Several curious expressions relating to the pleasures of viewing pictures come up in discussions of photography and other visual art. One is “____porn” in which the word camera, gadget, car, or other term is fitted in. This hints at ordinary pornography of the fleshy sort: a gratuitous arousal from viewing (shapely) human bodies. But now the substituted term transfers the gratuitous visual pleasure to other objects.
Another expression is “eye candy” in which the eye is pleasurably stimulated by blinking or maybe salacious visual elements much in the same way that one’s taste buds would be pleased by sweets, particularly when candy or other sweet things are seldom seen or tasted on most occasions. Looking at “pretty pictures” is an expression that can carry some dismissiveness; as if spending one’s time or striving to search for things that ring true with a sense of beauty were unworthy or could bear no fruit for oneself and those who one may be responsible for. If the attraction to certain of the day’s selection of images at flickr.com/explore is not “candy” or “porn” or “pretty pictures,” then what is it that beckons one’s eye and mind from among the day’s picks by the flickr editing team?
Light, location, and significance all attract attention that I am eager to pay. Other elements or effects may cause me to pause and wonder at the technique or the emotional response triggered, but quickly I discount them as “sizzle but no steak” (tricks –sometimes of great sophistication, not the deeper beauty I listen for with my eyes). Light means the way the source falls upon the subjects as composed at the moment of shutter release – usually without the amplification of post-processing. The inversion of light horizon and dark clouds above that will often cause me to look twice or to study the image a little, but if it is only the inversion that attracts my eye, without the overall setting or arrangement of elements, then I skip to the next image instead of tagging that one ‘favorite’ among my browsing photographs.
Location means that I am intrigued by the place where the photographer is standing or the view framed by the camera. Whether the light and the shutter release is beautifully captured and conveyed, or not, the location itself is compelling and makes me curious to know its map coordinates and the geological as well as cultural context. Finally significance means that an image records an event or subject that is engaging. And while a skillful photographer can do wonderful justice to such a scene, even a lesser photographer or snapshooter can produce something capable of communicating the significant place, person or time.
In sum the fleeting light faithfully interpreted brings great satisfaction when viewing the tones, textures and colors of the scene. But the interesting location or the special significance recorded by the lens seem to require least from the photographer and camera on hand. For these situations simple to press the button may serve the purpose of conveying a moment or location of significance. Browsing each day’s selection of “Explore” photos at flickr.com may include instances of ‘eye candy’ or ‘camera porn’ or (postcard perfect) ‘pretty pictures’ but the greatest prize among the 100+ images each day must surely be instances of wondrous light, interesting location, or significant subject. These are not visual treats to brighten one’s day; indeed, no, these are sources of beauty and strike deep and ring true, resonating with one’s own voice and the search for more beauty and less ugliness.