I am not asking here about photographs of America’s Most Wanted, I am asking quite literally about what photograph America most wants.
This question has virtually nothing to do with the most expensive photographs, as that list only tells us the dollars put behind one person or groups’ well-heeled want.
The question is not so ridiculous, nor should it be totally subjective. In 1994, Russian artists Komar and Melamid embarked via online survey to discover the appearance of the most and least wanted/desired paintings for people across different countries. George Washington chilling with three kids and a couple of wading deers (above) is – according to the science – America’s most wanted painting.
Komar and Melamid asked preferences toward colours, modern or traditional styles, old or new subjects, wild or domestic animals, natural or portrait, outdoor or indoor, realistic or different looking (if different whether exaggerations of real objects or imaginary objects were better).
They asked whether paintings should teach a lesson, relate to religion, be relaxing. They asked if paintings should be textured or flat, colors blended or separate, brush strokes or smooth paint, serious or festive, busy or simple, large or small. They asked if the painting should include geometric or random patterns. If the painting was of people should they be famous or ordinary, nude or clothed, working or at leisure, historic or recent figures, single people or groups.
Komar and Melamid asked for opinions on Picasso, Pollock, Dali, Monet, Rembrandt and Warhol. They also asked if they preferred black and white or colour.
[By the by, the letters about the survey are hilarious!]
If we were to do the same with photography on what criteria would we canvas response? As you think on that you may want to listen to America’s Most Wanted Song, as determined by a similar Komar and Melamid survey. If that doesn’t convince you about the wisdom of crowds then America’s Least Wanted Song will. We can, it seem, all agree on what is terrible!
I really would like to develop a list of criteria for defining what we want from a photograph:
B&W or colour; celebrity or ordinary people; pets or wild animals; square or rectangle shaped; people that look like you or people that look different to you; street or interior; with caption or no caption; candid or posed; family and friends or strangers; part of a story or single image; realism or abstract; In focus or blurry; historical or recent scenes; with or without border/sprocket holes; large objects or fine detail, obvious or hidden objects; visual pun or dry as a bone, film or digital, pixels or no pixels, starving or healthy environments?
Should a photograph be amusing, moralistic, quick to understand or engaging over time; deliver a message, educate, allow the viewer to escape, assist with dreams, show you things you know or things you don’t.
As for the touchstone photographs to gauge taste by? Opinions on the works of Steichen, Leibowitz, Apollo mission photographers, photobooths, Matthew Brady, school portraits, war photographers’ works, Joel Sternfeld, newspaper or magazine photographers, Gerhard Richter, Miroslav Tichy, porn videographers’ stills?
What would be – what is – America’s Most Wanted Photograph?
Below, for your viewing pleasure are the most wanted paintings of various other countries.
Painting by Numbers: Komar and Melamid’s Scientific Guide to Art, JoAnn Wypijewski (Editor) is available at all good thrift stores (and Amazon)