I find myself increasingly noticing and being frustrated with what are really quite good pictures.
You've probably seen a lot of these things. They're often strongly geometrical, pleasing to the eye. They're balanced and well organized. Often they're very clean. Sometimes they're architecture, found objects. Less often they're people or landscapes. The common thread is that they're emotionally empty.
Sometimes it's simply that the thing is overdone. There was a good visual idea here, but we've seen every conceivably variation on that theme, and we're done. Sometimes, more often, it's that there's just no point to the thing. Yes, the triangular form created by the building balances with the hard oblong shadow diagonally opposed, creating a strong and pleasing geometry. But so what? What the hell are you trying to say here? This makes me feel nothing, it shows me nothing, it reveals nothing.
Some of these things are quite virtuoso. All the technical details are there, the framing is perfect, the management of color and tone is terrific.
But there's nothing there. There's no soul, there's no passion, there's no heart hammering violently away inside the thing.
This is a vague and personal thing, to be sure. What seems dead to me might well breathe fire for you, but somehow, I don't think that's very common. I think you and I would agree more often than not on what has heart and what doesn't. You might be more willing to like a virtuoso picture with little heart than I am, but that's quite a different thing.
Here's some examples:
I have showcased this one before with basically the same commentary:
I shot this thing specifically to be liked by people on internet forums. It's an exercise in form, color, line. It's pleasing. I got some minor quibbles of feedback about sharpness this, color that, framing the other, or something. It was a while back. Nobody, but nobody, pointed out that it's a dead, soulless fucking nightmare. Focus this? Clone that? Stand closer? There's no saving this fucking thing. It's a pointless exercise in composition. It says nothing, it means nothing. If it makes you feel, the best we can hope for is that it makes you feel vaguely happy, on account of, pretty!
Here's something I shot more recently:
This thing is potentially part of a larger essay on intensity and authenticity I'm working on. This would likely be panned on any sort of photo sharing web site. Most people would comment that it's all blurry. I might get a few things about "liking the tones" or "good use of wide angle" or "cool car" but nobody would say anything like:
That picture has balls
That picture sits on your chest and punches you in the face
which is more what I'm after. Whether or not you think any of those things, I think them. It's not the best thing I've shot in the series, but it's pretty decent for my purposes. It hits the notes I want hit, and it's got some soul, some intensity. Which is, after all, the point.
This is why, basically, I am so set on concept these days. I want to understand how my pictures can have at least a little passion, a little soul. I think that, first, I must have it. And then I must try to take pictures that embody my passion, my emotion. Somehow.