Shahidul Alam

Seven most important reasons why a good photograph matters

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Not a Crime - Chris Steele-Perkins
Not a Crime – Chris Steele-Perkins (Photo credit: Eleven Eight)

We all see images everyday, many of these photos. Thousands and thousands of images.

And we instinctively ‘know’ what makes a good image, but explaining it is not always that easy. Listening to three Magnam photographers visiting Sydney this months for the Head On photo festival was instructive. Here are a list of the most important reasons Shahidul Alam, Eli Reed and Chris Steele-Perkins gave from their talks and interviews at Head On. Worth reflecting on…

1. People in the villages do not exist. News is not about them, not for them. People in problems of a massive scale will exist as numbers, not individuals. (Alam)

2. The power of an image…Those are the stories that often don’t get told. It is challenging the sources of power. (Alam)

3. Photography changes the world. Things we can do at a personal, finite level that make a difference. Those small, tactile, little steps…it certainly made a difference to me. (Alam)

4. Everything changes the world at one point. It is an aggregate thing….Grains of sand on the right side of the justice scale. (Steele-Perkins)

5. Photography for me has been this fantastic passport to the world. (Steele-Perkins)

6. Some people say photography doesn’t work. Screw that. It does work. I have seen the difference it makes…Photographs can change the world. Just think of the Holocaust. (Reed)

7. This list won’t be the same without your contribution too. I saved the last word for you. Leave your reason below on a comment, or at Facebook or Twitter, and I will update this post. 

What makes a good photograph?

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selfie with eli reed
Selfie with Eli Reed. Thanks to JJ Halans for posting!

Have you checked out the Head On Festival in Sydney. You really must. Just opened last night at the Gaffa Gallery on Clarence Street is an engaging exhibition featuring some wonderful photographers across two levels.

Early in May as part of Head On, Magnum photographers Shahidul Alam and Eli Reed, along with Benjamin Lowy, recipient of the Magnum Foundation Emergency fund, suggested a good photo has the following characteristics:

“Telling stories. It is what it does to people that matters. Is it going to bring about change?” (Lowy)

“Ambiguity and encouraging questions, as well as to tell stories. The photograph asks more good questions than it answers.” (Lowy)

“It is inherently captivating. There is a truth and beauty about the story.” (Lowy)

“When things are photographed in a particular way, what do we lose? Complexity of the stories often doesn’t come across when we provide a simple rendering.” (Alam)

“Be a fair witness, not overdoing it, otherwise you will mess it up…Look at what’s happening. It’s not a game, but it is the ultimate game. Pay attention.” (Reed)

“Fascination with life. That is what it means to be a humane human being. Being a human being first (not a photographer). It is it’s own reward.” (Reed)