Photography is an incredibly powerful communication vehicle. It is the only static form that allows for interpretation, reality, and observation to be blended perfectly creating stories that can wrestle your emotions to the ground. Great photographers understand these levers very well and know how to balance them regardless if their photos are for advertising, art, or knowledge-sharing. They know that they need to push the boundaries of these levers but must respect the limits or the photo looses its magic and ability to connect with its viewer.
When you think of photography in advertising you likely don’t think good commercial photographers respect “the power of three” (interpretation, reality, observation). However, if you think of the most timeless fashion photos, they absolutely do so to the extreme. There have been several documentaries about the photo philosophy of Vogue and why they have been so culturally-leading for generations. What these shows say is that the great photos beautiful interprete the social reality of culture at that moment by combining real elements with more elaborate ones that are observed to enhance the emotions to fuel the imagination.
A recent ad campaign from 98FM Radio brilliantly uses photography. They have observed the artists whose craft has been overshadowed by their habits and addictions but whose artistry continues to be loved by fans. In other words there is a cultural battle to cement that artists enduring legacy. The photos are also incredibly real so that the humanity of those captured are brought to life. Finally, they have interpreted the social debate in a very creative manner. Have a look.
When it comes to art, great photographers truly push the envelope of interpretation, reality, and observation. A recent series by Jiyen Lee (see exhibit at Saatchi Gallery) brings this to life beautifully. He observes the different patterns of human movement in urban environments such as confusion, isolation, melodic, etc. Then he interpretes them so that the insight behind the observation is powerfully brought to life and easily understood or felt by anyone looking at the photos. To ensure that they resonate, the element of reality (the cityscapes where the photos are taken, making out the real shapes of people) is a pertinent thread in all the pieces. Have a look.
The final type of photography where interpretation, reality, and observation are key to create perfection is among knowledge-sharing works. One of the best forums to see the best photographers in this style of photography is the Sony World Photography Awards (see site here). The two levers most used by these photographers is observation and reality. The power of the best photos is in observing actions and settings in everyday life that may pass by the average person but are so powerful in how they encapsulate the reality of the human condition. The interpretation element comes in how the photographer views and understands the topic that he/she is capturing and thus displays his reality to the world. It is true, honest, but still an interpretation. Here is a sample of the best photos from the Awards show.