|4:20 Peace Train (Estimation)|
Should we assess a photograph first on its technical merits (composition, exposure, focus, subject, contrast, sharpness)? Or on its artistic intent? Let’s examine this one, and see where each method takes us.
First a technical analysis: Some point-of-view distortion; decent exposure, rendering lots of detail in the steel; yellows might be too saturated but worth it for the eye-popping, vibrating contrast with the purple; acceptable exposure (loses a little shadow detail, but doesn’t blow out the highlights); good tonal range; composition seems to repeat in thirds (except that number, which unbalances everything). Ok if you like graphic, color-block-style images, but the composition is unsettling.
Did that take you anywhere? Probably not, except perhaps to say whether you like it or not. (And if you like it, you can download it for free.)
But all too often, we stop the conversation right there. In a world saturated with images, we immediately react with “wow”, or a shrug. The conversation ends with a purchase or a page turn.
What if we let ourselves experience the disturbing composition as something the photographer intended. What if that caused us to explore the enigmatic image as though it were a bit of poetry or a dream?
A dreamtime train might symbolize the way we move through the world: grounded, powerfully motivated, guided by others, departing and arriving on schedules outside our control, but predictable, safe, and thrilling.
That number busting up the composition: did the photographer do that on purpose? Is the number important? What could it mean? Well, in numerology, 1005=1+0+0+5=6, and six is the number of love, harmony, stability, peace and idealism. The word “peace” occurs in the title. Hmm.
Yellow—a hot color, symbolizes joy, delight, summer, fire, fear, hope and center.
Purple—a cool color, connects to the infinite, deep spiritual understanding, the creative.
Steel— a fire symbol, mixes intellect into iron’s warrior energy: a forceful, intelligent guardian.
Time of day: late afternoon, the waning of the day, approaching evening, Conrad’s shadow line.
I provided some bread crumbs, but I’ll just tell you flat out, this train happens to be traveling west, the direction of enlightenment, water, and death (or the mysterious).
So, why did I take this photograph?
Did I simply like the purple, gold, steel graphic punch? Was I challenging myself to make a good exposure under challenging lighting conditions?
Did I accidentally stumble upon meaning? Was I perhaps governed by a primal, intuitive connection with these symbols that provoked me to photograph this number, on this westward bound locomotive? Did I subsequently investigate the elements and concoct a story for you?
Or is it possible that I knew all this symbolism, was blown away by its appearance in my life, and consciously took the photo intending for you to discover on your own what I experienced when I saw this particular train?
Now, at last, having done some symbol analysis, a meaningful discussion could revolve around the cultural significance or ambiguity of the symbols, could reference the technical choices in light of the intent, and could finally discuss whether the photograph is strong-enough to draw most viewers to the desired experience.
Did that take you anywhere?
Which type of analysis would you prefer when discussing your own photographs? Please share your photos or experiences in the comments, and let’s see where we can go together.