Ed, I think I understand the distinction you're trying to articulate, but looking for a word may be futile, because if I understand what you're trying to say, the crucial distinction may be between verbal and nonverbal communication, or between what we used to call "right-brain" vs "left-brain" mental operations. That hemispheric distinction was oversimplified in terms of how the brain works, but the distinction between the types of operations still holds: there are linear-sequential operations, of which language is the most important, and there are holistic, intuitive, nonverbal, operations where things are grasped suddenly as a whole without the mediation of language. I don't remember whether this is the thread where someone talked about the elegance of a mathematical solution; the thread is too long to go back and try to find it. At any rate, most higher-order mathematical thinking is of this second kind. Mathematical thinkers often speak of "seeing" the solution as a geometric symbol or some other visual image, and then taking weeks to write down the equations that the image requires.
Originally Posted by Ed Sukach
The response that you and I give to a particular work of art is of this second kind, I think, more visual-emotional-nonverbal than logical-sequential-verbal. And I agree with you that the response can't necessarily be determined by how well the work matches a set of conventions that have become so ingrained we're not even aware of them.
I also think that those ingrained rules can be a barrier rather than an aid to making great photographs. Several years ago on another forum, Michael Smith said something that really made me think about this. I wouldn't want to try to quote him, because I don't remember it exactly, but something to the effect that you have to go beyond your first idea of how to compose a scene, you have to keep looking at it until you see a new way to compose it.
I've always had a natural sense of composition, people say, but what he said helped me realize that my "natural" sense of composition follows the rules of that same conventional, cliched kind of composition, and that in order to make more interesting pictures, I need to go beyond conventional ways of thinking about composition.
But back to the original question: "What do you guys think about subtle photographs?" I prefer subtle photographs, as I wrote earlier in the thread, and though the thread has rather left the original question behind, I've just now got my scanner back from the shop and want to share a photo that I love, that is subtle indeed.
It's a copyright violation, because I don't have permission to copy it, and what's more I don't even remember the photographer's name, and it's not written on the print, so I can't even give proper due to the photographer. It would be nice if she happened to be here and saw it and spoke up. I do remember that it was a woman, and that her bio said she taught photography at Portland Community College. I bought this platinum print at a gallery in Portland several years ago; I liked it so much that I paid several hundred dollars for it, even though it's just 4x5." I never tire of looking at it.