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Views on Photography Essay


A Too-perfect Picture

The essay written by Teju Cole dwells on the controversial photos taken by Steve McCurry. One of the most notable pictures taken by McCurry in the photograph of a green-eyed Afghan girl. Another infamous McCurry’s photo set reflects the Indian culture and people. His photography is marked by some outstanding traits or features – big beautiful eyes, whitish irises, or the extras that make the picture look like it is one of a kind (Cole 1). The author of the essay claims that the pictures taken by McCurry are bewildering but rather boring at the same time. The majority of his photography looks like it has been staged. From what can be seen in McCurry’s photographs, it may be safe to say that he is most probably keen on exploring the cultures that are gradually disappearing from the face of the Earth (Cole 1). Even though his pictures look as if they were staged, in most cases he is appraised for the efforts made in an attempt to summarize a certain culture and present it to the viewers in a reasonable and enjoyable form.

Cole believes that another photographer that is worth mentioning is Raghubir Singh. He is also known for his culturally-focused photography. His works have numerous parallels with the works of McCurry – colors that stand out, human presence, and the life that can be noticed even on still images (Cole 1). The eminence of Singh’s photographs is supported by the approach that he uses when taking pictures. The first and foremost factor is the content that is captured by Singh. His pictures are vivid, representative, and reflect real life. Second, Singh is acknowledged as an expert in composition. Numerous pictures taken by him showed his mastery of finding order and peace in the chaos of everyday life (Cole 2). Singh’s composition is a combination of coherence and pure skill of a professional photographer. As seen in his pictures, he always tries to find a perfect balance between a disturbing and exciting perspective while operating bright and vivid colors that attract the attention of the viewers.

According to the author of the essay, Singh’s biggest accomplishment is that he evades compositional clichés and his photographs are aimed at provoking certain predictable responses (Cole 3). Moreover, it should be noted that his photography is marketable. As Cole also states, photography should not be short-lived. On the contrary, the key function of photography is to elicit emotions that would last longer than the photograph itself.

Photographs of Agony

In his essay, John Berger states that the war in Vietnam was one of the most influential transformations of the world (Berger 211). He explains the importance of correctly representing the information and states that there are not so many pictures of Vietnam in modern newspapers. Nonetheless, Berger pays particular attention to the photographs taken by Donald McCullin. One of the most infamous is the black and white picture of a man holding a child in his hands (Berger 212). This picture was taken in one of the major Vietnam cities that was heavily bombed by the American military. The atmosphere that the photo emits is rather dislikeable yet astonishing as one cannot take their eyes off of the picture.

Berger argues that war pictures were not usually posted in the newspapers due to the shocking depiction of grief and gore (Berger 212). He claims that modern society is currently aware of the revulsions of war and is probably ready to face the truth. Nonetheless, Berger sees this also as a violent race for sensationalism and an array of individuals who are interested in seeing these shocking things in order to divert themselves. This sounds quite controversial as these two arguments actually do not correlate to each other due to the fact that the former represents an idealistic concept of modern society and the latter is merely cynical in each and every way possible (Berger 212). Nonetheless, the majority of today’s world population would come to an agreement, saying that such photos should be taken into consideration because we should never forget the terrifying things that happened in the past. In other words, not posting these explicit photographs in today’s newspapers means that we refuse to accept the mistakes of the past and choose to ignore our so-called legacy (Berger 212). This supposition goes way beyond political theories, numerous statistics, and other abstractions that tend to take us away from the real-life experience.

The author of the essay goes further and reviews McCullin’s typical photographs. The majority of this photographer’s portfolio consists of pictures that represent negative emotions and display agony and terror (Berger 213). McCullin’s photography covertly triggers our sense of anxiety. He himself states that only uses the camera to let it do its direct job properly. In accordance with these words, Berger made a conclusion that McCullin was only interested in capturing the moment in order to do what he had to – hinting at the extreme limits of this photographer’s contemplation (Berger 213).

Conceptual Relationship between the Essays

At the outset, it may seem that there are no visible connections between the essays. Nevertheless, these articles have several points of contact. Before reviewing the common ideas, it would be beneficial to underline that the two points of view presented in the essays are two sides of the same coin. Only when the diverse nature of photography is embraced, we can draw parallels between the essays. First, we should take into consideration the ways in which both essays describe the art of photography. It is something sacred, and it is not available to a man in the street. One should possess a certain skill set and an outstanding vision in order to see uncommon things that attract attention and look spellbinding. It will not be superfluous to mention that this assumption relates not only to a peaceful setting but a hostile as well. Both authors highlight the ability of photographers to turn a still image into a storehouse of memories and emotions. Essentially, it does not matter what kind of emotion the photograph elicits as soon as it fascinates the viewer. As both authors of the essays claim, the art of photography is a complex mechanism which should be carefully launched in order to obtain startlingly wonderful pictures.

Another point of contact is the ability of the photographers to expose the viewers to some shocking (or not so shocking) revelations. This point is perfectly outlined by both authors as they describe the influence that the photographs of the chosen photographers had on the society and overall interpretation of art. Moreover, this point of contact also exposes the way that the ideas covered in Berger’s essay depend on the ideas listed in Cole’s essay. On a bigger scale, both authors come to an agreement that art is a multi-faceted platform, and it should be perceived as a means of telling the people’s stories without actually saying anything. The beauty of still imagery may come in many shapes and perspectives. Berger’s ideas on the moral aspect of photography are an accurate reflection of Cole’s thoughts on the ethical limitations set by photographers. No matter what is in the picture, the key responsibility of the artist is to capture the emotion and seize the moment.

Yet another point covered by both authors is that photographers, in their majority, are making history and composing the heritage. One should not underestimate the photographers’ contribution to the life of any given individual or society as a whole. Despite the horrors of McCullin’s photography and apparent tediousness of McCurry’s depictions of human life, these photographers are majorly involved in composing the heritage for future generations. Of course, one might advocate for the duality of the art of photography, but the value of this craft is undeniably unappreciated. Photographers are responsible for seizing the most important moments of human lives. Consequently, this aspect is the cornerstone of the photographer’s occupation and another representation of how Berger’s ideas correlate to Cole’s outlooks. Regardless of what we think about photographers and their occupations, they do their job to keep us informed and aware of the things that go on around us. The nature of photography is not an essential topic of discussion when it comes to contributing to the cultural foundation of society. Therefore, it is vital to revise our attitude toward photographers and give credit where it is due.

Works Cited

Berger, John. “Photographs of Agony.” About Looking, Routledge, 2011, 211-13.

Cole, Teju. “A Too-Perfect Picture.” New York Times, vol. 45, no. 3, 2016, pp. 1–3.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Views on Photography." November 23, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/views-on-photography/.

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