What makes a photograph engaging?

To borrow a pun here, the prospect of bringing people into your experience, your photograph - your remembrance of the subject is a strange task. Something that always stuck with me was a word of advice from my previous college tutor. She said that the subject was half the battle towards a good photograph, something I somewhat disagree with now. Of course there are instances when a bad subject can create something beautiful, and this has become a common trend in the past few years with young photographers.

Now, Jack Latham's pictures are depicting destruction, but doesn't it look so pleasant and melancholy. Its almost as if the smoke smells of pomegranate and you can delve in and our of the vast scenes in front of us. The destruction actually creates a smog of pleasantness in the photograph and makes everything seem that much more mystic. As turquoise hues blend with the yellow of sun in the sky. The yellow uniforms of the firefighters realises a sense of importance as their authority causes us to panic somewhat, but then forget all about our worries and close our eyes into the beauty of burning trees.

Such an act is devastating, but its official nature suggests this is something intended to be done, there is nothing wrong with it when officials are around. But if we take on the position of the forest. We wear its bark like shoes and actually wander around, we see our home being destroyed. It is a strange balance between human authority and natures vulnerabilities.

To head back to 'what makes a photograph engaging?' beauty is the enticer in this case. Like we may be seduced by a woman's presence, this illusion translates to the photograph as the sense of stepping into the scene without recognising danger comes about. It goes back to the point made by a previous lecturer, is the subject beautiful or the photograph? What is engaging us at the moment with these photographs? Surely the fog, I'd imagine. Perhaps the slight flicker of flame as it smothers the ground, traveling faster than an olympic sprinter. How much had to be burned to entice us?
Is this scene for us?
No, of course it isn't.

As mentioned by the photographer himself; <i>"When he arrived, the sheriff informed him they were currently burning the forest to encourage deer to graze and, in turn, encourage hunters to come and visit. The resulting images, shot in a single day, form a beautiful and peaceful documentation of such a dramatic and destructive event."</i>

The actions on show are placed there for human consumption and greed. The needs of the hunter to have their fill. But these images are not about animal cruelty, nor hunting, they are not about the day in the life or a Sherif. They are a mixture of feelings. They don't know whether they are mad with rage or calm. There is no middle ground with the scene, with the subject. And the photograph's role here is merely to seclude the subject into a desirable rectangle.

Jack Latham, Prospect, 2013

Jack Latham, Prospect, 2013