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  1. #1
    cliveh's Avatar
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    Details that make an image iconic

    Do you think there are certain details that help to make some images iconic? For instance I think this picture by Joe Rosenthal is made by the gap between the hand and the flagpole.

    https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=jo...2F%3B598%3B534

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

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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. #3

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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
    Nathan Tenny
    San Diego, CA, USA

    The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
    -The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_

  4. #4
    cliveh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by snapguy View Post
    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.
    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.

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

  5. #5
    David Brown's Avatar
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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 ...

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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 bdial; 04-10-2014 at 07:47 PM. Click to view previous post history.

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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.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  8. #8
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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. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by garysamson View Post
    I would argue that the most famous photograph in the history of photography is most likely the Migrant Mother by Dorthea Lange.
    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.
    My blog / photo website: http://frankfoto.jimdo.com/

  10. #10

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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.

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