I’d like to propose a counter-term that points us in another direction: image quality. Not, as the Oxford English Dictionary has it, ‘the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind’, or even ‘the degree of excellence of something’. No, I mean it in another sense of the same word: ‘a distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by someone or something.’Read More
Have you ever worried about sharpness in your images? A cursory look at internet photography talk confirms that a lot of folks most certainly do. How about chromatic aberration? Or the edge distortion in your lens? Is your lens sharp at the edges of the frame? Such questions multiply and are often conflated with ‘quality’ in photography.
I write ‘conflated’ because we can quite rightly ask ‘is quality exclusively the product of a series of technical concerns?’ A great antidote to such contemporary obsessions is the pantheon of photographic images itself. How many of them would stand up to the scrutiny of modern standards? I strongly suspect that a good many of them would fall down on one aspect or another. This leads to the true antidote and the point of my post: a ‘good’ image may possess flaws, technical or otherwise, but we forgive it because it is good.
What might it possess that makes an image good? Incredible timing, elegant composition, cutting observation, emotional resonance, beautiful light … The list, which goes on, inevitably has its subjective element, but I think we can and should try to say what specific strengths a given image has. My instinct is that often it is a special combination of parts that makes an image stand the test of time. To paraphrase a teacher of mine, the best photos stand up to and reward repeated viewings. Their gifts do not easily run out, and we often discover something new when we return. In a sense, their ability to offer something to us outstrips our capacity to exhaust them at a given time.
However we agree to define them, there is considerable agreement that ‘good’ images are there. Their existence and our enjoyment in looking at them should provide the perfect antidote to our technical obsessions and insecurities. For great photographs were made, frankly, with inadequate, broken, or sometimes simply the wrong gear. Technique was less than flawless. Yet in some indefinable combination of elements, hinted at above, superb work was done.
So what’s stopping you forgiving some aspects of your work and allowing the good to trump the technical?
*See more of Kate Kirkwood's great work at katekirkwood.com (click the image above for a direct link)