What makes meaning?

Here’s something I’ve been struggling to understand. What makes a photograph meaningful? What do I even mean by ‘meaningful’? I don’t know the answer to this. I’ve been thinking about what seems to be commonly called ‘storytelling’ in photography. Is this all that matters? To have photos that tell some kind of story? My instinct is to say that it is important, and can make a photo that says something that is meaningful. By meaningful, I think what I am getting at is that the photo seems to persist after it’s been initially viewed. There is a sense that something is going to happen. I think maybe this means that there have to be characters – people or animals, and I’m not that great at finding those subjects. So here are a couple of examples of my photos. Above, there is a picture of the gate at the back of my yard. I liked the uneven wood and the empty sky above the gate, but I wouldn’t say this photo ‘tells a story’. Does that make it a bad photo, or less meaningful than a photo that definitely has a story to it? I would try to justify this photo and say yes, there is a story – what’s beyond the gate? Why have I chosen this as a subject? But I think this is reaching a little. I’m still trying to tell myself that this idea of ‘story’ doesn’t matter, but I think that maybe it does. I think that maybe photos that tell a story are inherently better than those that don’t.

Here is another picture. I think this one maybe gets a bit closer to telling a story.

Does it tell a good story? I’m not sure about that either. If I look at this and try to think about it as objectively as possible, I think – who are these people? What are they doing? What’s their story? But I think that’s reaching a bit too. They are two middle-aged people sitting on a bench. I think a photo needs more than this, much more, to be truly great – certainly to be truly great as a piece of story telling. Maybe there is nothing for it but to be in the right place at the right time and get pictures that show things really happening. I think I need to search out photos that I think do a really good job of telling a story and I think yes, it is important and adds meaning and value to a picture. I don’t think that means that any other pictures are worthless. I still need to think about this some more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *