Is a beautiful photograph a photograph of a beautiful thing?

Forums All About Photography Is a beautiful photograph a photograph of a beautiful thing?

This topic contains 3 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  meg cumming 6 years, 3 months ago.

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    Ian McNab

    The other day, I came across a rather striking comment by a fine art photographer, to the effect that when we make photographs of a beautiful landscape, of a beautiful young woman, or of a flower or insect, we are trying to take credit for what is really not our work – the beauty of nature.  Real artistry is to be able to make beautiful photographs of subjects that are not inherently beautiful.

    Something similar came up in an interview that Joel Colberg did with  Nadav Kander about his project “Yangtze: the long river”…

    JC: So you had to rely on interpreters and on people helping you get around and maybe even to get permissions. How was that, relying on other people to help you in certain situations to take photographs?

    NK: Really difficult …when I was working with a translator and a driver who were Chinese often, after a few days, a mist of mistrust would come over the thing. I think it would be heightened for them by being yelled at by the public sometimes: “How can you let these foreigners photograph the streets of our town?” They come from a very Communistic culture, where the only useful photography is certainly camera-club like, always photographing the sunset or the views of famous bridges. People got a lot of stick who worked with me. That often broke things down after about ten or twelve days.

    JC: You mentioned that in your book, where you say that some of the people were taunting your translators.

    NK: Yeah. I think they found it really difficult. It all started of with the best intentions, and they’re very generous people, but after a while they really had a hard time understanding how I worked. I couldn’t tell them what I was looking for. I needed just to look, and then when I found what I was looking for I might be excited by it. They absolutely couldn’t understand it…

    JC: If a lot of the Chinese people didn’t really understand why you were taking those photographs, in some ways it’s similar to people complaining that a lot of contemporary photography is “boring.” A lot of people in the West also love photographs of sunsets and something that’s beautiful, the beautiful landscape photograph. For you, when you see a picture or a scene that you want to take a photograph of – what is the appeal of that which you see? If somebody came up to you and said “why is this photo not boring? Can you explain this?” what would you say?…

    NK: …I would say to people, if I was going to simplify it, that I photograph everyday situations that compositionally attract me in a very beautiful way. What’s probably more succinct is: what is boring is something that is just beautiful. Beauty, like yellow or red or boy or girl, is just a word.


    What do you think of Kander’s view?  Is he right that a beautiful photograph isn’t just a photograph of a beautiful thing?



    meg cumming

    I think most people would see things as only skin deep without really stopping to think beyond that first visulastion of a photograph. Take the current demand for glossy magazines where most  images are very beautiful but really only “cheescake”. So Kandars’ view to me is right, that finding beauty in the most mundane things is so more refreshing and uplifting than on face value beautiful an obeject whether it be a model a priceless work of art.

    I have seen images taken by photographers of miners emerging fiflthy from colliers, children running in the street with clothes that have seen better days, and landscapes of run down townscapes. Yet these have a more honest beauty about them. But don’t take my word for it.


    Ian McNab

    I’ve been meaning to put an example of what we might have in mind.  How about this…



    Bill Brandt: Coal Searcher Returning Home, Jarrow, 1936-1937


    meg cumming

    Doesn’t that just make your mouth salivate! Must look for some to put on as well.

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