A Philosophy of Photographs.

The idea that follows is not mine. I believe it originates with Garry Winogrand, and was first set out during an interview for a German documentary, but this notwithstanding, I have never seen it essayed, so, without further ado, a hopefully with the celestial approval of the late Mr Winogrand, here goes, a philosophy for taking pictures. I am not talking about journalism here, but perhaps, what may be termed ‘art’; photography with the intention of creating an interesting image for the sake of itself.

Life and Pictures.

As we go about our business and observe the world around us we are not seeing pictures, what we see is life and landscapes. A scene only becomes a picture once the camera has made it so. Only once the juxtaposition of elements, the setting of exposure and the reduction to a two dimensional image has been captured by the camera, do we have a picture. Certainly the practiced eye can learn to recognise what will potentially make a good picture, but until the reduction to two dimensions takes place we still do not yet have a picture.

Don’t Take Pictures.

So, if there are no pictures out there then, how do we extract our pictures from the life that is being enacted before us? Winogrand suggests that we don’t try. We are so familiar with imagery that there is the tendency to slip into the cliché, the stereotype, and seek situations  which mimic pictures which we have seen before and to capture them. A more original approach is not to try and look for pictures. Instead look for interesting elements and try to being them together within the frame, by physical movement, tilting the frame, whatever is necessary to bring the elements together; discard the notion of looking for a picture, just look to draw the elements together. Later, when we have a picture, we can decide whether this worked or not.



Here rather than looking for a “picture” I had a clear idea of the elements I wanted to draw together; it is picture of a friends house, his defining interests being shooting, photography and motorcycling. These are the elements I therefore framed, capturing this little slice of life. Only later did I consider the captured elements as a picture.


So how do we decide if the picture works? Often this will be an instinctive or emotive thing, but there is one base criteria which can be applied. Is the picture more interesting than the original subject? If not then arguably, it fails. Imaging we photograph the Mona Lisa. If we take this as a ‘straight’ photograph then all we will have will be a facsimile, a reproduction of the original work; most would agree that seeing the original would be of more interest. But what if we managed to juxtapose the Mona Lisa with a group of girls looking at the picture, all with long black hair and smiling. More interesting? I am not suggesting this photograph would be more interesting that the Mona Lisa itself, but certainly more interesting that a straight photograph of the Mona Lisa.

Not All That.

This isn’t an all encompassing idea for all photographic styles, genres and occasions. It is an approach to be borne in mind when out, camera in hand, looking to create pictures of interest, a means of breaking out of a photographic ennui and forming a definite focus and clear idea of exactly what we are looking for when working, and how to judge the sucess or otherwise of the resulting photograph.

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