The above photo was made on film a long-long time ago. I think it was for the SF Chronicle, the humans in the photo are researchers studying Great White Sharks (that is the terrifying looking thing in the water.) To get this photo I was standing on the top most part of the boat, not sure what it is called, the roof maybe? It was a very small space and the very small boat was being knocked around by the ocean swells which made it quite difficult to take photos and not fall into the water. When the shark bumped into the boat I nearly fell overboard. My only thought at the time was, I should make sure as I am falling into the jaws of Jaws I have to make sure my camera does not get wet, it would have ruined the film and the camera. Somehow I survived to tell the tale of my tale.
The other day when I was at SF MOMA with my brother Sean, we were looking at an exhibit of Dianne Arbus’s work. Sean does not know too much about photography so I was able to tell him a bit about the photos, the legacy of street photography, and my musings on whatever random thoughts I had as we walked about the museum.
Sean stopped on one photo in particular, it was shot in very low light, two main subjects, a man and a woman at some kind of society ball or something. They looked quite wealthy. The photo had a fair amount of camera shake, was a bit soft in focus. Sean asked me a perfectly logical question, “Is this photo any good?”
I said something along the lines of, it must be good, someone bothered to take the photo, they selected it out of all the other photos she took that day, printed it, someone mounted it and a museum decided to show it in an exhibit of one of the most famous photographers in the world. So, by that standard it is good, the experts have spoken.
But, that is not what he was asking, he was asking if I thought it was good, the implication being he did not think it was good, or at least not as good as the other photos in the exhibit, some of which he quite liked.
As I was looking intently at the photo trying to understand how on earth I can even articulate why I think the photo is good without sounding like I was trying to justify why the photo was in the exhibit, I realized I can not answer such a question. I have no idea if the photo is good, if the photographer’s intent was clear in making the photo, or if Dianne Arbus would be happy that particular photo was in this exhibit.
None of that matters, the photo exists, it is in the exhibit, and in looking at the photo and searching for an answer to the question regarding the photo being “good” or not, for me, was the point of the photo entirely. I do not know who the man and woman in the photo are, the caption was kind of vague. I do not know what they were doing just before or just after the camera shutter fired, no idea what was going on outside the frame.
It took me almost a week to come up with an answer. The photo is good, because I have spent almost a week thinking about it.
And, it is in a museum, so it must be good, right?