The Great Absence in Photography

Thanks to the advances in digital technology over the last couple of decades, photographs of the world around us are as prolific as they are impressive. There are some astonishing images on public photo sharing sites, created by people who merely love to explore their creativity. They are not professionals, and have no aspirations to become full time photographers.

But amidst all the colour, the HDR, and the amazing effects applied in post-processing, there is one thing that stops me in my tracks every time. It’s the ‘hook’ that first got me into photography.


For me a photograph is not about what’s in the picture, but what isn’t. It’s the opportunity to block out all the fuss and busy in the world and just for that second, draw all attention to a single observation. And when we’re forced to concentrate on that one thing, it deepens. We look harder and it draws us in again.

Something else happens with absence. The brain starts to generate questions about the missing information.

This is one of my favourite photographs of all time. “Equus on Blue” by Tim Flach. Apart from the obvious equestrian theme, I particularly love the composition, the colours, and the contrast of the horse’s red coat against the blue. I love the light and the bubbles and the feeling of suspended strength.

The thing that really intrigues me though is though is the absence. The information that isn’t there. I find myself a little bit nervous about it somehow and the overall effect holds me in a conflict of anxiety and admiration.

photo of horse swimming in pool, Tim Flach's Equus in Blue

"Equus on Blue" by Tim Flach

When I first saw this photo I got that rush of familiarity that only comes during a moment of deep and profound connection.  If you’ve had that feeling yourself, you’ll know what I’m referring to. If not, the only way I can describe it, is that it’s as if the core of you is made from guitar strings – and the artist has slowly run their thumb across them. The feeling resonates through you, and for as long as the strings sound you are held in that moment.

Some people say that such works of art have this effect every time they see them. For others it’s a diminishing return, like a fix.

This photo always leaves me with questions. And I love it.

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