Photography has changed quite a bit since I was a kid, so the exploration of today’s question, about the best photograph I’ve ever taken, feels like it’s going to be a bit roundabout and circumspect. I mean, first off, we have to talk about the word “best” don’t we? What does that even mean? “Best” according to whom?
A few years back, I was in Heidelberg, Germany, visiting a friend and her young son, David, and we decided to go to nearby Mannheim to visit an exhibition of Hasselblad Award winners. According to the Wikipedia page, The Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography is an award granted to “a photographer recognized for major achievements” and we thought it would be a fun afternoon’s outing. And it was, but there were a few of the representative pictures that were, how can we say? less than great? One artist, in particular (and I really wish I could remember his name or have the time to track him down) had photos which were slightly out of focus. David, who was 6 or 7 at the time, didn’t get it. We’d explained the award, but his comment upon looking at these (and others, to be fair) was “I can take better pictures than that!”
He wasn’t necessarily wrong. Depending, of course, on how you qualify better. In focus? Then sure. So then when we start talking about my “best” pictures, what’s my own watermark? What yardstick do I use to measure? Are any of my photos award-worthy? Dunno. I can say that some of the photos I like and that I think are good, have been criticized, rightly so, by professional photographers. And yet, I still really like it.
Before I went backpacking through Europe in ’08, I had lunch with my friend Richard Faverty, who is an amazing photographer. I had bought myself a small, hardy point and shoot digital camera for this trip and asked Richard for advice. “Once you frame your shot,” he explained, “take one step forward or backward and one step to the right or left.” The idea being that you’d get a new perspective, one you didn’t necessarily see before. He also explained about the “rule of thirds” and a couple of other things. With all that knowledge, I went forth.
In the end, I think most of my good shots before and since then, have been happy accidents and the result of pixels being free, plentiful, and easy to recycle. Not having to worry about film (which I would have had to do when I was younger) has freed me up to be more artistic rather than just trying to capture the moment for posterity. For example, on the Florida trip AAron and I took, I purchased and shot exactly two rolls of 35mm film, 72 exposures, in two weeks on the road. By contrast, 623 pictures and 10 videos (don’t even get me started on how amazing and new that particular benefit is) provide reminders of our 2019 trip with Monki to Disneyland Paris for 5 days. And most of those were shot with my phone (when Monki was born, we did buy a dedicated camera, which we had brought with, but today, my phone probably has a better lens and higher resolution).
So, with all that in mind, what are my favorite (if not best) photographs I’ve taken? Hard to say, really. One which immediately popped into my head when thinking of answering this question was one which I think is in a box in a Vegas, maybe. In all likelihood it’s long gone, but it was of a leopard, snarling over a large chunk of meat. I took it at the San Diego Zoo when I was 10 or 11, maybe? Maybe even younger. It was taken through the bars, so they weren’t visible, and we had it blown up to 8×10 and framed.
More recently, though, there are a number of pictures which I like well enough to put into a gallery on my website, which I’ve rather pretentiously called “Art Photography.” I haven’t added to that collection in a while, though. Maybe I will soon? One thing is that I really love photography. I love lining up the shot and trying to take that perfect image. I think nothing of laying down on the ground or climbing up on something to get that right angle. Time and energy permitting, I’d love to take a photo course or two. I keep thinking about getting the Annie Liebovitz Masterclass or at least signing up for a Coursera or practicing my Photoshop skills, but I haven’t yet. One of these days…
I do think I’ve gotten better since that early leopard photo. Am I worthy of a Hasselblad Award? Can’t say for certain but I can say most of my pictures are at least in focus. What do you think?