I recently experienced a minor revelation about photography. Readers here who are aware that time is for me such a pivotal concept in photography, will not be surprised to learn that my 'epiphany' relates to this most beguiling of elements.
Some background, first. Time is such a fundamental concept in photography. There's the shutter speeds—that is to say, the length of time that film or a sensor is exposed to light. And for shooting outdoors, there's the time of day in which one shoots—harsh midday vs. morning, or afternoon, or twilight, or the very de rigueur night-time. Extrapolating outward, there's the time of year—long winter shadows and overcast weather, or direct and intense summer light, for example, not to mention subject matter (autumn leaves, glary summer beaches, the calving of wild animals, among others).
And of course there's photography's ability to 'freeze' a moment in time, which provides a future 'glimpse' into the past. I suspect this freezing is what lends so much of photography to nostalgia...which now extends beyond subject matter to photographic medium and tools (film, Lomography and the like), and image finishing ('vintage', 'toy camera', and 'sepia' filters etc.).
Exceptional art, regardless of its medium, stands out. Lingering over an image is not unique to photography, but is the cause of my revelation. For me, an exceptional photograph can be likened to exceptional prose, where a reader can linger over a richly evocative or well-crafted word, sentence or phrase, so cleverly and lovingly expressed by a writer. But it's quite unlike the cinematographic arts. Of course, one can easily pause a movie to linger over a particular frame, but I'm sure that's not the intention of the director. Movies are first and foremost to be appreciated in their entirety—preferably in a single sitting; no cause for pausing there.
In addition to being 'wowed' by the first impression of an exceptional photograph, I allow my eye to linger over its technical aspects—minute detail, composition, tones, shadows, depth of field, contrast, strength of colour, etc. But more importantly, I also afford myself time to open my senses to an image and consider the emotion(s), memories, and associations it evokes, no matter how subtle, beautiful, or disturbing they might be.
Whenever you're next wowed by a photograph, don't take it on face value. Open yourself to it, and let your eye—and mind—linger, and consider what it inspires.