How Many Words Did You Say?

August 21, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I've been thinking about an old saying I'm sure you know, "A picture is worth a thousand words".  First uttered by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane in 1911 the phrase quickly became a kind of unexamined standard for the amount of information an image and particularly a photographic image carried.  Now why do I say photographic?  Because I think the biggest difference between a photo and a painting is that most photos carry a mixture of wanted and unwanted information while painters, starting with a blank canvas, put in only what they feel is important.  So the "words" a painting generates are all about intentional content while the "words" a photograph generates are often blurred by the total "reality" the camera sees.

Gallery, NY - not much to get in the way of reading this

The problem is well expressed by the great perceptual voyagers Simon and Garfunkel who said. "All I suggest...is that a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest..."  Looking at one of our own pictures it’s too easy to see what we felt at the moment we made it...not what the camera captured.  It's too easy for us to tune out the distracting background, zoom into the faces of the ones we love, ignore the colors or the light and in a hundred ways not see the things that keep others from connecting to the pictures as strongly as we do.  I fight that as best I can.

What's Wurst than this picture? (sorry)

Maybe this one...

Many experienced photographers have a check list they have developed over the years to guide themselves as they make a picture - "where's the light coming from, what's at the sides of the picture, the top, the bottom, what's bright, what's dark, how big is the thing I'm interested in in the frame...", the list goes on and on and if you shoot all the time those questions become second nature.

Better yet, sometimes everything works and you know without thinking that all the elements of the picture have come together in a glorious whole - a picture worth a thousand words.  On the days when that doesn't happen the experienced photographer will add and subtract using every tool they have to make a picture that's less than perfect but more than average, maybe one that's worth five hundred words.

A railroad siding on the road from Krakow to Warsaw.  A chance to test a texture screen process I'm interested in

These pictures fall into that category.  Not stunners where everything is perfect and the moment of a lifetime is captured but rather good pictures with small meanings that perhaps can say "I was here, I saw that, here's what was revealed to me, I want to remember this".  Kind of a photographer’s version of a writer’s notebook, not the whole story but rather scraps and pieces that may be useful someday, seems ok to meJ


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