Marked for Greatness

What makes a great photo? Here is one that has all the technical aspects of a great photo.

IMG_3044R  Elgol Isle of Skye

It’s in focus, which is a great start. It is level. Landscape pictures with squint horizons are wrong. No argument, they are just wrong!  It has drama, it implies movement and it has an interesting subject matter. It could have been more colourful but it was a cold, windy, dreich March day in Skye so that was the colour.  It lacks soul. It is a little clinical so it gets marked down.

Here is another photo. It was taken in the 1950’s and is of my mother.


It would have been her birthday on St Swithan’s day July the 15th but she died last February. So on the 15th of this month I felt a little sad and posted this image on Facebook. Some people said nice things and some said that this was a great picture. It got me thinking about why they said it is a great picture.

It couldn’t be that it was technically great; it was a snapshot taken outside a Glasgow tenement front door. I think I know why some thought it a great image – it had a story behind it. It was someone’s mum and that person missed his mum which gave it some emotional content. There was a soul to the picture.

So that is why I think this is a great photograph.

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It was part of the pile of images I inherited from my mum when she moved from her house to a care home. As she was suffering from Alzheimers and this was the first time I had seen them I know very little about this particular image.

My grandfather being Glaswegian had, with military logic, served with a Welsh artillery regiment during the First World War. I’m guessing that these were his comrades. The fact that the back has descriptions of the soldiers in my grandfathers writing helps with that less that Holmesian deduction. This picture was taken in France during a war in (I presume) difficult conditions. The mud on the soldiers’ boots is a clue.

For me it is a great picture because it has interest, drama and a huge story, not only factual but also more importantly, I think, implied. What happened to these men? Did they get up and march to the front and their death? Or did they survive? I know nothing of the story so I have to imagine it and that makes the picture more intriguing. I think we like to engage with a picture not just acknowledge its prettiness. Do we need something that makes us look at it for longer and connect with the picture? Here is an analogy – a better picture is one we comment on when we see it on Facebook instead of just “liking.” I think a great picture is one we engage rather than simply admiring.

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    The back of the picture with what my grandfather has written about the men. He was the one in the middle.

My grandfather James McQuaker

                                                                    My Grandfather

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