The Power of Suggestion Over Description

Does the photographer capture reality or does he / she capture their perception of what is real? It never ceases to amaze me whenever I go on a photography trip with other photographers, even if we all train our camera lenses on the same scene we each come away with images that although similar in appearance feel very different.  We interpret the world around us in different ways and that, for me is what makes photography so exciting.  It’s our own way of describing what it is that we see and feel.

Documentary photographers and photojournalists attempt to capture the “pure” scene.  However, even then, since only a few elements of the scene are actually captured the viewer is still left to interpret the event and its meaning.  For example, Nick Ut’s Pulitzer prize winning “Vietnam Napalm” image of a young Vietnamese girl running naked down the street after a napalm attack on her village is simply his interpretation of the actual event.  Therefore, in the absence of a written story the viewer will always be left wondering what has just happened, what is about to happen and what happened afterwards.  Even in photography where there is a strong element of description, a record of a time, thing or event the final image is nothing more than a suggestion where the viewer is required to fill in the gaps.

In fine art photography, when description is not the most critical element suggestion can be put to very powerful use.  Suggestion can rouse the senses. You can feel the texture of peeling paint or the bark of an old tree, the wetness of torrential rain or the cold of the snow.  You can hear the thunder of water as it leaps over a waterfall, the wind whistling through the branches of a tree, the silence of a world veiled with a blanket of fog.  You can smell and taste the food on a market stall or in a restaurant.

Since suggestion is so important, just how much descriptive information does the photographer need to include in the images that he / she creates?  I think the challenge is to balance the visual elements that describe the scene with the non visual elements that allow the viewer to imagine, to wonder and to experience the feeling that the image imparts.  A few elements can tell a lot about a scene.  In my work simplification is important.  I work hard to create images that contain just the right amount of visual elements that a viewer can then take to explore their own feelings and create their own story.

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