A good image should grab you.

Inspiration, Teaching point


A good image should grab you.

If you have to read a book, or attend a class, or visit an art gallery in order to appreciate an image, then it has failed as an image.

Simple as that.

You may need to do all of the above in order to understand some images (symbolism, context, references, etc.) but that’s a different issue because, though you may not understand an image, you may still appreciate it as a form of expression.

Photography is a visual art after all.

The first — and most important — order of appreciation for any image (photo, painting, etc.) is therefore at the visual level.  If it doesn’t pass that test, it’s literally not worth looking at.


7 thoughts on “A good image should grab you.

  1. Dead on.. I’ve been making this point to people for years, I agree with your amplification too, the picture must bite, resonate, spark, whatever, in the first instance. Symbolic meanings or interpretation are secondary, always.

  2. Thanks Matt, Joe, and John.

    Whenever one goes out on a limb and makes a firm statement, it’s bound to generate some opposition, so I’m surprised I didn’t get any here. Having said that, my words were chosen very carefully. Interestingly, my friend Raaj linked to this post on the Leica forum of a popular website, and the views generated there were quite varied, though I suspect not everybody read my words with the same care I put into writing them.

  3. …If you have to read a book, or attend a class, or visit an art gallery in order to appreciate the image before you, then it has failed [YOU]…

    There, fixed it for ya!

    Though I know many that share my views, I speak for none but myself: “I couldn’t give a rats’…”, flying or not, if my work reaches you or anyone else in particular.

    This yields your point rather moot I’m afraid, taken out by the knees if you prefer. Think trees, forests and “falling” sounds i.e. without witness, did it?.

    While I understand your intent, the assertion fails under test.

    Essentially what you say is stateless, it lacks context, it lacks “for what?”.

    For %$#@! what?

    Even points of ‘technically good’ can be argued, but I try to avoid the card-carrying people of those camps.

    A paraphrase would be “an image should stand on its own, as “good”, even if the veiwer has no education; formal, experiential, or otherwise”. To which I counter these viewers are blind. If they cannot identify the content, even if the subject is a coloured blob, it will not ‘catch’ them.

    Robert Mapplethorpe did commanding work, must have considering its popularity. I can assure you, lead has a better chance of floating, being ‘good’, at the Vatican. There are no books required to understand his least-bouyant material amongst such an audience. I’m pretty sure he didn’t stock many rat-parts for Vatican dwelling viewers either.

    Oh, I could say so much more but I’ve over-spent my time budget already.

    Good luck with your post, I leave you with this ditty:

    As ye sand by the [s]word,
    time becomes thine true enemy.
    Of this be certain as history proves
    once stood, ye shall surely fall.

    En garde! Lest ye fall this very day!


  4. I’m about to disagree, but I’ll caveat that by complementing you on your images in this blog. Absolutely gorgeous. Keep up the good work!

    Your assertion implies that our instant visual appreciation of an image is innate and not learned. So while I agree with the gist of your argument that an image that ‘grabs’ you is a stronger image, I think that is more than a rule of thumb than an absolute. In other words I think you state it rather too strongly when you end with “it’s literally not worth looking at.”.

    Firstly, without getting into the symbolism & interpretations of art, I think a lot of our visual vocabulary is culturally constructed over our lifetimes. Think of Warhol’s pop art – it is visually ‘grabbing’ because we immediately appreciate it as some sort of odd visual pun on soup can packaging – before we starting mulling over any ironic statements about modernity etc etc. But that only works because our visual grammar includes years of seeing soup can in shops and in domestic settings – its sudden setting as ‘art’ is arresting. Had we never seen packaged goods and tins of soup, it would be a fairly daft looking missable piece of art. To me that’s learned, not innate.

    Secondly, I was a student in art history classes many years ago, and back then a lot of renaissance art made no real visual impression on me (in other words “boring!”) when first looked at, but the explanation of the symbolisms and the ‘reading’ the art piece in the context of the art that proceeded it opened up a whole new visual aesthetic for me. It has been my personal experience that one’s visual response can be trained too. Same applies to music, literature and other arts. All that would be ruled out if we adopted the attitude of “If it doesn’t pass that test, it’s literally not worth looking at.”. It’s more subtle than that.

    As a general rule I think you are on a weak footing when you try to apply absolutes to the arts. Which of course is an absolute in itself, but lets not go there!

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