I am always amused at museum guides who explain what a painter intended his work to say, what he meant with it. Most will build up a good story and mix it inside a reasonable context to help me “understand” the piece. While thankful for the explanation, my reaction can be totally different from the interpretation offered and in most probably very different as well from the feelings and emotions that the artist himself had while painting it. The paintings I love best generate a basic response, an emotion that can move something deep inside me and that does not really need an explanation. Few paintings achieve this emotional response, but those that do I truly wish to know all there is about them. Now imagine yourself walking through the noise of the living photo gallery that is Instagram and ask yourself, which images truly establish such a connection with you?
For me as a viewer, the most powerful ingredient any image can have is the feeling it generates. Instagram is mostly a never ending rush of images taken in all sorts of moments of life, where amazement, happiness, anger, wonder, sadness or simply boredom on the part of the photographer are expressed. Unplanned, unfiltered and direct, the shots that most people post are windows of their daily life. As photographers, we share photos and through them our emotions as well, although what one person feels while taking a photo can be very different from what the viewer perceives depending on their mood and personal point of view. It is a love triangle loosely formed between the photographer, the subject, the image and the viewer (ok, that’s four so it’s a love square). All can live independent of each other with no need of an interpreter to define what goes between them. Those relationships can speak to each other in very powerful terms through the universal emotions that we all share.
There are countless subjects that are perfectly suited to express emotion in different ways. In general, classic subjects that instantly transmit emotions are faces and persons. Remember the green eyes of the Afghan girl in the famous cover of National Geographic? Without the need for an explanation from the photographer, viewer emotions have run all over the gamut on that one shot alone. I don’t know what the photographer was feeling at the time of the shot or what the girl was thinking, nor is it truly relevant for how the picture made me feel, the spell of those haunting eyes or her story and background. Remember, we are all different but all share basic human emotions, which can be found literally in anything. A peeling doorframe, a kiss, your pet, the way light bounces off a wet street, you name it.
The images I tend to like the best are those where I can strongly isolate my own emotions within me. I am shy by nature and avoid too much direct interaction with a subject, especially a direct close-up of a stranger on the street for example. I simply don’t feel comfortable with it and that is why I turn to my kids and their bubbling emotions, easy to capture and basic to transmit. Other times I find a sense of calm in trying to achieve a minimalist image, in its balance, aesthetics and structure. Now and then my shots are just an expression of plain amazement (or amusement) at the world around me, without any conscious thought about the photo itself.
To start you on such a path you should experiment with your shots, play with them shots and identify your own emotions. Take hundreds of shots, thousands even, and then select those ones that speak to you in the most direct way. If you are able to find some without having to resort to a backstory, most likely others will do so too. Give honest feedback and others will give it to you too.
So what is your secret sauce? What moves YOU in your images? There is no secret formula except to follow your own instincts. Technology allows for an immediate feedback from viewers to express what their own emotions were on an image. Use it. I am always surprised and most humbled by the people who tell me that a deep emotional chord was struck by one image of mine, without any explanation required on my part. I am sure you will be glad to connect to others without the need of a museum guide too.
“Less is more” dominates Hans Kritzler’s minimalistic photographs (@macroe in Instagram). Born and raised in Mexico City but living in Munich, Germany, this business manager by day and photo fanatic by night is followed by more than 450,000 people. Shoots and edits 100% on iPhone.