What makes a great photograph? Experiment methodology

When I posed the question, ‘What makes a great photograph?’ I got a lot of thought provoking answers. I then came up with the idea of testing the conclusion.

I asked people from various facebook groups if they would ‘donate’ a photograph for an experiment. Within a few hours I was inundated with some frankly stunning photography. There is definitely a modern street photography book there waiting to be published, but that’s for another day.

I then ‘lifted’ four photographs taken by Magnum Photo Agency photographers. These are recognised as some of the best social documentary photographers in the world, so much of their work is instantly recognisable. I then had to make a judgement call about the Magnum work chosen, and the ‘donated’ work.

The experiment was to show the members of my photography class eight photographs and then get them to rank the photographs. They were asked to give the photograph they liked the best five marks, the second best four marks, and so on.

The judgement call I had to make was balancing the work so that none of the photographs seemed anomalous. For example, Steve McCurry’s ‘Afghan Girl’ would have been too recognisable too be included. At the same time, all the photographs needed to have a contemporary feel about them. It was important that the students were not drawn to a particular photograph because it was clearly different from the others.

This was a hard choice as so many of the ‘donated’ shots were of outstanding quality, but having made the choice, all eight photographs were printed out, four to an A4 sheet, using a laser printer, and distributed to the students.

The students were randomly placed in nine groups to discuss and rank the photographs. This meant that the maximum score achievable was 45 marks.

The results were collated on a spreadsheet, and showed not only the ranking, but the scale of the popularity of each photograph.

I’ve posted the eight photographs that the students ranked. Before I post the results, have a go yourself!

eight seventeen INDIA. Old Delhi. 1983. Tran station platform. FRS1986004W00016-19 one DAB1959007W00198-17-18 twenty four HUD1962017W00034-20

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