Intention in photography

To the questions “What is a good photo?” and “What or who is a real photographer?” I have, from two professional sources, gotten the answer that the crucial factor is intention.

A good photo is a photo which was intended that way, and a real photographer is someone who shoots with intention.

The more I think about this, the less I agree. To begin with, a photo can be intended in a certain way and still be boring, only eliciting a yawn, or a laugh.

Exactly as intended!
Yes! Exactly as I intended.

This thinking also excludes Dame Fortune, the goddess of luck, from the whole process. Even the best photographers in the world, I am convinced, have dealings with this Lady. Can we assert that in street photography we intended that gorgeous couple to step in front of us just when we walked by?

Some of the most boring but “beautiful” (BBB) pictures are full, overfull, of intention. I almost said bad intention, because most every factor is controlled, which means that there is really no air, no breathing room, no place for Nature, chance, luck and other unaccountable factors to enter.

So, no, I don´t agree that intention is the magic factor. However, if we split the process into several steps, then I can agree in part.

And let´s not just split into steps, but personalities. I see in my own photography a small family working together:

1) The Impulsive Amateur (child)
2) The Careful Editor (father)
3) The Arbiter of Taste (you know who)

I am sure many photographers have no amateur at all in their family, but I do.

I sometimes have a clear intention when heading out to take pictures, but most often don´t. I feel like a hunter leaving for the dark forest, with the wife shouting after me “And be sure to bring home dinner for the whole family, you hear!?”

Yes, I go hunting and I never know what I might catch. Intention plays a very small part for the Impulsive Amateur in me.

However, when I bring home my prey, look at what was caught in my net, I change identity from The impulsive Amateur to The careful editor.

Now there is much more intention involved. I choose to keep some pictures, throw away others, change some to black and white, and so on.

But in this phase also I don´t want too much intention. I try to be friends with chance and luck. It was the same when I worked with synthesizers and created many great patches just by twirling knobs randomly. (And of course listening to the results.)

[I suddenly realize I am the same with strolling. I don´t want to know too much about streets, where they are, where they lead. That way, I explain to myself, I get to see many places that people with pigeon-like talents of orientation, people seemingly with maps in their heads, never get to see.]

So even here I leave some place for luck and chance.

The third role, Arbiter of Taste, is kind of an extra step, but it decides what you, the viewer, get to see. There is even more filtering here, this is the smallest hole. Only what I think is very best comes this far. And of course I revise what I think is “very best”, I get more and more picky.

As the writer of Bluffing in Photography wrote: “Professionals have one great advantage over amateurs. They hide or destroy the majority of their work.” This is the job of the Arbiter of Taste.

To be continued.

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