It is impossible to accurately count and analyse the many different reasons which make one photograph important and valid when another photograph is merely mediocre. And thank heavens the situation is as it is, as otherwise there would be no space for the artistic genius of each individual creator. Even if the eye of an experienced and sensitive viewer should recognise the value of a photograph, this does not mean that he will be able to provide a complete description of the reasons which led him to recognise this quality.

However, as artistic judgements about photographs are generally formed for a purpose, it would be useful for these judgements to be supported by arguments. For this reason, common parameters present in many valid photographs are being sought out so that, even if we cannot fully justify our admiration, we can at least offer some form of rudimentary theoretical support.

This support is often drawn from peripheral areas which do not relate directly to Art in general and photography in particular but which offer a wide range of choice of logical arguments. However, it is much rarer, though much more interesting, for one to look for arguments within the world of the work of art itself, which is the ever abstract world of artistic creation. Then, comments and arguments are in no danger (or at least not to such an extent) of being considered authentic interpretations of the work or of providing the illusion of complete comprehension. The work of art must be accessible, but at the same time should be allowed to retain its secrets.

Repeated communication with important photographs and the satisfaction they emanate lead us slowly to the recognition of certain common features which, without these establishing a regulation to be followed, can aid the location of similar elements in future photographs of unknown value. Besides, our criteria are always (and principally) formed on the basis of comparison with an artistic past. Our admiration for a work of art is established by the automatic and extremely rapid referral back to the works which form part of what André Malraux called the Imaginary Museum, more freely interpreted as the Museum of our Imagination. Comparison with all the works of art in this personal museum of ours, works which have gained our respect and admiration is what will bring the work in question our personal distinction of merit. It is therefore not unreasonable for us to try and define certain common characteristics, albeit at the risk of falling victim to arbitrariness and hyperbole.

One of the many characteristics which guarantee the dynamism of a photograph is the so-called dialogue contained within it. It is a fact which nowadays tends to be forgotten that whatever establishes artistic suggestion, its dynamism, its prototype and its tension must be contained in the work of art itself. This work itself makes up the artist’s battlefield. Otherwise (and this otherwise characterises many artistic trends of our times) we will end up with a dish whose prototype and quality is drawn from the garnish or manner in which it is served and not from the taste of the food itself.

Before anything else, we have to get used to the idea that everything contained in a photograph bears the same importance. And the final result (to continue our parallelism with food) must be coherent with the taste without flattening the ingredients. In other words, a photograph is a single entity which consists of a series of equally dynamic elements. If therefore, there is one dominant element, which in some way tends to monopolise the interest of the viewer, there is a risk that all the other elements be seconded to play the role of the decor. And this usually happens in single sided photographs directed for commercial purposes at a wide public. However, a photograph which claims to be a work of art is aimed at touching the (abstract and overall) emotions as its final objective. This touching of the emotions is, at the end of the day, a tension contained in the photograph which is created by the concurrent presence of opposing or parallel forces. These forces exist in an indefinable yet evident dialogue amongst themselves. If these forces are not detected, the photograph is read in one single dimension at great speed and with great ease. If, on the other hand, the forces work and the dialogue begins, then the photograph acquires rhythm and tension, and its reading maintains the mystery, many dimensions and satisfaction through time and quality.

At least two elements are required for this dialogue, though we often encounter more than two elements. A plethora of elements does not necessarily make a more interesting photograph, as it could provoke confusion and produce an aesthetically unpleasant wordiness. Most elements, then, should be presented together in smaller units to render the dialogue clear and dynamic and not outrun the possibilities of the constraints of the space and time of a photographic reading. These elements may be related to the subject portrayed, the degree of movement of the subjects or the depth of the field, with shadow and light, the volume, the lines of the composition, position within the picture or anything else contained within an image. What gives it special meaning, what in turn creates the photographic event and brings value to the photograph, is the relationship between them. In other words, the dialogue. Finally, the quality of the dialogue is directly related to the quality of the photograph.