We see so many amazing photographs it's difficult to select favorites, but this week we certainly were stopped in our tracks. Not an eclipse, lightning or a stellar sunset. It was quieter than that. A mat tucked under her arm, a woman walked into the gallery on her way to Yoga Flow upstairs and wondered what we thought of this shot from her recent vacation. She flipped through images on her phone for a few minutes and then showed us this. We were floored.
Katie Hughes took this photo with her iPhone7+ a few weeks ago. This simple image of her boyfriend's less-than-perfect dive in Camden Harbor continues to make us smile. Why do we like it so much? It's not any one thing: it works on a number of levels. Aesthetically, the colors are cool and muted, it doesn't shout for attention. The composition is clean. There's a crispness to the diver, the splash, the position of the legs. The fog is a great environmental fill—it keeps the top portion of the picture from being too detailed, from drawing your eye away from the subject, but it's just enough, with the mist lightly revealing the boats in the background. And the gradient from clear in the front to hazy in the back... it's seamless and smooth, which also serves to make the subject and splash all the stronger. The elements combine to make for an elegant photograph.
The printmaster, Carlos in this case, did relatively little post production. He removed some adjustments Katie had initially made when she posted it on her social media. He restored the smooth green tint across the image. And he did one small bit of retouching, to remove some bubbles that looked like a scratch on the image. The photo worked either way, but Katie felt the bubbles looked like a mistake. It was a nominal adjustment.
But here's the high bar: we weren't on this vacation. we don't know this diver or this place. All of those factors are key for Katie perhaps, but to the rest of us, it could be anyone, anywhere, and yet it has a sort of universal quality. It's the universalness of the image that we're attracted to. Content-wise, it's just anonymous enough to let us be included. Visually it's elegant. Uncluttered. And when these elements are combined in an image that has the more important quality of being something personal and emotional for the photographer... that's a fantastic combination.
It could almost have been taken by any number of masters: Hellen Levitt or Elliott Erwitt maybe. So it's a classic kind of image, beautiful and universal and still intimate. We see a lot of beautiful images get printed, but a few linger in mind, fun, hard to forget. Iconic. This is a great example.