Longevity through Ambiguity & Suggestion

There is real danger in overworking an image to the point that the viewer has little chance to attach or develop their own sense of personal interpretation to it.

Hokkaido, Japan, December 2015 Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Hokkaido, Japan, December 2015
Image © Bruce Percy 2015

As a beginner, I was blinded by strong colours and contrasts and looking back, my eye was not tuned to appreciating subtle shades or hues. Everything had to be obvious, and for want of a better word - loud.

I feel that it has been a long journey (that is still in progress)  for me to begin to appreciate the finer and more subtle nuances of the art of image editing.  This has lead me to believe that the appreciation of the more subtle aspects of image 'reading'  tends to develop at the same time as our photographic eye develops. Where once I had to work at seeing what was really in front of my camera, so too, I overlooked the more subtle shades and tones of some of the finer imagery out there.

Without wishing to offend anyone, or take sides, I do feel that this is one reason why we sometimes see such heavily edited work on image forums. Sometimes the approach works well and we know the executor has a deft hand at the dramatic, but sometimes it is simply because the photographer is still learning to balance between what should be spelled out to the viewer what should be left to suggestion. With the later, I may be left feeling that the photographer behind the work is simply trying too hard. None of this is judgemental, but instead, I give this as an observation to how we start when we are new to photography and how our sensibilities alter and hopefully become more acute as time goes on.

We all, I believe, go through different periods of visual awareness. And there is really no short-cut to arriving at a sense of refinement.  For instance, in my own case, you wouldn't have been able to convince me a decade ago that what I liked may have lacked subtlety. I just liked what I liked.  Nowadays I may balk at what I did back then, but I realise I had to go through the growing pains (and still am) of learning to understand what makes a good image and what makes a great print.

Indeed, there is a place for everything. In music we have pop bands that are more like an audio bubblegum, and at the other end of the spectrum we have some music that some or perhaps many of us would find impenetrable, or just downright hard to listen to, let alone understand. And some music is instantly disposable while other pieces can become real growers that embed themselves into our lives.

I think the proof in one's own photography is in the staying power of the images we create. If we can make images that still resonate and work for us a few years down the line, then this would be a great achievement. The ultimate achievement however, is to create work that we are still proud of many decades later.

I think the only way to do this, is to try to build in some kind of depth to the work, a subtlety or perhaps deliberate ambiguity. It is through suggestion that the story can always be changed or reinterpreted as the years go by.

If your images are too forced, or lack any kind of space in which to allow the viewer to reinterpret them, then they may fail to have the longevity that you seek. But If your images do have room for further growth, through the use of subtitles such as delicate use of shade & colour,  then you may be on to something great