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Why and How a Photograph Should Be Beautiful and Useful - Part 1

Do you think a photo should be useful? Do you think a photo can be created for something?

If your answer is no, I encourage you to read this article because you will certainly change your mind.

If your answer is positive, do not hesitate to follow me in the reading of these few lines because I will reinforce your point of view.

Whatever the photographic field, if a photo is not beautiful and useless, it has no reason to exist.

In this article I will explain why.

Reflections of tree at the surface of a pond. Photograph by Amar Guillen, photographer artist.
Reflections of tree at the surface of a pond.

The Little story of this Article

My school and university education are very scientific. I studied mathematics, physics, and computer science.

I will never know whether I had a predisposition for the study of these subjects or whether it was circumstances that led me to specialize in scientific fields.

This training has exacerbated in me the fact that everything has to have a purpose. Nothing should be done at random. Everything has a purpose.

When I started photography, my goal was to keep a visual record of what I was experiencing. Having no talent for drawing or painting, I found in photography a way to keep data that I could review or reuse 20 or 30 40 years later.

When I became a professional photographer, my photographic why totally changed. I had to find a compromise between a remunerative professional activity and the satisfaction of a devouring passion for nature photography.

For months, I thought, wrote, crumpled up an incredible amount of paper without ever finding a good reason to justify my professional photographic activity. Until one day I discovered in a book, the Bauhaus school. It was a real revolution for me.

To give you a brief description of the Bauhaus, it is a school of architecture and applied art founded in 1910 in Germany by Walter Gropius. This school gave its name to an artistic current.

The aim of the Bauhaus is to use industrial methods to create by breaking the dichotomy between art and industry. Functional objects must be created in series, accessible to the greatest number of people.

Bauhaus art is « art and technique, a new unity ».

For me, it was a real revelation. There was an artistic movement talking about production. Which implies processes, methods, a beginning, an end for the creation of something that was going to be useful.

My existential why and my photographic why suddenly became clear and limpid.

All I had to do was get on with it.

My entire career as a professional photographer is based on these ideas that I developed at that time in my life. They helped me define a path that I have been following ever since. It was at this very moment that I understood that the creation of a photograph should be thought of in terms of beauty and utility.

This is what I will explain in the rest of this article.

How Defining a Photograph?

Before discussing why a photograph should be beautiful and useful, I think it is important to tell you what a photograph is.

The word photography means "writing with light".

For me, a photograph is defined by:

  • Its appearance. This is the visible part. This is the container.
  • Its sense. That is the invisible part. This is the content.

Light is the link between these two components.

A photograph is therefore the result of a photographed scene through which you, as a photographer, want to convey a message or an idea.

A photograph should allow you to express yourself with a specific language. You can already see the first reason why a photograph should be useful for you.

Let me now give you back the two main areas of photography.

The Two Main Fields of Photography

Photography can be divided into two very distinct fields:

  • Illustrative photography.
  • Artistic photography.

Each of these fields contains genres such as conceptual photography, which is a genre within the field of artistic photography.

Illustrative photography aims to create photos that will illustrate either a magazine, a book, an article for the Web.

The purpose of an illustrative photograph is to bear witness to or reinforce a written text or advertisement.

If you take this type of photos, your goal is not to express yourself or to show an emotion of your own. You address yourself in a factual way and an audience that wants to have in front of it a representation of reality that is as faithful as possible.

Artistic photography is a means of personal expression. If you create artistic photos, it is because you have something to say, an emotion to express or show your vision of the world in an aesthetic way.

For both fields of photography, if you really want interesting pictures that will appeal to an audience, you have to create them to be beautiful and useful.

Let us now turn to the first important word: « beauty ».

Definition of « Beauty »

By definition,

beauty is the quality of something that conforms to an aesthetic ideal.

Beauty characterizes that which is aesthetic to perception.

Beauty is a concept that is defined as the characteristic of a thing that through a sensory or intellectual experience provides a sensation of pleasure or a feeling of satisfaction.

You already realize that this notion of beauty is subjective because each human being has different perceptions of his sensory environment. But I will come back to this in another paragraph.

You also find that the fact that a beautiful thing gives satisfaction from pleasure induces that it is useful.

Application to Photography

If I apply the definition of beauty to photography, the thing I was talking about is photography.

Sensory experience is sight.

A photograph will be beautiful if it gives pleasure and a feeling of satisfaction to the viewer.

I am referring here to the author of the photograph or the viewer.

Definition of « Useful »

To be useful is said of something that serves a purpose.

This simple definition of the useful word opens up some remarkably interesting perspectives in the field of photography.

Application to Photography

Again, the thing the definition of « useful » and photography. A photograph is useful if it is helpful.

But can we say that photography is useful? The answer is yes.

If you take examples from both areas of photography, an illustrative photograph is useful because it reinforces the written message or illustrates an advertisement.

An artistic photograph is useful because it already allows the photographer author to express himself.

Why Does an Interesting Photograph Must Be Beautiful and Useful?

I think an interesting photograph should be beautiful and useful.

First of all, you have to accept the fact that an interesting photo is always for two people:

  • The author: you.
  • The viewer: your audience.

An interesting photograph is characterized by two distinct elements:

  • The way it is built: the technique.
  • The content it delivers: the meaning.

If one of the two elements is missing, a photo is absolutely useless.

A photograph must be beautiful because it must catch the eye of the viewer. This is what I call the first photographic effect.

In other words, the impact.

But let us first and foremost be on the viewer's side.

A photo has to be beautiful because you want people to notice it and look at it. I am just like you. I like people to look at my pictures and linger in them.

I get very frustrated when at an exhibition, people pass by my art prints without stopping.

A photograph must be beautiful because it must evoke a sensory experience for the viewer. Sight is the first sense that will be alerted. Then he will feel personal emotions related to his life, his experiences.

A photograph should be useful for both the author and the viewer.

When you create a photo, whether illustrative or artistic, it is because you have a goal to achieve. The purpose of a photo is to help you achieve that goal.

Photography is a way to answer your personal why, which I sometimes call existential why.

The photographic why is a way to define why you practice photography.

When you create a picture, you are enjoying it. You feel satisfaction. It is a first step.

If this picture arouses the interest of an audience, you will experience joy and pride. Again, you will be happy, and you will feel that you are serving something, that you have a societal or social function.

For the viewer, a photograph should be useful. It must arouse emotions, mentally revive old sensations then create new experiences.

To summarize these few lines, I would say that an interesting photograph must be beautiful and useful to have a chance to be remarkable.

5 Tips to Make a Photo Beautiful and Useful

To Continue Next Friday. Do not forget to come back.

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I Want to Help You to Create Interesting Photos