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Web of Stories offers you the chance to listen to some of the greatest people of our time telling their life stories.
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The first picture of the surface of the Moon

Bernard Lovell

Astronomer

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What makes a good photograph?

Wolfgang Suschitzky - Film-maker

I am often asked what makes a good photograph. It’s very difficult to say, but a good photograph for one person is not interesting for another. I had half an hour’s discussion with the curator of photography at the Albertina in Vienna, which is a very prestigious collection of work on paper. They have a lot of Dürer’s work, they have a lot of Klimt and all the Austrian painters, and have... and started a new photographic department, and they sent me a catalogue of their exhibition. And I — on a recent visit — I asked her whether I could see her. Her name is Monika Farber, and she and two other assistants — other curators — had a long talk with me in the café of the museum because I maintained that about a third of the pictures in the catalogue don’t say anything to me. They are pictures of houses with no people, of factories with no people around... landscapes, which find... I find very boring. A landscape needs to have some interesting light on it and some aesthetically pleasing thing to show.

What is a good photograph is almost impossible to say. There are some people, like my sister was for instance, who had a great talent for choosing the right... the right thing to separate from the surrounding. I have a little bit of that probably, but that is necessary for a good photograph to make an aesthetically pleasing picture, in my mind. Of course, there is thousands of other uses of photography, like in science and in medicine and whatever. We couldn’t do without photography. We can’t imagine what it was like without photography, although recently I was given a book published in Edinburgh about pre-photography masks. People had their mask made to leave something to their offspring, and they had a bit of straw put in their nose and plaster put over their face, and not only living people, but they made masks of dead people too. And there is an organisation in Edinburgh which collected these masks, and it makes a wonderful book to look at. The faces look so lifelike, even the des... death masks. And it was very well photographed by a woman photographer in Edinburgh. So, anything which is done well can be a good photograph. But it needs a certain talent, I think, to see what to photograph and how to approach it and wait for the right moment, wait for the right light, to make it interesting.

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Murray Gell-Mann - Scientist
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Murray Gell-Mann - Scientist