In the eye of the beholder

In the same way that reading the last chapter first can make you want to start a book from the beginning, looking at a photograph can leave you wanting to know the story behind the image. Sometimes a photograph can even inspire you to invent a back story.

Given 13 black and white photos submitted for an online photography sponsored by the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm, I face the judge’s dilemma. I understand the guiding principles of impartiality, fair play, and equal consideration for all entries. I understand the shared criteria for rating: composition, use of light and shadow, creativity, originality, and overall appeal of the image. My dilemma is wrapped around how subjective my ratings seem.

After a quick first look at each image, I wonder how to choose from these obviously lovingly composed and so very different photographs. Monochrome worlds, where a lack of color, surprisingly, wasn’t making it easier to pick my 10 photos to score. I was hung up on the idea that my beholder’s eye was juggling and judging 13 individual artists’ work and vision. Creativity, originality, and overall appeal? Surely all subject to my unique interpretation. This was not easy!

Bestselling author Seth Godin says, “Art is what we call…the thing an artist does.
It’s not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making.
Something risky. Something human.
Art is not in the …eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.”

In the end, after we chose our 10 entries and assigned ratings, each of the judges also offered comments, considering how the photographers used their black and white images to show truth and to tell a story. We loved many of the entries for a wide and human variety of reasons.

One photograph, “Middle Distance,” (reproduced here) was a unanimous choice. The portrait study makes me feel like I am right there, having a conversation with the subject. This picture conveys inner life and personality — especially communicated in the intensity of her gaze. My fellow judges noted, “A dramatic in-your-face shot with a near etching quality high-contrast look. It’s a bold image that speaks to the coldness of its sterile environment. Has a drama that demands attention. I could not pass it by – a reality I am familiar with,” and “The exaggerated contrast was well executed to show the age of this person. It suggested a very dramatic story about this old lady in this environment. What was wrong with her? How old was she exactly? Was she alone? Did family visit?” I’m sure we each invented a story.

I found out later, from Mary Ann, the photographer, the subject is a much loved feisty aunt. “She was my second mother. I grew up with her. I called her my ‘Auntie Mame’ because she was so much like the character. I was her surrogate daughter because she never married.”

Each of the photo entries is a joyous “something worth making.” Take a look at the variety and stretch your mind. There’s a bouquet of stories blooming in the winter.

Photo Credit: “Middle Distance” by Mary Ann Monteverde Hines

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