Jeffrey Silverthorne

Morgue – a book about death. Very interesting.


The Secret to Great Photo Edit

In order to edit and sequence your work so other people can understand it, you need to step out of the story you’ve been working on to get a clearer perspective. It’s not easy! We become so attached to specific images, but we need to undergo this detachment process to be able to understand that other people will not have the same relation to the images. Very often, too much attachment will get in the way of clarifying the message of the project.

The other key to editing is to recognize it’s all about relativity. It’s relative to the platform—whether a gallery space, a church, one page, the cover image, online, on Instagram, in a book e.g. in a space that has four columns and this many linear meters of wall space…

It’s so important to be flexible with your understanding of your work. When someone tells me, “I always start with this image” or “I always end with this one,” I encourage them to ask why—what if you only have 3 pages? What if the space is circular?

At the magazines, I was always searching for familiar stories told in fresh ways— look for photographers who have the ability not only to see interesting things, but more importantly, to show them in an original manner. A surprising way of telling; an ability to communicate a message, a story, an emotion in an unexpected way. Maybe a punch in the stomach. Or using irony, or beauty. Whatever the tool is, I need to see you are making the effort to process and convey the information you’ve received in a striking manner.

But! Don’t let novelty get in the way of communication. Beyond the excitement of the new, I make sure to ask: What is this photographer trying to say? What is the story they’re trying to tell? Why is it relevant now? In the end, think about how you are telling your story, to whom, and how you will achieve its diffusion to suit the content.

Always be open to changing your vision, your approach, your intended goal. Remain aware of what’s going on—including what’s behind you! Move that neck, turn your head!

But after all that, take some time to sit back and think about who you are and the things that particularly interest you. Think about whom you want to speak to, who is your preferred audience. Is it just “the photo-world?” If so, make a small-run artist’s book that will only reach a few people with a maximum impact. If you want a broader audience, maybe you should put your work online or in a newspaper. Never fixate on one platform or one medium or one result. Not all work has to be an exhibition or a book. It’s important to have models— photographers who have had a path that attracts you or bodies of work that inspired you—but then go off on your own. Set your intentions and see where they take you.

Ultimate guiding principles of seeing exhibitions (3)

Other than the choice of artworks and artists in an exhibition, the greatest wisdom you can take from an exhibition is usually found in the contextual message revealed in the order and size arrangement of the exhibited artworks.

For the same artist, which of his or her works should be placed at the beginning of an exhibition? Which work should be displayed at the end?  Which work should be placed at the place that audiences should first look at when they walk into the exhibition? Which piece should be the main visual of an entire exhibition? (Why?)  Then there are also questions like, how big an artwork should be? How to pick the background colour of each exhibition wall?

Contemporary art photography has reached the level comparable to “making an exhibition like a concert.” For exhibitions of this level, all works created by artists before the exhibition assume the role of “elements.”  A contextual collaboration of these elements will be formed as a new metaphysical entity when they are displayed in an exhibition. The messages that this entity conveys can only be experienced by the audience attending the exhibition in person. When elements of this kind of exhibition are published as printed catalogue, the audience will experience a totally different content.

Ultimate guiding principles of seeing exhibitions (2)

In order to learn more about photography, one should obtain nutrients from all art forms other than photography, no matter whether it is painting (the origin of photography), sculpture, poetry, music, stage performance, poem, philosophy or cinema (the derivative of photography).

The first message layer carried in an image contains the “message required as basic instincts for the survival of living being.” Within it, it contains a/plot, b/difference, c/feature of the contour line for recognizing different objects. The second layer contains “visual elements and their structures.” The third layer contains “semantic meaning of the image.” If an image can only narrate a story and relay a story like a news photo, it can only be subordinated to the state of matter of the scene, being at the level of “recording the reality” at most. In human civilisation, this kind of photo merely has news value, only used by the mass media to tell the public what is happening.

An image that wants to surpass the lowest level of narration and storytelling must achieve something in the second message layer “visual elements and their structure.” It is the basis for an image with “information thickness.”  The first one that emerged is the blank space photographers intentionally produce, which is referred as “Ground” by visual psychologist (some called it negative space). In contrast, “Figure” is called “positive space”.

“Other than what the image shows on  its superficial level, what possibly can the image also be?” “Did the photographer try to address a ‘metaphysical content’ through the ‘physical content’ of an image?” The metaphysical message, the third message layer, in an image is usually the art value of an image. It is also the soul of an image.

“Is this artwork’s ‘style’ stronger or weaker than its ‘content’? What kind of content should be deemed as valuable for an artwork to be invited for display in a museum of arts.

Naturally, a work of art is created by an artist as a “human being”. It is thus important that the content of an artwork is able to showcase the creator’s subjectivity.

Since the creator and the audience are both human beings, the value of the artwork is certainly determined by the content an artwork wants to carry. Is the issue an artwork tries to illuminate important and memorable to the majority of people and does it address the shared culture among people? Or is the issue (such as gender, environmental protection, the gap between the rich and poor) very important to the shared history of mankind? Maybe some of these issues have become cliché because they have been available for a long time, but then you can ask: Does the artwork in front of you approach the issue from a different creative angle? Or even when the topic is important to its creator, can it still resonate with the majority of audience?

You finally realise the value of the painted artwork has nothing to do with what was printed. You finally realise the value of artworks by renowned masters in the art history is about the visual experience you feel when standing in front of them.

Ultimate guiding principles of seeing exhibitions (1)

Simply by reading the catalogue of photography masters’ exhibitions, you will never know how the curators or photographers decide in what order the works are exhibited in a big exhibition space. You will also have no idea over the curatorial and philosophical thinking behind the exhibition as shown through the manipulation of the size, position, mounting, lighting and other visual effect of exhibition works.

1. “We do not understand the work of art, since we only try to understand them.”

In order to obtain the best enjoyment from the process of appreciating artworks, the ultimate guiding principle is “not to “understand” what it is in a rush. Artworks are not science and they do not belong to the rational world. In order to enjoy the process of appreciating artworks the most, you have to first switch off “rationality” and switch on “sensibility”. Yes! Artwork is something for us to feel, not to understand. The process of appreciating art per se should be a creative process.

2. When appreciating an artwork, “never” proactively read any text or even title explaining the work before you assure you get your own message from the work.

Listening to eloquent explanations from a photographer beside his or her work means that the audience is abandoning the right to see and interpret an artwork

3. In order to learn deeply in the experience of visiting an exhibition, walk through it three times using different methods.


A well-developed photography culture

You need:

■ Photography Education:

1. Photography teachers;
2. Leaders in photography groups;
3. Photography textbook authors;

■ Photography Media:

4. Photo magazines, photo book series, photo textbooks;
5. Photo galleries;
6. Museum of Art
7. Photo libraries;
8. Photo festivals (photo competitions, seminars, symposiums);
9. Websites of individual photographers and photo communities;
10. Photo monographs of renowned masters

■ Indicative Individuals:

11. Photo media editors,
12. Photography critics
13. Photography curators
14. Renowned photography masters