Their is a very old story, originating in India, that tells a tale of 6 blind men put into a room with an elephant, and when they come out, are asked to describe what an elephant is like.
The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.
The point is, that we may all be describing the same thing but “feeling” different parts of the whole.
Such is the incredibly subjective nature of all art.
We all bring our life experiences to each piece and then interpret the meaning for ourselves, in a very personal way.
Photography has a special place in all of the art world as it is an apparently very real interpretation of our lives, and a medium that almost everyone has touched at some point. That familiarity can make perception into a reality.
The truth line in photography can become very blurred, and hard to see. Black and white sometimes helps to give a layer of distance.
We do know that the images that are iconic, or speak to the masses, somehow have touched a common chord or perhaps opened a special door, allowing the viewer to walk through and overlay their experiences on top of the presented piece.
The more apparent common elements usually belie a more complex trigger that caused the photographer to make that photo, composed as it is, for a certain meaning to appear.
The commercial photographer has a layout and a (hopefully) well though out plan of action that has an intended purpose, and end result which is either to bring a consumer to purchase a product, or just feel great about the brand/lifestyle it represents.
A documentarian is not without an agenda though, and composes specifically for desired effect.
Here is an image of a front counter in a Chinese restaurant,
displaying a large broken Buddah with a slash across its right eye, toothpicks in a dispenser, some paper lanterns, and a screen, giving privacy to table of customers.
That may be simply what you see.
For me, it is a partial visual representation of a Sunday pattern, begun when i was very young.
My parents were divorced and when my father would come on Sunday to visit, the ritual was the same: Chinese food in the afternoon at House of Lam off of Route 46 in NJ. Many times we were the only patrons in there. This scene has an emptiness about it, with a slight reveal.
After lunch,my sister and I would be taken to Great Eastern Mills, where they had a toy department, and our limit was $1.00. I always tried to get it below that number, thinking I was helping my dad. I’ll never forget the erector set in a milk container for $.69.
If it was your birthday, Jahns Ice Cream in Paramus was the added bonus as on your birthday, you got free ice cream. That would become Sunday as a young kid, every 2 weeks, anyway.
This story is only meant as a remembrance, a personal touch point for the image, experiences that helps in a personal definition of a still image.
Of course, this goes on daily, as we are all processing a multitude of images and media, and filtering our lives through it.
The point is that like the 6 blind men, we all see different parts of the same thing, and each one makes sense.
This was all ignited by a discussion on the validity of a simple black hole on a white background image. It enraged one person that it could be considered art on any level, yet the simplicity calmed the person with the counterpoint argument.
Even the angry guy, had to admit that for whatever reason, this simple image infuriated him. Nothing simple or bland about that.
So what do your images do? Are they touchpoints for you? Beauty you want to share, or perhaps a story you need to tell?
Let your photographs say what they will to the viewer, and be true to your own clarity and communication.