It’s a getaway weekend and you’re browsing a quiet photo gallery near the wharf. The photography is nice, but soon Vivaldi’s gentle strings mingling with the aroma of warm banana bread command most of your attention. Your brain starts bouncing between Thai or Italian for dinner, and you wonder whether you remembered to close the garage door—maybe your brother-in-law can swing by the house and check it on his way home from work…. Suddenly, just as you reach for your cell phone, your eyes stop, your brain exclaims, “Oooh…” as your eyes latch onto a Pacific sunset on the far wall, a solitary cypress clinging to the rocks above the surf. Instantly the cell phone is back in its holster and your hunger has vanished.
What just happened? Volumes have been dedicated to identifying the combination of composition, color, and light that “grabs” a viewer in just this way. But what then? Do you simply nod approval and return to your phone? Or do you cross the room, plant yourself before the the scene, and beckon your date? Maybe you’re even moved enough to check the price, to mentally banish to the attic the flower print above the sofa that has survived three moves, an earthquake, and come to think of it, you can’t even remember what kind of flower it is.
Art of any form appeals on two seemingly contradictory planes: it must stimulate enough to attract, yet soothe enough to sustain. These are art’s “oooh” and “ahhh” factors. You probably understand the “oooh!” that grabs your attention and draws you from afar, but once that initial jolt has faded, it’s the soothing “ahhh…” that holds you. We each have our own oooh and ahhh triggers. Some are touched by an intimate flower portrait, others find inspiration in a sweeping landscape; some seek connection to a familiar place, others long for vicarious exploration. Before reaching for your wallet, you need to know whether this is a scene that will uplift you each time you enter the room.
The way we enjoy art is just as personal as the art itself. I sometimes browse other photographers’ online galleries, but much prefer the intimacy of paging leisurely through a glossy, hardcover photography book. Art shows are fun, but a little frenetic; galleries can be nice, albeit somewhat pretentious. But nothing beats having a special print on my wall, though I see far more I’d like to own than I can afford to own. Nevertheless, I’ve purchased prints from other photographers. (And of course my walls at home bear many of my own prints.)
I’m very thankful that some people do decide that my prints are worthy of living with. But I can’t pretend to know what inspires your oooh’s and ahhh’s, nor can I let those thoughts influence my photographic choices. Before plunking down $600 dollars for that stunning sunset image (or the orange and black velvet matador that your date’s been eyeing), spend a little time with it. Does its virtual world transcend your literal world, even briefly? Do the emotions it generates rejuvenate or deplete your energy? My own, private answers to those questions determine the things I photograph and the way I photograph them. I think it’s also why photography will always be a source of pleasure for me.
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