What makes a photo great? A curator at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC weighs in.

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The website PhotoWings has published an extensive interview with Malcolm Daniel, curator in charge of the Department of Photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and one of the topics covered is the question of what makes a photograph great. I’m posting an excerpt from Daniel’s response here because—although he’s speaking from a historical and fine-art point of view—his comments are relevant to the world of commercial photography, as well. Particularly the part about the fatigue that sets in when we’ve seen a certain kind of image too much, and how our brain simply ceases to see it as appealing, even though it is a fantastic image.

Here’s the excerpt:

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“Sometimes things feel diluted by overexposure. Nobody feels moved by the Mona Lisa anymore because they’ve seen it reproduced and satirized a million times. So it’s awfully hard to stand in front of that and have any kind of spiritual experience. It still is a great painting. We just can’t experience it as such. You’re more likely to go to the National Gallery to look at the Leonardo portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci there, which probably you haven’t seen in reproduction a million times and be astonished by the quality of painting and the sense of soul and personality that comes through.

And so, the same is true with photographs. That’s one of the reasons why rarity matters to us, is because we can provide an experience that people haven’t had elsewhere. You know, as great as The Moonrise Over Hernandez is, for those of us who have been looking at photography for a long time, it’s hard to see that in a fresh way. Something we haven’t seen before is exciting.”

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To read the complete interview, click here.
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