#610. Is a wall-hanger the best I can do?

By philberphoto | Opinion

Jun 24

The “wall” theme is currently in the news. To build or not to build the wall, that is the question. Well, my version of it is slightly different: to hang or not to hang on the wall, that is the question.

It all started innocently enough during a free-rein discussion with Pascal. I should have known better. Is anything ever truly innocent with this guy? As I felt in cheeky mood, I offered some compliments as to his photographic skills, which is a surefire way to make him squirm uncomfortably. He much prefers the stance of the unrecognized and misunderstood artist that that of the feted one.

It soon boiled down to our going over our production of the last years, to find the rare shot(s) we’d really love to hang on our walls. Without looking; he said: none! Without looking, I said: I’ll take my pick! Seems like I can live with my shortcomings better than he with his talent… ‘Cause I know of a number of his pics I’d love to hang on my walls…

Or would I? Would they pass the test of time? Would I learn to love them ever more, or would I grow bored (Pascal’s jaded view).

So I did go over my production of some 3 years, and soon had to make some hard choices. Was I looking for something specific? Would it be a process of analysis and successive culling or one of inspiration and adoption? Would it be rather a picture that I simply could not not have? Would it speak about itself, or about me? Would it be about beauty, or meaning? Would it be one where I “happened to be at the right time at the right place”, or one where I had “constructed” a shot? Would it have to be exceptional, or just “right”? One which spoke of a specific moment, or one for all time? Did it matter if others did it as well -or better-? Was it a choice just for me, or for others as well?

Soon I was tied up in knots and cursing Pascal. There is not a single innocent bone in the man’s body!

But gradually, things began to get clearer. Obviously, the vast majority of shots I have processed (not counting the very many more I still have on my HDD) are not wall-hanging material. So culling was step one. Looking at my production of the last 4 years left with perhaps 50-100 candidates that passed “all the obvious tests”. Interesting, aesthetically pleasing, more-than-one-dimensional (not takling about 3D here), not-a-postcard, and so on.

Then I had to think: what would I really like to see on my wall? The first “interesting” shots that had to go were the deep, deep crops I love from flower shots. Yes, I find the sheer beauty of this “parts of flowers” fascinating, but they are cropped so deep that I couldn’t print them large enough while retaining good print density. Bye-bye the “kiss of the rose”…:-( (see  further up this post).

The next to go were the landscapes that just flaunted their beauty upfront. I couldn’t see myself loving them lastingly, if there wasn’t more to them than met the eye at first glance. Bye-bye most of Lofoten and Iceland.

Then went the spectacular ones, that weren’t “peaceful” enough, that didn’t let me “get into them” because they were just visually too strong. Gone were the hanging bridges of Patagonia.

Next question: people. Would a portrait hold a lasting interest for me, or would I lose interest? At this point, I had to say: “no, I would want to move on”. Gone were the fascinating faces of India.

So, what would it need to “contain”? One element, for sure, is “mystery”. Something that is left unshown, unsees, unsaid. Hence my proclivity for bokeh shots. The other is some element of movement/life/dynamism. Purely static shots, like the beautiful pre-war Mercedes racecar, don’t seem to inspire the timelessness that, for me, is required to give up wall space.

Pascal talks of many of my shots as “balance within an imbalance”. That seems to imbue the picture with dynamism. So, is that what would end up on my wall? Would I want this “collapse waiting to happen” constantly looking at me? Nah, I think not. I would want something more stable more serene. While I love such shots, I am not sure I want that sort of energy in my home.

And so many more questions. Colour, or B&W? B&W, I think, for simplicity. What format? Square possibly, although I could live with others. Should it be an abstract?

As you can see, as this developped (escalated might be a better word), my mind-knots, so effortlessly tied by Pascal, became more and more intractable. It was only a picture, after all, not my legacy to the world! I took a breath, and went back to my pics. No point in spouting theory and criteria, and scenarios, when I had only a limited selection to choose from. So, to hell with all this intellectualism, and on with a choice.

How about answering this: what can I not live without? Sort of: what is my “desert island picture”? That made matters simple. I came up with 3 pictures. I knew I needed a flower picture. There is one church picture that I had long admired in the production of others, and I was given the chance (it needs cooperation from the weather, as it involves visible sunrays) to add one such to my collection. And one crop from an early morning picture in Paris. A case of not seeing until it is on screen.

Back to the title of the thread: are they my “best” pics? Is this the best I can do? The answer has to be: “no”. None of these 3 shone in the number of “likes” or favorable comments that I got when posting them on an upscale photo forum, unlike others of my shots. They are also not among Pascal’s pick from my shots. So it is very much a case of horses for courses.

But I did learn one thing for sure, as I revisited these years of pictures. The session that gave me the”two-rose” favorite took all of 30 minutes after maybe 10mn of driving each way. The church shot session was 20 mn, just a stop on my way from a meeting. The early morning shot did cause me to get up at 4:15 a.m., travel 40mn to and fro, and lasted some 2 hours. Adding up all the time taken by these 3 shootings, which by the way, yielded many more enjoyable shots than just the 3, amounts to less than the time to write this post and pick the pictures. Let alone the time spent agonizing on gear and/or post-processing software….

