Letting photos speak for themselves

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by ian_greant, May 26, 2005.

  1. ian_greant

    ian_greant Member

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    We've all heard the cutesy sayings about the value of an image compared to the written word e.g. "A picture is worth a thousand words"

    Still, most of us feel the need to title our work. I have a friend who chiefly uses abstract titles for his mostly abstract work. The majority of people lean toward name and date or some variance.

    I see one naming convention that puzzles and even vexes me a little. (Petty I am) This is the descriptive title. e.g. Angry Gay Sailor in Alaska. This might be the title for a stocky gentleman with a beard and a bewildered look on his face standing on a dock. Nothing suggesting that he truly is angry or gay or even a sailor.

    The point I'm making is that descriptive titles (sexy, angry, tough, ugly) either force the viewer of the photo to agree with the photographer or to disagree.
    e.g. No, I don't think that sailor looks angry or gay.

    There certainly is a need in documentary photography to label your work but again this will be factual information. e.g. George Peorgie (5 years old) smiles after kissing all the girls and making them cry.

    So.. to wrap this up.

    If you want to limit your viewers interpretation then by all means use a descriptive title. e.g. a self portrait of my smug, arrogant, ugly mug.

    If you would like your photos to stand on their own then and let the viewer draw their own conclusions. Stick to short titles of either name/date, abstract or series name. e.g Self Portrait #6


    After all. Would Weston's Pepper #30 have done as well if he'd titled it "Pepper with sexy curves and part of it that looks like a hot a$$!"

    Other points of view? Feel free to kick in.
    Don't like my opinion? Feel free to mutter bad things about me the next time you're naming your photos. :wink:

    Cheers,
    Ian
     
  2. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    It has been a longstanding ambition of mine to mount an exhibition of works, all of which would be titled the way that camera-club work was decades ago - "Harbingers of Autumn", "Home From The Sea", "Evening Shadows", "Aphrodite Rising From The Sea", "Old Sea-Dog", etc. These titles would have no relation whatsoever to the subject matter of the pictures. I have not done this yet, but the idea amuses me.

    Meantime I just use very short factual titles like "Breakwater #7". My favorite is "Untitled", but a show of 30 works all called "Untitled" (even if numbered) is just too much trouble!
     
  3. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Most of my pictures are untitled, or have a very brief "technical" title. After being asked for "proper" titles, I thought of renaming everything to "Contemplating Horizontality #xxxxx" since most of my "good" pictures are landscapes with mountains in them...
     
  4. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    I too prefer short, factual titles. However, sometimes I feel compelled to give the viewer some hint at what I was trying to do or, what I'm trying to communicate. So for example, a photo of weeds growing in the cracks of a stone wall is "Reclaiming the Earth". Maybe this is just a manifestation of insecurity. If the image were strong enough and the audience sophisticatred enough, then the title is wholly un-necessary.
     
  5. blackmelas

    blackmelas Subscriber

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    Hi Ian,
    I suppose I agree to a point. The title becomes a part of the work but if we turn some of these things around, perhaps its the photographer of "Angry Gay Sailor in Alaska" that hasn't told us enough and Weston has stated the obvious.
    Perhaps the artist is leading you to a new understanding about anger or homosexuality. There is more than one expression of these--that you can be angry without a grimice and homosexual without a limp wrist, nice haircut, and tight pants. Expressing paradox or contradiction in lanquage is difficult enough and more so in images. On the other hand Weston's pepper needs no title and stands on it own. We know its a pepper without being told.
    Interesting thread. Best regards,
    James
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 26, 2005
  6. TheMissingLink

    TheMissingLink Member

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    Hi to all!

    This question or better this point of view bothers me since decades, wether to title or not, how to title ...
    My thoughts are personal axioms about my pictures and some "famous" and contemporary works.
    A work has to strong without any words, it has to trigger emotions of this or that kind. If it needs an explanation, either with the title or with verbal skills of the artist to trigger emotions, it is weak. It's a pitty our universities teach their students more to talk than to work;-)
    Meanwhile I grok for me it can also be a stylistic device to influence the statement of a picture, guiding the thought and/or emotions of a beholder into a specific direction either with decent "manipulation" or as a little help to give a hint in which direction to interpret ..

    Today and with those pictures I still have since more than 20 years I have changed my strategy as I have discovered most of my pics are part of a series. I name the series and the pics are getting an additional number, location and other technical informaitons are written on the back. So it depends on the criteria I initially used to select a pic for a specific series, the physical picture without any title. If it's able to stand alone without the context of the others it gets the honor to be part of all....

