Conceptual Photography

Simply put, conceptual photography is a type of photography that illustrates an idea. But, don’t most photographs illustrate an idea, or at least a thought, an event, a person, place or thing? Can a person, place or thing also be an idea?

According to Merriam Webster (if you haven’t already guessed, I love the dictionary. Both a real paper dictionary, and the app on my phone!):

            Idea (noun) – something you imagine or picture in your mind.

So with this definition, I’m going to say yes, a person, place or thing can be imagined or pictured in my mind. And, with some creative effort, illustrated via the photographic process into a tangible image. Conceptual photography is a lot of fun. It’s often creating a photo illustration that tells a story, or something that is symbolic, or often it is an idea or symbol that can have different meanings to different people.

Take the image I’ve posted for example. I found this little church on a field trip with my students, and I noticed at just the right angle, I could get a cross within a cross. Now, for some, this image can symbolize a strongly held religious belief – for example both a present (close up cross) and future (distant cross) life in the church, or it could reference the constraints of religion – one cross “boxing in” the other. So, either way, you could read this image to mean two completely different ideas. How would you know what I meant? Well, you don’t, unless this image was to illustrate an idea or story that accompanies the image, or maybe if you knew me really well. But then, you still might not know the answer. Either way, it’s up to you to decide what the image means to you!


I have always enjoyed looking for symbols, or the meaning of the arrangement or placement of objects in a photograph, or other work of art like a painting. I just saw this interesting YouTube video ( about this very idea. It is interesting how the curator describes what each element in a still life might mean. So, next time you look at a photograph of a bowl of fruit, or a simple insect sitting on a table, think about what the artist may have intended for that simple object to mean. Or, look for these subtle arrangements like my cross within a cross when you’re out and about, camera in hand!

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