I think I'm about to treat you to a different perspective on the 600 pictures submitted to us last Wednesday.
A couple of things to keep in mind about our recent experiment:
Selling prints is really a lot different than exhibiting photographs. Also than discussing photographs. The end-use of a print for sale—at least when there's no personal connection between the subject and the buyer—is presumably for it to be displayed. That is, it will be used as decor. And a picture most people will put up for display can be very different from a picture they'll enjoy looking at online or in a book. (Again, assuming the photographs or the photographers aren't recognizable or famous.) They're actually relatively specialized pictures.
And remember that the pictures in the "semifinals" post have been screened twice for their potential as decor—once by the photographer, once by me.
...With varying levels of understanding and varying levels of success. On all our parts, no doubt.
Many of the 600 submissions the other day were fine photographs. However (rightly or wrongly!), I simply felt that some of them might not have the broad appeal we want for a sale—the purpose of the sales being to make money and create satisfied customers, not necessarily in that order. Among the 600 submissions, I could sense that there were a number that probably have personal meaning for the photographer/submitter, as well as a number that were simply fine or interesting pictures that didn't seem to suit the end-use intended here.
Naturally, any large enough group of pictures can be "filtered" for various different purposes or tastes. When I'm looking for pictures that might make good sale prints, I'm not necessarily just picking things I like; it's not my taste I'm trying to satisfy, it's my conception of other peoples' taste in pictures for display, and hence, purchase. Those are very different things.
I'm quite comfortable with the disparities. To name just the most obvious one: most people are more attracted to color photographs; I'm more attracted to black-and-white ones. That makes me a sucker for lovely things like John MacKechnie's fine environmental portrait of Ms. Laura Swain at the top of this post.
Nice as John's portrait is, few people will hang a picture of an unrelated stranger on their wall when the picture appears to be a portrait, unless the print, the photograph, the photographer, or the subject has some other kind of appeal. I'd hang a portrait of a famous jazz musician, for instance, on my own wall. (Which reminds me, I have a few I need to get framed.) But I might not display this picture of an elderly lady in socks, sensible shoes, and scarf.
That doesn't mean I don't like it. I do. Very much.
If I were just indulging my own personal taste, Tommy Brown's "Boy on Fence" might have been a top pick. It's just the sort of thing I like: uncontrived documentary black and white, probably 35mm, probably "candid." For better or worse—child of my times though I might be—that's the style of photography that resonates most for me, when I'm not wearing my editor's hat.
Here are just a few more of the photographs that I liked of those submitted.
Photography as an art form is full of echoes for me. Abdul Shaheeb's fine nighttime photo immediately put me in mind of John Gossage's Berlin work, which uses black forms on very dark gray backgrounds and vice versa, and/or small glimmers and hints of light.
John's pictures are very different from Abdul's—formalist and ambiguous, almost experiential (as well as more assured). Abdul's is prettier, almost pictorialist, by comparison—although I can understand if those terms aren't the first ones that come to most peoples' minds.
(Do note that John Gossage's picture above was not a submission! I'm just including here as an example of his work.)
Speaking of echoes, Luka Knezevic-Strika's striking stylized portrait has a distinct Philip-Lorca diCorcia vibe to it. It seems to imply a number of shadowy narratives, ultimately dead-ending in mystery.
For some reason, pictures of pigeons figured among my favorites this go-round. Not only Michael Fioritto's artfully arranged glimpse of this one making a getaway from pedestrians, with its rough but modern-arty massing of tones; Jeff Schimberg's also grew on me with successive viewings. Jeff's picture has what Henri Cartier-Bresson used to refer to as "geometry," with the radically foreshortened wall, the bisecting of the frame in two, and the complex form of the shadow. I like the echoing of the two couples, one close, one distant, light against dark and dark against light—but also, yes, that incongruous pigeon, just as big on the negative as the two living people, inserting itself like a critic in the middle of everything. It's a picture that plays with you (laughs at you, I almost wrote) on a number of levels.
