I have friends, some winners of the coveted Pulitzer Prize, who for better or worse are forever connected to one photograph, one moment.
Eddie Adams’ controversial photograph of a 1968 street execution during the Vietnam War is a prime example of a Pulitzer moment and a “signature” photograph—a haunting picture Adams could never distance himself from.
An iconic photograph made in 1936 of Florence Owens Thompson, titled Migrant Mother, became Dorthea Lange’s signature image.
Each of us have likely made a signature photograph—a picture we feel defines the way we see the world, or best represents what we find interesting or beautiful.
Your signature photo may be a breathtaking scene of a special place or a portrait of a stranger with a face etched by time. Perhaps it is a family photo that captures a memorable time, or a self-portrait that represents how you feel or see yourself.
I have several signature photographs. Perhaps my most popular is a picture titled “Baby Contest”—a scene captured on a sweltering Fourth of July in a tiny Kansas town in 1979.
Most of my favorite signature photographs are not loud, action-packed captures from sporting events or conflicts, but subtle, quiet relationship stories of love, humor and hope.
Too often in this social media age, I fear we associate a “good” photo by the number of online likes we receive.
My longtime friend Pete Souza—a great photographer who captured incredible and memorable moments during his tenure in the White House documenting presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama—can take a picture of his foot and easily garner 50,000 likes.
This proves the number of likes isn’t always a good judge of a photograph’s quality as much as an individual’s popularity.
One way to choose a signature photograph you have taken is to ask yourself: “If I had to choose one photograph I’ve made to be enlarged and displayed at my funeral or printed on a program, what would it be?”
Another barometer might be how a particular photograph makes you feel when you view it. Like songs, there are pictures that lift our spirits and wrap us in hope.
Look through your archives and see if you can identify a few images that best represent how you see the world or define you as a photographer—your “signature” pictures. Then, write a few lines (or more) sharing how you feel about these images.
Maybe this exercise will be the impetus to try and make such a photograph. This can be a deep dive into personal evaluation.
Email your best image with caption information and explain how it affects you to GPH@pur.coop. We may share the best submissions on our website and social media channels.