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What makes a good photograph?
Wolfgang Suschitzky Film-maker
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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.

Born in Austria, Wolfgang Suschitzky (1912-2016) trained as a photographer and became one of the first in his field to take portraits of animals. After coming to England he worked with Paul Rotha as the cameraman on various documentaries and films such as “No Resting Place”, “Ulysses” and “Get Carter”.

Listeners: Misha Donat

Misha Donat is the son of Wolfgang Suschitzky. He has composed music for the theatre and the cinema (including films directed by Lindsay Anderson, and by Albert Finney). For more than 25 years he was a senior music producer for BBC Radio 3, where he planned and produced the prestigious lunchtime concerts at St John’s, Smith Square, at which many of the world’s leading artists appeared on a regular basis, and also instigated a Young Artists’ Forum as a showcase for musicians of the coming generation. As a broadcaster himself, he has given many radio talks. Misha Donat has contributed a large number of programme notes to the Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, South Bank, Aldeburgh Festival, Edinburgh Festival, Brighton Festival and other venues, and he has written CD booklets for such labels as Decca, DG, RCA, Philips and Hyperion. He has been a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine since its inception more than 10 years ago, and has written articles for The London Review of Books, The Guardian, The Musical Times, The Listener, Opera, and other publications. He has taught at the University of California in Los Angeles, and has given lectures and seminars at Vassar College and Bard College in New York State, Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore), and in the UK at Durham University, the Barbican Centre, the Royal Festival Hall, and the Norwich Music festival. He is currently working as a producer for the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Tags: Albertina, Vienna, Edinburgh, Albrecht Dürer, Gustav Klimt, Monika Farber

Duration: 4 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2008

Date story went live: 06 August 2009