How Do You Appreciate Photographs?

Bookends - New York City - 2010

Does a viewer’s context matter to photo appreciation? Seems that it does.

I had a discussion today with a friend about looking at photographs and how they’re appreciated. Seems that there’s a difference between appreciating great photographs for what they capture vs. those photographs you might want to have printed and hanging on a wall in your home or office.

A few years ago, I took the shot above across the subway platform in the Brooklyn Bridge subway station in New York City. I titled it “Bookends” because of how the folks on the bench remind me of books on an overstuffed shelf where the books on each end are tilting outward.

Everyone who has seen “Bookends” tells me what a great image it is. But it seems that it’s not an image they’d want to have hanging on a wall in their home (although it does hang on the wall in my home office!).

People in an image seem to be part of the issue here. “Do I really want to be looking these folks?”

Images without people in them – at least not as major features – seem to be more suitable for prints hanging on walls. These images naturally have a bit more mystery and a much less personal interaction with the people in images like “Bookends” – and seem somehow more appropriate as fine art prints for wall display.

It’s an interesting distinction – one that I’m learning more about. I love the “Bookends” image – but I’m beginning to understand why some folks might say “Wow, that’s a great shot – but I don’t think I want it hanging on a wall in my home.”

How about you? Do you feel that difference between “wow, that’s a great shot” and “wow, I’d like a print of that hanging in my home”? What’s your filter between the two?

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