What Makes a Great Gallery Photograph?

Tips on capturing life and love for art.

Vashik Armenikus
Oct 21, 2020 · 5 min read

‘The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.’ ~ Dorothea Lange, American photojournalist

Thousands of Alecio’s photos were accepted to the Magnum Collection — one of the most prestigious photo banks of the world. The secret of his success was not in a camera model he was using, but in philosophy that he applied to each shot he had taken.

Alécio passed away in 2003, so he did not witness the coming age of Instagram and phone cameras that can fit in your pocket. But his philosophy can help modern aspiring photographers to make their work exceptional by applying five elements of Alécio technique.

1. Focus on Story.

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Photo by Kazuo ota on Unsplash

‘Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling.’ ~ Don McCullin, British photojournalist

Above, the black & white photo by Kazuo Ota helps us see more clearly those little interplays of personal discovery.

We can see in rear of the photo, two people standing and looking at the enormous painting in front of them. The drama is in the contrast — one man admires it with full attention, whilst the other simply takes a photo of it.

We also see people, who pay no attention to their surroundings. The person who sits facing us is browsing her phone and looks at the other visitor who is sitting next to her.

2. Who is in Control?

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Photo by Ståle Grut on Unsplash

The action doesn’t always have to belong to visitors, it can also belong to paintings. In this technique, which was used by Alécio, we can see how visitors and paintings may switch roles between each other.

In this case, Van Gogh’s portrait in Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam takes the leading role and he looks at the visitors as if they are unwelcome guests who have arrived at his house.

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Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres — Grande Odalisque | Photo by Vince Duque on Unsplash

On this photo by Vince Duque, taken in Louvre, it’s the woman called La Odalisque depicted in the painting who takes the main role. She peeks from her shoulder, as if looking at the visitor while she is distracted.

3. Emotions

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Credits From Left to Right: Photo by Jacob Höferlin on Unsplash | Photo by Maggie Jaszowska on Unsplash | Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash

Every authentic emotion makes a photograph unforgettable. The emotion doesn’t have to be necessarily strong to be noticeable.

The man on the left, who admires the painting in solitude is still expressive and captivating, in the same way as the photo of the man in the middle who is tilting his body while looking at the J.L. David’s painting of the French revolutionary — Marat.

Of course, sudden and expressive actions will make your photographs more dynamic, as in the photo on the right. But I prefer, personally, the first two because they’re more subtle, intimate and show me the different ways how we can admire art.

4. Magic of Proportion

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The proportion can display to the viewer the grandeur and majesty of art. In this example, we can feel how large and magnificent are the statues in contrast to a human. We can imagine how much time and effort it took from a painter or a sculptor to accomplish their masterpiece.

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From Left to Right: Photo by Alistair MacRobert on Unsplash | Photo by Charley Litchfield on Unsplash | Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

The desired effect of these photographs is to transport us to the museum and to help us feel what it would be like to stand in front of a giant statue or painting.

The woman, in the photo in the middle, is perhaps sketching the shape of the statue. She is sitting on a chair, which makes statue bigger, more powerful and makes the drama even more emotional.

Proportion is a powerful tool and can create a story out of ordinary circumstances. After all, what’s the purpose of photography if not catching the spontaneous moments which might never repeat again?

5. Drama of Uniqueness.

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Photo by antonio molinari on Unsplash

Finding an individual among the crowd is hard, because it requires a combination of all previous four elements in one single picture. And no wonder why this photo by Antonio Molinari is one of the most trending photos in ‘gallery’ category on Unsplash.

The bright colours of monk’s clothes are in contrast with the drab, grey visitors surrounding him thus capturing a momentary juxtaposition of cultures. A clash of culture and colour draws us in to the dialogue of two civilisations.

But never forget…

Alecio de Andrade’s photographs changed the philosophy of how photographs are taken. But all the five points mentioned above fall apart if they fail to be spontaneous.

‘There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.’

These are the words of a legendary Swiss photographer Robert Frank. I am certain that all great photographers keep this idea in their work.

SAM-IZ-DAT

Samizdat (Russian: Самизда́т, lit. “self-publishing”)

Vashik Armenikus

Written by

A music expert. Renaissance art student. A passionate reader. I scrutinise art to find its secrets.

SAM-IZ-DAT

Samizdat (Russian: Самизда́т, lit. “self-publishing”)

Vashik Armenikus

Written by

A music expert. Renaissance art student. A passionate reader. I scrutinise art to find its secrets.

SAM-IZ-DAT

Samizdat (Russian: Самизда́т, lit. “self-publishing”)

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