There are a number of books out there which have the title of How to Read a Photograph or a variation thereof. I have considered writing such a book but I don't think there would be many buyers for a 1 page book. It would be a 1 page book because all I have to say/write on the topic is ....
STOP. Don't even try to read a photograph. It's not a novel / newspaper / periodical / note to self or any other thing which depends on the use of words to be understood. Rather, it is a thing to be looked at. End of story.
My wife has a good friend who could be said to have-iMo, quite accurately-a very limited artistic sensibility. I would be surprised, no...make that stunned, to learn that, in her 50+ years on the planet, she had even once visited an art museum. However, on the plus side, she did buy one of my pictures to hang in her house.
That written, iMo, she has a near perfect manner in which she views a picture or, at least, my pictures. In a nutshell, when viewing one of my pictures, it goes something like this .... "Why did you take a picture of that?", followed by, "I don't know why, but I like it." And, on some occasions, she sums it all up by saying, "You're so weird."
Her viewing experience is exactly the manner in which I hope my pictures are viewed.
In other words, my desire is that a viewer not get too hung up on the specificity of the depicted referent(s) inasmuch as I picture things, not for what they are, but for how I feel when I see them. In a very real sense, the depicted referent(s) in my pictures is "just" a signifier-a sign's physical form (such as a sound, printed word, or image) as distinct from its meaning-which is used to convey a feeling, conscious or not, about my eye and sensibilities. Or, in other words, how I feel, at times, when I see things around me.
And, that is what my wife's friend "gets" when she looks at some of my pictures .... a feeling which she can't consciously explain but which I think is her subconscious artistic sensibilities trying to get out.
I believe that when she says, "I like it.", she is saying, on conscious level, that she likes the picture. However, I also believe that she is liking, on subconscious level, the feeling(s) she is experiencing while looking at the picture.
When I look at a picture, I don't often specifically care about what is depicted (other than when viewing family, friends, travel, et al "snapshots"). What I am "looking" for is a feeling a good picture can convey / incite independent of what is depicted. A feeling that is more than the wow-like sensationalism found in pictures of dramatic / color saturated referents et al. A feeling that is much more "quiet" and intimate than that. A feeling that I am feeling what the picture maker was feeling at the moment the picture was made.
Or, simply put, look and feel, no reading necessary.