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Memorable photos from memorable moments?

Discussion in 'Talking Pictures' started by PhotoEcosse, Mar 5, 2017.

  1. PhotoEcosse

    PhotoEcosse Well-Known Member

    Earlier today a friend commented that she will never forget one of my photographs.

    Initially, I took this merely as a rather nice compliment.

    Then, thinking about it afterwards, as one does after a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir, it occurred to me that the moment when I took the photograph in question was a moment that I will never forget.

    After yet another glass of vino, I began to wonder if there was a general rule of photography at work here. Are memorable photographs the photographs that are taken in memorable moments or of memorable events or when experiencing memorable emotions?

    Are the photos that will be remembered those taken when a bird turns and looks right at us, or a baby utters its first cry or the sun dips below a glorious horizon?

    The more I think about, the more I think that there may be something in this.

    Certainly, for me, I cannot think of any memorable photograph that was taken after minutes of camera set-up, or after arranging studio lights or, indeed, any image that was produced after substantial manipulation in Photoshop. A so-called "creative" image, perhaps produced as a composite from several originals, might have quite a dramatic initial impact - but I can't think of any where the impact lasted more than a few minutes or, in exceptional cases, hours.

    Thanks goodness that judges and assessors don't have long to assess our work!!
  2. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    One memorable photo I took was of my husband walking up the aisle of St Andrews church in Fort William. The light through the window made a halo around his head.
    That night he got sick and died four weeks later. I don't know what to think when I look at it - not so often these days, I must admit. Part of me wishes I hadn;t taken it and the other part thinks what prompted me to take it in the first place. It isn't a brilliant photo but has such significancee even now.
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  3. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    On a happier note, and I do know what you are getting at - I remember a photo I took through a bus window of the queue at the bus stop in the rain. It is almost abstract. Has terrible noise in it and little composition of merit - but it showed me what doing something crazy and pushing the little Sony camera to its limits, can result in something special.
  4. PhotoEcosse

    PhotoEcosse Well-Known Member

    But, Kate, the question I was asking was about whether third parties would find the photo memorable. In the way my friend obviously feels she did. In the case of your bus stop photo, that might well also be the case.

    Put more simply, are photographs that we will always remember, having viewed them, photographs taken at moments their authors will always remember?
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2017
  5. Jimbo57

    Jimbo57 Well-Known Member

    Very occasionally I come across a real pearl of wisdom on the internet. This forum is one such source and this contribution is one such pearl.
  6. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    One photo I took at the bus stop is for ever memorable to one lady. It has her brother in it and is the only photo she has of him (he died soon after). Whether the memorable photo for someone else is also memorable for you? I very much doubt it.
  7. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    The thing is, we might never know which of our photos is memorable for someone else. Memorable is usually associated with emotional events - but it's their emotional event that makes your photo memorable. I doubt that landscapes or abstracts or clever manipulations are memorable to a third party. They might be to the taker but that's different.
    Zou likes this.
  8. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    If a photograph moves someone enough emotionally, it'll be memorable. In the same way that film, music, books, and other forms of art which move people are memorable. Whether the content of a photograph needs to be personal, is another debate.

    So I would suggest that the memorable nature of photographs is tied to the emotion they represent, and there are plenty of cases where that emotion is external and imposed on the photograph (a memory of a real event, which the photograph somehow links to), but it's equally possible for photographs to move people enough that they become memorable, and through the photograph, the event becomes memorable, without the person ever having been there.
    Zou likes this.
  9. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    The shots people in general find most memorable are usually reportage, of memorable events and incidents. The shot comes to define the occasion. Next I suppose portraiture which defines the person at a point in time. Street can define place and time with enough context. Beyond that, little has real lasting value for most people.
    Catriona likes this.
  10. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    I think that's true in large numbers, but I'm pretty sure an exceptional landscape can move individuals, in the same way a painting or sculpture can, and so be memorable, it just has a narrower level of visibility.
  11. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member

    Oh god, I've just written a ten thousand word dissertation about this. You can have a copy if you like?! It would help to read Roland Barthe's Camera Lucida too. However he very much deals with what makes a photograph memorable for the viewer and rather dismisses the photographer's role!

    From my own research, I don't believe there is necessarily any correlation between what makes a photograph memorable for the photographer and what makes it memorable for someone else. Unless perhaps both parties were there at the time of making and involved in either the making of the photograph or the event which spurred the making of the photograph.

    I have a series of shots that I made last year for a project that was exploring a particular geographical landscape and attempting to convey at the same time something of the disconnected feeling that I always have between Christmas and New Year. It was generally agreed that the project had been more or less successful. I liked a few of my images, some more than others, but I would argue that it was the making of the work as a whole that was memorable for me and the circumstances around it at the time. I don't think there was one shot that had Barthes' 'punctum' for me on its own. But as I was laying out my work to edit down for a book, one of my fellow students cried out when she saw one particular image...because she said that it reminded her of home. She's from the Basque Country and hadn't been back in some time.

