Details that make an image iconic

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by cliveh, Apr 10, 2014.

  1. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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  2. snapguy

    snapguy Member

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    my answer

    My answer is no and nope. Are you saying that alone makes it an icon? I think it is a lot more complicated than you make out to be, if that is what you are saying. There's classic artistic composition, for one thing, and the "Decisive Moment" for another. Joe got it in focus, for another thing, which is no sure thing when bullets are whizzing about. There's the Moment in History that adds to it all and there's getting the photo out to a whale of a lot of people within a short time after the taking the photo. Who sees it and when makes a big difference. As I recall it was in Life Magazine which was THE place at that time for a photo to run if it is going to become an icon.
    Another AP photographer got an iconic photo of an airman greeting his kids after being in a prison camp in North Korea for many years. The AP photog got the Pullet Surprise for that one and a local photo who got almost the same photo didn't get squat.
    As I said, it is complicated.
     
  3. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I think you're describing the same thing that Roland Barthes called the "punctum".

    IMHO, some images have a clear example of it (e.g., "Simply Add Boiling Water"), others don't really have a punctum distinct from the whole subject ("Moon And Half Dome"), and there are a lot of grey-area examples.

    -NT
     
  4. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I agree with all you mention and I'm not saying that the gap alone makes it iconic. This is probably the most famous photograph in the history of photography. I am just trying to start a discussion about certain details that help make an image iconic.
     
  5. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    I am going to have to say no, since I never noticed that gap, in and of itself. But that's just me ...
     
  6. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    The devil is in the details, as they say, but that would still be a strong photograph even if it wasn't "just so". It's also not candid, btw, it was a planned re-enactment of that flag raising, though it was done in the same time-period, at least so I understand. Nonetheless, it is a great photo, and could not have been easy to make.

    Anyway, I think the same can be said for most iconic photos, what makes them iconic is their particular collection of details, and for most, if one detail were missing, it wouldn't remove much from the whole.

    I also think that what makes an image iconic is not necessarily wholly visual, I'm thinking in particular of Eddie Adam's photo of the Vietnamese prisoner getting executed on the streets of Saigon. Certainly the visual elements are there, but what makes it powerful is time, I'd say. That is, we're observing this person's very last second of life, and without that element of realization it wouldn't have the power it does (imho).
    For reference; http://anunlikelyweapon.com/index.html
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 10, 2014
  7. Trask

    Trask Subscriber

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    I think sometimes an image that we consider outstanding would be less esteemed if a detail were changed. See Cartier-Bresson's photo (attached) -- the fact that the man's heel is just an inch from the water (and his reflection the same) is key to this image's success, IMHO. If his foot were in the water I would have a different reaction to it. Note the other detail that's important: the fact that there's a poster in the background that shows a dancer leaping, which this man's motion is replicating. Both details are key to the overall image.

    hcb_sbs24.jpg
     
  8. garysamson

    garysamson Member

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    I would argue that the most famous photograph in the history of photography is most likely the Migrant Mother by Dorthea Lange.
     
  9. frank

    frank Member

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    I would suggest that the most famous photo in history is subjectively individual. For me, it was napalm girl in Vietnam, or deformed (due to atomic bomb radiation exposure) Japanese girl in bath.
     
  10. thegman

    thegman Member

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    I think in the Iwo Jima case, it's iconic because of the subject matter and what that meant. If you replicated the same shot with exact precision with actors, it wouldn't be iconic because it stops representing something important.

    I think iconic images comes from a million different places, some from the sheer strength of subject, and some simply because of good marketing. Then there is everything in between.
     
  11. Xmas

    Xmas Member

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    no does not spring to mind at all and a
    subjective choice, an example of US gung ho Militarism's waste alternates are

    the US destroyer magazine exploding at Pearl or Invincible in WWI
    fire ball at trinity... with quote 'we are all SOB now'
    more apt as it was the second bomb that motivated the god to speak
    death camp inmates
    bricks in Dresden with Christ Ikon
    censored shots from My Lai
    or two Red Army tankers pointing at penetration hit on Tiger turret after Kursk a staged shot but Krusk was where the Nazi discovered the sub human Slav was better armed and would fight like any wounded animal
    video clips of drone kills at weddings

    but none of these shots are iconic merely comments
    I keep a brush on oil above mantle piece ladies in formal Victorian dress in Arcadia...
    nostalgia
     
  12. ajmiller

    ajmiller Subscriber

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    But isn't 'punctum' personal to you as the viewer?
    Wasn't it something in the image that 'pricks' you as an individual?
    In Clive's case the gap.
    To me, an iconic image symbolically represents, in that one image, a moment or event in time.

     
  13. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Yeah, and in the case of the Iwo Jima photo, I think there's a lot of space for different viewers to perceive the "punctum" differently or even to disagree about whether the concept applies. Less so for "Simply Add Boiling Water", or the Werner Bischof photo of the sumo wrestler throwing salt, where the image has a single well-defined detail and it takes effort to find another candidate for the punctum.

    Or a person, I suppose---there are famous people who have well-defined iconic portraits, right? (Abraham Lincoln, though maybe that's kind of cheating because there are so few photos. Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe...)

    Be that as it may, in most cases there are some pictures that become, er, canonized as "iconic" and others that don't, and I read Clive's original post as asking whether the difference is down to specific, punctum-type details. To which my answer would be "definitely maybe sometimes".

    -NT
     
  14. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    I agree the gap adds to the impact although the picture would probably still be iconic. The gap shows a striving for victory. You can sense that soldier's desire to be part of the action. He wanted to be connected to the patriotic tribute and victory as all Americans who look at this picture would want to be. He stands in for us. The rest of the soldiers represent them.
     
  15. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Member

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    If you are referring to the W. Eugene Smith image, Tomoko in Her Bath, her issues stemmed from mercury poisoning. That image was a part of Smith's Minimata series which he produced in the early 70s.
     
  16. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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  17. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Definitely the eyes in both the colour and their position within the frame. I seem to remember some video posted on this site where a lecturer (can't remember his name, Italian I think) detailed the importance of the eye position and how it emulated a technique used in painting.