Speaking of growing on you (I like photographs that unlock slowly), I blew right past Bill Hanson's abandoned interior on the first couple of editing passes. But it has quietly grown on me, with its gentle pastel earth tones, its enigmatic arrangement of spaces and distances, its elegiac emotional ennui. (Not to mention that it's a relief to be reminded that unsaturated reds can still exist, in these digitized times.) The real room in the back appears to be part of the reflected building across the street. This shot doesn't have the wow factor needed to make people anxious to part with their cash, but it has a contemplative quality that is precisely what some conventional "grab-you" pictures lack.
By Jim Hamstra.
Then there were the photographs the main appeal of which was interest. There are always a number of those.
I'm not much for scenics, generally. They just don't have a lot to offer me—and seeing too many at once evokes a feeling akin to eating too much candy. Not long ago I wrote an article about scenics called "Dime a Dozen? You Wish," but I aborted publication—it came off as too snarky. (Funny, the way gently jibing good humor and cutting snark can shape-shift back and forth. I think it might even depend mainly on a reader's mood. Sometimes, when I'm trying to be funny, some readers think I'm being mean.)
I'm interested in pictures of unusual things I don't understand, though, pictures that make me want to know more about what I'm seeing. Jim says these trees were distorted by successive winter avalanches coming from both directions—from the mountainside above them, as well as avalanches from the mountainside opposite that carried across the valley and partway up the other side, to where these hardy survivors are.
The result is a scenic shot with a twist—literally.
By Lars Röglin.
Another of my many weaknesses is for pictures of photographers and people taking pictures. Lars Röglin's was, for me, the best of a number of those.
I take knee-jerk pictures of rainbows too, just like these motorcyclists.
Catnip, they can be, to cats like us.
I was determined to give the "flower pictures" a fair shake, despite my well-known aversion to them. This isn't quite a flower, but I liked this fellow (aloe, is it?), gussied up with a little color nature didn't intend.
I'll stop now. As I often say, I do go on. But finally, for extra credit, an abstract reasoning test question:
A Tibetan Buddhist is to the Dalai Lama as Mike is to ______.
David Lykes Keenan provided a nice hint to the answer:
Who doesn't love Erwitt? A thing impossible to comprehend.
I seem to be on a roll with (American) football recently—I keep catching these just marvelous games entirely serendipitously. Last night I switched on the TV to find in progress a barnburner between USC and the Oregon Ducks (who have cool uniforms to make up for their very uncool name. Ducks? Of course, maybe a fan of a team named after meat packers shouldn't talk). Great game. I'll be tempting that lightning to strike again later today, but, if all goes well, I will announce the finalists in our contest tomorrow.
I'll just add, for those of you who saw the game last night, that, when it comes to American football, a kicker is the very last thing I would want to be.
A final note: you should check the "Beat the Vikes" post again, if you haven't caught up to David L's Featured Comment yet. I just love that heart-wrenching but hilarious sob at about the 14 second mark—that sound expresses every heartbroken sports fan, in any sport, ever. Poor baby!
Y'all had better win your next game, Vikings.
Hope you have a nice Sunday, however you spend yours.
ADDENDUM: This post seems to be drawing a lot of comments from people who were dissatisfied with the semifinalist group, but I will say that my #1 favorite shot of the entire 600 is in that group, not this one. I'm just sayin'. —MJ
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Carl Blesch: "I was too busy Friday or Saturday to make thoughtful comments on your pick of twenty, let alone to vote (when I finally had a chance to drop by TOP on Saturday night, voting had closed). I too am struggling to think of which of these excellent photos I'd want to hang on my wall. In fact, I'm now struggling to articulate my criteria for display photography—mine or the work of others. One criterion is what visitors would think and say when viewing my photos. 'Did you take that picture?' 'Do you know the person in the picture?' 'Is that a place you've been?' Sometimes I'd' like to engage with those questions; other times, I'd rather not, as I sense the viewer is trying to say, 'Why did you ever buy that picture and put it on your wall?' Regardless, this process you are leading is fascinating. Even if it 'fails,' as a commenter or two and maybe even you have suggested, it has succeeded in engaging your audience (well, at least me...)."