“Untitled” by Jennifer McClure
When we look at our own pictures, a flood of memories and emotions present themselves. Where, why, when and how the image was created, as well as our connection to the subject(s) portrayed, completely color our reaction to the image. This is the chief reason we’re often the worst editors of our own work.
As Garry Winogrand said, “All we’ve got [is] light on surface.” And this is an especially trenchant observation when it comes to viewers taking in our images. To make pictures that speak to others, viewers need to somehow feel they are participating in the image. There needs to be some level of potential engagement present. There have to be enough elements in the photo to allow the viewer to run with it, to take what is shown via “light on surface” and continue the life of the portrayal using their own imagination and visceral reactions. If not, there’s no place for them; nothing about the image sticks, and they move on.
One of the most powerful and effective ways photographers can engage viewers in this way is to incorporate the power of suggestion in their photographs. There are myriad ways to do so. One example is fine-art photographer Jennifer McClure’s image “Untitled” from her self-portrait series, You Who Never Arrived. The photograph, which shows a figure stepping out of a window, can be interpreted in many ways depending on the viewer’s life experience. While one person might see an individual calmly and bravely stepping into to the unknown, another might see an individual relinquishing hope, and yet another might see something entirely different.
There are countless interpretations, all of which are valid, but the way McClure’s photograph implores viewers to feel and think for themselves is part of what makes the image so successful. Viewers have been given a role in the image; they can make it their own based on their own associations. They are invited to fill in the blanks, to participate in the meaning of the image, using their own experiences as their guide.
In short, the photograph is not just about the photographer. McClure deftly presents us with a scenario, but leaves it open ended, so much so viewers are forced to step in and participate.
Jennifer McClure is a fine-art photographer based in New York City. Her work is about solitude and a poignant, ambivalent yearning for connection. She has been exhibited in numerous shows across the country and teaches workshops on using personal experience to create photo projects. Her work is currently up at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Boston, and she has a book coming out in the fall with Peanut Press.