    Photographs are usually memorable when they invoke recognition on some level. This is Barthe's position pretty much, and I'd agree with it generally. Some might be as obvious as the example here - they remind you of home, but others could be a reminder of a way of looking, an expression, a gesture, a relationship, or an event. I think whenever we look at a picture, we search it for what we know and recognise. If we recognise an event and that had some impact on us at the time, the photograph has the potential to be memorable. If we see an emotion that we have felt before, that also has the potential to be memorable. Whether it was memorable for the photographer too I find hard to see having any bearing on the viewer's experience - unless, as I've said, the making of the image was somehow a shared experience too. We also look at images and automatically run through a mental catalogue of other images we have already seen, and we compare and contrast. This is a landscape. It's a more interesting, better executed version of one I've already seen....or I'm impressed by the scale of that mountain becuase I know that I"ve only ever seen flat fenlands....and so on. Always comparing, always contrasting. The thing that makes a shot memorable for any given person is going to be absolutely personal to them. That's not to say that it can't be memorable to more than one person, and in some cases for the same reason, but I think it has to tug away at something on an emotional level and not just be because it's a particularly impressive example of its kind. Take landscapes. I can't count the number of incredibly well executed landscapes that I've seen, and almost immediately forgotten again because to be memorable they need to have something more than just being very well done. Perhaps memorable also can come from being something not seen before, or something surprising. Perhaps when we look at an image, we not only search it for what we know and recognise, but also for what's new, surprising or,....even, what's not there. What does the image leave out and allow our imaginations to replace? That might be the most important thing of all.

    I have one photograph, just one, taken in the last year that will always be memorable for me. I can close my eyes and remember exactly the circumstances of its taking, the raw emotion behind the taking of it, and the reason for taking it. I can be in tears just seconds after looking at it again, and I don't think the impact of that photograph will ever wain. For me. I find it hard to imagine it having the same effect on anyone else. I think it probably conveys a degree of what I was feeling at the time but I can't imagine anyone else feeling as strongly about it as I do.
    EightBitTony likes this.
  12. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    Sure :)
  13. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Maybe, but hard for most people to even bring to mind even a specific Ansel Adams, let alone anyone else's. But Che Guevara just driving by in a jeep and staring into the middle distance would be recognisable to millions, ditto a flag getting raise on Iwo Jima.
  14. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    Again, I don't generally disagree, but we do have to be careful not to project our own emotional responses on other people. I'm sure there are some people who are emotionally moved by an Ansel Adams and can describe their favourite ones in detail.

    Memorable through repeat viewing isn't the same as memorable due to being emotionally moved. I can describe images I don't find emotionally engaging, because I've been presented with them hundreds of times in the press or other media, but I wouldn't call them memorable, rather imprinted.
  15. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    I guess we need to think about what the word memorable means, and whether it's too broad or too specific a definition for what we're all trying to describe.
  16. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Maybe - but I think any of your examples would only be memorable to older people and not so much the Instagram Generation. Not sure if the ubiquity of images hasn't rather done away with the idea of memorable ones.

    On a slightly different subject, my best-selling picture is a landscape - my frozen Derwentwater one. That was somewhat set up, in that I waited for the walker to reach the correct part of the ice, and I've been told by several people who have ordered it that it was memorable. Clearly not on a global scale, though. ;)
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  17. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    I don't think it has. I see a lot of pictures each day, from friends & strangers, and the vast majority of them don't stick with me. However, one or two have because they strike an emotional chord. I guess we need to talk about duration as well - how long will something be memorable, how many times will a picture spring to mind over the years, vs. being shown it again by the media.

    I took a lot of photographs during a 4 day trip to Scarborough, 3 of them, _in particular_ are memorable for me, for different reasons. I find myself thinking about them at times when I'm not specifically looking at, or thinking about photography.

    This one - because it's one of the earliest examples of me seeing something, and then waiting for a shot I liked (rather than just taking a lot of pictures and seeing if any were 'good'). So, it's memorable because of the process.

    [​IMG]British Summer in Scarborough by Tony Evans, on Flickr

    This one, because it makes me smile, and I am moved by the freedom it represents, and the memory of my own childhood at the beach. So it's memorable because of an emotional connection.

    [​IMG]Kites on the Beach by Tony Evans, on Flickr

    And this one, because it's one of the first times I've seen a picture and thought 'yes, that's what I was going for', and then 'I'd like that on my wall'. So it's memorable partly for the process, partly due to an emotional response, and partly because it represents something I consider a success.

    [​IMG]Walking the Dogs by Tony Evans, on Flickr

    Obviously none of those images are perfect, and I don't necessarily expect others to find them memorable. But if, for example, the boy with a kite shot was in the press every day for a week or two, and then wheeled out again every time the UK weather was nice, it would grow to be memorable to some people purely through repetition. That's not a measure of it's quality or even it's objective value, just a mechanical process.

    Clearly, 'meaningful' photographs become memorable because they're used to represent something, and meaningful photographs are important, and sometimes they're also objectively good art, but not always.

    The first photo on this page http://time.com/top-10-photos-2016/ (embedded below) will stick with me for a long time, but it's not been shown in the media very often recently, so I wonder how long it will be memorable for other people in the world?

  18. dan marchant

    dan marchant Well-Known Member

    As you say "for you". Personally I agree with you but Photoshopping an image is really no different than painting or drawing and many great and memorable images have been made that way.

    Images are memorable for two main reasons. They are aesthetically pleasing or they have a message that resonates with the viewer. A photos of a friend who just died may not be a "well composed and visually interesting photo" (aesthetics) but may have meaning to the viewer. That same photo viewed by someone who doesn't know the person may be instantly forgettable.
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  19. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    It made me think... if someone posted one of my pictures, would I recognize it as such? I think I would, so I guess they are all memorable!
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