, or it could be about shape, form, and gesture—with nothing to do with the literal subject matter.

Tulip Sun © Harold Davis

The photo above, Tulip Sun, is about a feeling: the bright, warm, and sunny feeling some of us get when looking at a beautiful and colorful flower. Tulip Eye, below, is a double-take narrative. What is inside the flower? Suppose it were peeking out at us?

Tulip Eye © Harold Davis

I like to understand what my photos are about, at least for me, as early as possible in the image-making process. Sometimes I am lucky enough to know this before I press the shutter release, but more often not. It’s good to know what direction the image is going early in post-production (if not sooner). Otherwise, implementing my vision is difficult, because it is hard to implement something one does not understand.

As a coda to this discussion, there’s no reason that my idea of what one of my photos is about should be your idea. It’s not necessarily that I have failed if my vision is not conveyed. As one example, some photographic imagery is intentionally conceived as a projective device, or Rorschach: the viewer reads into the image what they have brought to it. And, of course, a photo can be about more than one thing, just as it can work on several levels—encompassing, for example, formal composition as well as narrative feeling.

This entry was posted in Flowers, Photography.

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