Communicating the Message

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
| Plato

How can we communicate our message?

To frame the question differently, following the quote: How can we create music through photography? What should  a photograph have to “give soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything?

Music (and mathematics) is potentially the most generic language in the world, understood by individuals from different cultural backgrounds although not sharing the same oral language. What makes music unique is that almost everyone is touched by music. Music has a healing quality that evokes delightfulness, happiness, laughter and fears, memories and aspirations. When music speaks to us, it seems that it was specifically written for us. In the very specific moment. It is therefore the listener of music who completes a song while listening to it. The song is started by the composer, but completed by the individual listener. It seems therefore essential to present the music to an audience. If it is not played, it is unfinished.

Aldous Huxley once said that “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” Music therefore seems to have a very cognitive component responsible for delivering a message. Music may further have an emotional element that allows memories to emerge while listening to music or our legs to move to a rhythm. Music also has an consequential component. We cannot just describe music by rational or emotional components. It does something to us. Music makes us dance. Music makes us happy, sad, in memories,… Music makes us. One could say that music has different layers of significance.

How does music then act on us? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave an answer through saying that “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” Music seems to therefore need room to breathe.

To sum it up:
– A song is started by the composer, but completed by the individual listener.
– If music is not played, it is unfinished.
– Music acts on us.
– Music acts through different layers of significance.
– Music needs room to breathe.

What does this have to do with photography? Where can I find an answer to the original question about communicating the message in photography? Once we have our message, how can we communicate it?

When we use photography it is a deliberate way of showing others our personal way of connecting with the world. Thus, I am not just showing how the world looks, but how it feels to me in a specific moment. The impression of a photograph is therefore a result of a conversion between the photographer, the object and the observer.  When I finish my photograph with a certain intent and the end result, I am starting the discourse with the observer. If we understand that the viewer will complete our photograph, what does it mean for drafting our message within the photograph? How can we create a photograph that acts on the viewers like music does?

1. We can do this through the process of making the photograph. Rafael Rojas talks about the different layers of meaning or signification in a photograph:

– The subject matter along with the decision what to focus on in the photograph. Or as Miles Davis said: “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” It is even more important to subtract what is not important for the overall message.

– Cultural symbols set anchors and could be used to load the photograph with certain metaphors. Examples are Yin & Yang, church, cross, flags, colors, a ladder,…

– Mysterious elements that raise questions in the viewer’s mind that are not directly answered by the photograph. It stay’s to the viewer’s imagination to answer the question and go through possible answer directions. Mystery could be infused into a photograph through not showing every elements of a focal objects, by blurring elements, by fog, by abstractions in close-up or aerial photography, or by putting two substantially distant objects close to each other.

“It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”
| Miles Davis

In his book “More than a Rock” Guy Tal describes the whole process as the Concept behind a given work. This Concept is responsive to what stimulates us in the field and guides a series of decisions and application of skills, tools, or materials to materialize the Concept into a tangible asset. For Guy Tal Concept is inseparable from his own personality following Gandhi’s words: “My life is my message.“

The final choice of the different layers of signification is therefore based on the message of the photograph. I selected the cover photograph for this blog post, because it shows different complex layers that only work together in harmony to create the overall photograph. While they are different in colours, they are related to each other, have transition zones, different textures and one can use each layer to go on a discovery in the photograph.

2. In the editing process we apply the necessary tools to increase light, saturation, contrast or sharpness in those places where we want the viewer’s to direct to.

3. In the way we present a photograph on different channels such as print or online we work on a certain perception of the photograph. The size of the photograph, the printing process, the paper quality, the framing, the light that shines on the photograph, the exhibition room that gives room for the photograph to enjoy are all tools that heavily influence viewer’s perception of the message.

The final word. Once we are stimulated by something we want to react on with our camera, our concept of a photograph emerges. The more time we take to understand to what we responded and why the better we are aware of message of the photograph and the decisions in making the photograph, editing and presenting it in order to start the discourse and give viewers the chance to finalize your photograph.



Rojas, Rafael. The Photographic Message. 17/9/2019, From:
Tal, Guy. More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life. 1st ed., Rocky Nook, 2015.