For those of you who wonder, except for the last 3, all other pictures are some that I really like, but that didn’t make the cut. This is why you maye have seen them before.

  • John Wilson says:


    Pascal didn’t have to “do” anything to you. You did it all by yourself. Art IS NOT a forebrain experience. It is, at it’s best, an EMOTIONAL experience. What you wound up with are three images to which you have an emotional reaction that pleases you. From personal experience, they are often not images that other people think are your “best” or the ones they like or buy. Case in point … at the moment, I have 6 images of cars hanging on my den wall in prep for the monthly meetings of a couple of print groups I belong to. My photo buddy Bob like one that is the visual antithesis of the one I like because it zaps me emotionally and I keep coming back to it again and again. The groups will get to choose their favourite(s). Often there’s a divergence of opinion; rarely is the preference a majority let alone unanimous; and even then it may not be my favourite. Would I hang his/their preference – maybe in an exhibition, but not on my limited wall space.

    Forget the analysis and debate. Go with what FEELS right and you’ll usually be right.

  • Jens says:

    A well-written and honest summary of an all-too-common dilemma. I’ve been there myself, but I can’t say I that I’ve really solved the problem.

    However, at present to me it boils down to this: If my images are devoid of context and meaning when I take them, they won’t have much meaning when I print them and stick them up on a wall. I therefore try and form clear ideas about what I am about to do when I pack my gear and go out on a photographic mission:
    – what is my subject-matter, what does it mean to me? What “message” or statement or feeling am I trying to convey with the images I take?
    – what is the context in which I want to present the images? A series of greeting cards? A small self-published book? A set of fine-art prints? A series for publication on my website?
    – what is my medium? BW or colour? Aspect ratio: squares, 4X5s, 2X3s, panoramic? Small vignette-sized prints or large-format posters for wall hanging?
    – who am I doing this for? Are these images being taken just to please myself, or do I already have a particular audience in mind?

    Just walking off without a clear idea as to what I was doing rarely got me a print on the wall. Setting myself straight on objectives, however, reduced clutter in my mind, clutter in my gear bag and clutter on my SD-card and on my Mac’s HD – and sometimes actually made it onto the wall. Only to disappear again when something more convincing took its place.

  • Clifton Whittaker says:

    Been there, done that. Finally decided that all of my photographs were boring and quit. But, I couldn’t quit making photographic images unless I quit breathing. But, what I was doing was boring me to death, so, I changed subject matter. Now I’m photographing birds and having fun with it. I took all of my framed work out of the gallery and stored it in the basement. I only show my bird pictures on FB now. Will I ever go back to landscapes, cityscapes, street photography, etc, etc. I don’t know, but I hope so. And, I hope that when I do I will have discovered a new dimension that makes it exciting again. I miss the excitement that builds as a new image begins to come together. You can see some of my boring work at http://www.cliffwhittakerphotography.zenfolio.com

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Philippe, I always leave criticism to other people. It takes a lot less effort than doing it myself, it’s not self-destructive, your psychiatrist won’t tell you that you need to take a course of tablets to cure your depression, and it keeps the critics harmlessly amused taking potshots at someone who – in the Australian vernacular – doesn’t give a rat’s arse WHAT they think. 🙂 (Oh – that provides an example – if I had to choose between English English, American English or Australian English, I think I’d choose the Australian version. It’s much more colourful and expressive – and it’s a bit like nerve gas, it silences the opposition much more rapidly than the other versions).

    I fooled around with one of your images for fully 30 seconds, because the picture intrigued me and I wanted to explore it further – look inside it, if you like. Unfortunately I don’t have your email addy, but I’ve sent my “revised version” to Pascal, and he can pass it on, so that you can have another look and see what I could see inside the image – intriguing patches of light that didn’t appear in the other portion of the image, and a bird – always helps to chuck a few feathers into an image, especially one with water dominating the scene. OK so I’m a quaint old fashioned traditionalist, but too bad – it’s something I like, anyway.

  • Steffen says:

    I’m going through this as well. But you missed an important aspect – if not THE important: How does it fit to the interior? And together with this question probably goes the next question: How do all your frames together?

    In my experience it takes ages to come to an end. And most likely the photos that work best are not the ones you had on your radar for best matching.

    In the end, you want a little bit of everything you already mentioned. For me, more graphical motifs worked best. But I don’t want some minimalist, snooty paintings on the wall. It should be real but also graphical and the family should connect to it somehow – and it must work with the interior, and all together.

    Funny story: Last time I printed it took me about 3-4 years to come up with a final decision. To make it worse, my wife bought the frames in the beginning already and forced me to bring them on the wall as a reminder. So we had empty frames on the wall for 4 years. All our visitors thought it was a kind of statement, some arty thing going on. They were really surprised to see them filled one day. I’m now working on a refresh for like 2 months. Which me all the best that I get it done before 2018. 🙂

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