What are you looking for?
We love to stop our eyes on photographs. Have you ever wondered why? Or if I ask the question more precisely. Which ones attract your gaze most often? What are you looking for? Are you wondering who or what is depicted on them? Or is it the storyline that interests you the most? The nature of photography, as a medium, is that it shows something. It highlights. It reflects something.
But a photograph cannot just stand and show on its own. There is always someone who stands behind it. Who took the photograph? What does he want to reveal to others? Behind every photograph stands an author, who wants to tell his message either directly with documentary conventions, or indirectly with alternative, perhaps even abstract narrative practices, which can still be captured in the photograph.
When he seizes our attention, we as the observers either accept his message, we understand it, like it or dislike it or contemplate the meaning of it. Therefore, we pay much attention to questioning the author’s intentions, while we don’t even consider other criteria that are just as important in the transmission of a certain message when observing a photograph.
We forget that the message of an image, the one that attracted our attention, is also largely determined by the institutions that present the photo in a specific channel (newspaper, website, gallery, etc.). They define the photograph’s purpose. It is therefore not only important what the author wanted to tell us, to show us, but also through which channel we encountered the chosen photograph(s). It’s about different framing in different media. We observe and look at photographs in newspapers differently than those we encounter in the galleries. If a certain photograph attracted our attention in the museum, we might not even notice it in a completely different context.
Considering the criteria, I already mentioned above, it would also be very naive of us to think the author and the medium itself are the only factors, which define and communicate the message of a certain photograph. The communication process, which occurs when the selected photo steals our attention, is both an act of sending a message and an act of receiving a message. In the communication process, we as the viewers, enter the scene simultaneously with the message and its messenger.
So if you are still wondering why a particular photo captured your attention, I suggest a relatively simple answer.
We as observes play an active role in this process.
Something caught our eye, because it reflected a part of us in it.
You see, everything we choose to pay attention to, reflects our own state of mind as well.