What is it that makes us stop to really consider a photograph? Sometimes, it’s the environment. In a museum, gallery or even a book geared toward art photography, we are primed to think about what we’re seeing, which naturally makes us pause to consider.
But what if we’re looking at photographs in a more casual space, line online? Well, the habit then becomes to take a cursory glance. We don’t really pause to study an image unless that image gives us a very good reason to at first glance. This is often because of name recognition—we’re more likely to pause and study the work of someone famous. But often, it’s because there’s something immediately attention grabbing about the image. A particular sharp contrast, bright color, or highly unusual setting or object drew us in. When we’re sifting through vast numbers of images, it very often takes something truly unusual to grab and hold our attention. The photographs that don’t have something like this? We may just skip right over them without another thought.
And that’s perhaps not the best way to go about the image viewing experience. What are we missing out on when we skip over images that don’t have something immediately arresting? Quite a lot, potentially. Lots of art is subtle, things that aren’t meant to wow you immediately, but to provide a quieter, deeper effect.
That’s the thing about a well-designed image. When the photographer has taken great care to create it, the image likely has lots of layers that we won’t immediately see at first glance. And that’s why I think it’s probably in our best interests to give serious artwork a chance. Spend a couple of minutes with the piece, dig a little deeper to see what you can uncover.
And I say “serious” artwork because these days? There are billions of photographs. There’s just not time to spend a minute or two with everything. We can’t possibly pause to study all the snapshots, after all!
But when a piece is framed as art? That’s when it’s time to look for those layers.
Question is, how to go about searching for the layers within an image? There’s a lot of ways to approach art. Consider it through the lens of your own life. Is it something you can relate to, and thus there is something in it speaks to you? Think critically about what the photographer might be trying to say through colors, contrasts and elements within the frame.
It only takes a minute or two to look just a little deeper than the surface. It’s worthwhile in my opinion to spend just a couple of minutes with a piece. If, in that time, nothing speaks to you, well, it’s OK to move on. Not every piece of art is for everyone, after all. But in that minute or two, you might just find something worth deeper examination, something you’d never have seen at a quick glance.