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Pictures + Words ?

Pictures + Words ?

I have been thinking about some conversations I’ve had recently with other photographers about the idea of titles and captions. The idea that my audience will  be able to fully know what I am thinking about in making a particular picture feels like a big ask to me. 

 

There are more than a few ways artists speak about pictures + words. “ A picture is worth a thousand words” comes to mind.  More importantly to me is the suggestion that the artist does not necessarily want to guide the viewer, but rather let the viewer make up a narrative of their own. This has been a mantra of mine in the past, now I am revisiting my feelings about it all. 

 

Speed dating has come to photography. Audiences have access to a vast amount of visual stimulation and we have become good at the quick look out of necessity. 

 

In the last few years as I’ve learned printmaking I also began writing narratives to go along with my pictures, and I am trying to expand my titles beyond “ Trees in fog Sauvie Island”. A title my children suggest I call half of my pictures. My goal? As I connect more deeply with my work, I would love to have my audience along for the ride and slightly in the same direction my horse is running. 

 

As always I am looking for a conversation in these blog posts so please, if you have some thoughts on this subject I would love to hear from you.

6 comments

Patrick Kolb

A question with no correct answer? I sometimes wonder if the artist is sometimes not sure of the work and what it means to them. The title or caption is a chance to the artist to start a discussion with the viewer even though not present. Most times it is after looking at the photograph that the viewer may have an interest in the title.

It’s still one of the hardest things to do in photography for me

Roberto

Hi Ray,
I think that the title or the description of a photographs depends on the kind of photograph itself. I like short description like the name of the people portraited and the place where the picture is taken (the way of Avedon, Schuttmat, Soth, etc); that puts me in a place, just enough to suggest who could be the person of the face I’m looking at. I like too how Sally Mann titled some pictures with side elements (like “Hayhook” or “The Wet Bed”). Joel Peter Witkin uses evocative and historical connections for the titles of his photographs that fits perfectly. Kate Miller Wilson uses description that I find absolutely needed for her pictures.
Ciao

Thibault

Well written, Ray.
I always have trouble finding titles for my images or my series. Sometimes it comes naturally, but most often it does not and that has actually prevented me from sharing some of my images in the past.

Anyways, I agree that giving a title and a description to images is already setting up the stage for a specific story, and yet I like the idea of the viewer making up their own story, which may (will?) be different than mine.
I have not found a solution to that issue, but i keep thinking about it a lot too…

Mark S Danley

Unless a photograph needs a narrative (such as an historical picture or something that is meaningless out of context) then I believe titles can get in the way. I cringe when someone looks at a photo (or a painting, etc.) and immediately asks “what is that?”, or “where is that?” I prefer art to stand on its own, and I prefer audiences who can suffer a few moments of confusion…

Shawn Crowley

I’m erratic in titling images. When I do they are often not descriptive (model in window light) but more evocative and personal. Some are just enigmatic, challenging the viewer to supply meaning. Once in a while a quotation (“When ever I feel cold I put on another cord of pearls.” – Dorothy Parker). Sometimes I’ll get a question about the meaning or origin of a title. Is it the text or the image that engages? But it is engagement.

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