Content Trumps Technical Aesthetics…True or False?

Photograph © Jeremy Wade Shockley 2011.

It is safe to say that there were many approaches to this subject that might have rendered a more pleasing exposure, a technically correct exposure if you will. It is also safe to say that the moment would not have existed if I had taken a second more to rethink my approach, furthermore I can also tell you I was siting under the same blinding sun, with film loaded in my camera (probably with an ASA chosen for a completely different situation in another lifetime) and an instant to consider my manual settings, while the rest of my brain capacity was still concerned over the effects the warm goat milk I just ceremonially partook might have on my long term health.

The subject is a man who has just taken his second wife, a very young girl who is not pictured, and he is being attended to by his first. This quite moment is in contrast to the celebrations that took place in the days preceding our meeting. I was invited to share in their company and what food was left from the feasting.

The photo is a success in my eyes.

That notion was reaffirmed some years ago when TIME magazine photographer James Hill selected it from an array of working photographs of Africa for a portfolio review. Hill was clearly seeking the right moment, not the perfect exposure.

I fully realize a nice blend of the two aesthetics are core to most great images, and furthermore practiced by almost all working professionals. In reality we are often at the mercy of the elements, the situation, and our equipment, or lack there of.

My point is a great photo should not be judged at first glance by its technical proficiency, but rather its core content, the emotion, or spontaneity of the event captured in that instant. In the digital age we are furthermore inundated with well exposed, highly saturated images, aesthetic elements which in my mind play second fiddle to subject and composition.

Do you feel that the later is just as important, or can a good photo be soft, blurry, or poorly light and still deliver the same punch?

There is no clear answer, no single opinion, but instead I think this is a nice conversation piece, and a fundamental question we will almost always revisit as photographers, journalist and artists.

I welcome your input. – Jeremy