With Anatomy of a photograph, I consider a core question in photography: What do we see when we see a photo?
At first, I approached the question as the photographer taking the photo; that is, what was I seeing when I saw a photo? As I've become more invested in my work and its aims, I've become curious about an equally important version of the question: what do others see when they see a photo? When they see my photos, specifically?
The fourth photo in Anatomy of a photograph solidified this curiosity. A photo I took in early 2021, it captures a fleeting moment of a man walking into a beloved bar in New Smyrna Beach. For me, the photo's composition, color palette and decisive moment are the most compelling elements. For others, I've learned, the photo's ability to revive memories of a special bar make the photo stand out. Two totally different reactions to the same photo.
I've realized that I tend to lean toward tight compositions – strong, angular leading lines toward the subject of the photo. This angular composition is my favorite part of this photo, as it very clearly and directly leads the eye to the subject and action in the frame: the man walking into the bar. (I'd actually shot this same bar before, but head-on – see below.) Comparing the two, I prefer the sharper composition in the more recent photo.
Beyond the composition, I am quite partial to the color palette – the turquoise and pink are a perfectly brash pair and quite complimentary to the "Florida" palette I'm looking for in my photo project the Land of Flowers.
Finally, the man stepping into the bar – a tiny decisive moment – ties the entire photo together. This captured moment enlivens the photo.
Looking at the photo in black and white, you better see its sharp composition. The lines in the sidewalk paired with the lines in the wall join to bring the eye quickly to the subject of the photo, while the bricks in both create a nice cohesion. Furthermore, seeing the photo without color better emphasizes the subject of the photo and its clean placement.
All of this is how I see the photo, and I realize I look at it in a photographic, technical way. It's a dynamic and clean photo, which is what I like about it.
For others, this photo brings back fond memories of a favorite beach bar. A number of people who have seen the photo, whether through the Land of Flowers or in an exhibit where it was displayed, have mentioned how they frequented the bar – I had no idea! I'd never been before – and how the photo made them smile, and miss it.
I'm realizing that I look for certain elements in assessing photos – composition, striking light, strong lines, decisive moments. I see, now, that I'm gradually reaching that understanding I've been seeking in this project. That's really encouraging.
And what makes the experience even sweeter is learning how others see my work – how it makes them feel. How two people can look at one photo and feel and think totally different things. There's something so strange and lovely about that.
With love and light,
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