In the book The Elements of Photography: Understanding and Creating Sophisticated Images, the author Angela Faris Belt proposed a paradigm to creating and understanding images that involves three components – subject, content and form. Subject is the concept or idea that is to be communicated in the image. Content is what is seen in the image ie. landscape, portrait, still life, abstract. Form is how the content is organized and processed ie. rules of composition and software.
A blog post by Jörg M. Colberg on his website CPHmag titled Ideas and Intent, Form and Content argues for a similar method of creating and understanding photographic images. He refers to subject as ideas and intent and combines content and form.
A photographic image typically uses existing items, for example people, landscapes or buildings and exposes them on film or a digital sensor. The photographer is making the initial creative decisions looking through the viewfinder and the tool is the camera.
In both cases, there is a separation between the subject or idea and how it is realized as content and form. As well, the authors argue that there needs to be a balance between the components for the image to be `sophisticated` or successful. Subject or intent is not sufficient without the technical ability to communicate it to the viewer using content and form. At the same time, content and form is not sufficient if it does not have a subject or intent inherent in the image.
The advantage of this paradigm is that it provides a structured process to create and evaluate an image. To create, is there a subject or idea, and what is the content and form that can communicate it. To evaluate, does the form and content communicate the subject or idea.
When viewing an image, ask why. Assume the person making the image is aware of the form and content and how it can relate to the viewer. Form, encompassing elements such as rules of composition, black and white or colour, can have a subconscious or psychological meaning that when made aware, can further expand the intent of the image.
The paradigm – subject, content, form, when applied to photographic images, can assist in creating, becoming aware and evaluating how `sophisticated` or successful it is.