    I agree, weston's pepper doesn't need a title, probably. But as a part of a more prudish time it has become a part of this artwork. I feel it as an ironic lable as we have our own associations with the form;-) Or looking back to Kasimir Malewitsch and his abstract works, giving "no title #12345" or other abstract titles was initially thought as part of his art, punctuating and chanelling. It was important at that time, has become superflous at least for the pepper or Malewitsch, is still the time's witness but both would be strong pieces of work without any descriptions

    Sh***, that really gave me food for thought again ...

    horst
     
  7. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    "Eight Red Rectangles" pulls the same trick verbally as the painting does visually. I love that.

    I think a title can be useful to guide the viewer, if only to try and impress upon them that you want them to take the photograph seriously. It is especially useful when a photo that is part of a series or project is pulled out of that context and presented as a single epitome of the whole or, when you're famous enough, as part of a 'greatest hits' show.

    It can also be fun to dislocate and mislead.
     
  8. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I can't stand emotive titles. You see these on a lot of the photo critique sites. You know--portraits with titles like "Intense," "Curious," and "Brooding," as if they were those studies by Nadar of mental patients with electrodes applied to their heads, attempting to show a universal connection between facial expression and emotion.

    I like David Bebbington's idea of the "Camera-Club Titles" show. Maybe we should try some of those for the APUG challenge. I'd certainly be curious to see what people come up with in January for "Aphrodite Rising from the Sea," well in the northern hemisphere anyway.
     
  9. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    I am fond of this one.
     
  10. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    You are right that such a title represents the ultimate challenge to a photographer's creativity. The finest example of a work which I ever saw with this title was in a photo annual (BJP Almanac) and depicted a nude model with her nether regions wrapped in (apparently) a plastic shower curtain - with consummate skill, an image of waves had then been double-printed into the background.
     
  11. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I agree completely. I don't think of my photographs as being of objects, but rather of relationships - near/far, smooth/rough, - and patterns. I'm at a loss to know how to title them. I went through a period of giving them Chinese names, but I don't like that either. I'm now giving my landscapes names related to their location, but that's not really satisfactory either.
     
  12. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    If you process your photos to archival standards hiping to have them last for a long time and for them to be a legacy then a descriptive title can be very meaningful say 100 to 200 years from now.

    For example Ansel Adams photo of Hernandez New Mexico... the title is meanigful in terms of what was photographed.
     
  13. ian_greant

    ian_greant Member

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    AA's title is more factual than descriptive. He didn't attempt at all to describe his feelings or to interpret what he saw.

    e.g. The title isn't Romantic moonrise over the quaint village of Hernandez of New Mexico, or Frozen Moonrise over the graveyards of Hernandez.

    He simply stated what the photo is of.
     
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  15. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I love it when people title their photographs names that they were unable to achieve.

    "I didn't quite capture it so I'll call it that so you'll think that maybe I did."

    Michael
     
  16. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    Michael - thanks for the suggestion. I'll be using that soon... :D
     
  17. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    Of course I am one of the ones who feels I need a crutch once in awhile LOL. But sometimes a title just jumps out at you, just as the title you called this one did for you. http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=2351&sort=2&cat=500&page=1

    But I can see your point, some people just can't get beyond the title an artist has given a work and frame their interpretation in that context. In that case either the photo was very weak or the person viewing it doesn't have well defined critical thinking capabilities.
     
  18. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Interesting example Eric. I would regard that as an interpretive/emotive title that attempts to speak for the image. I would have just used the name of the factory or perhaps the type of machinery, as the title. The image already says, "this is an old factory with a lot of equipment, and a lot of people worked here at one time, but not anymore." Calling it something like "Silent Industry" takes away from the viewer the opportunity to draw that conclusion, which is part of the process of appreciating the photograph. In this case, I think the image is very strong, and the title weakens it.
     
  19. ian_greant

    ian_greant Member

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    hmmm what photo is that link to? oh mine! ROFL!!! :smile:
    yah.. it's a bit cheezy, at least by my standards. I was probably up too late that night. It'd never get written on a print. I'll change it once everyone is done laughing at me.

    I agree with David about the title. This image and title actually makes a good example of my point without the risk of hurting someone else's feelings.
    A print of "silent industry" but without the title is above my desk at work. I get a lot of comments about it... and I never feel the need to advise anyone of the name I once concocted for it.
     
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  20. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I have just posted my first photograph here, in the critique gallery. I elected to give it a title ("Waves in the Sky"), which intentionally has a double meaning, but which I didn't put all that much thought or time into. I think titles have two advantages:
    1) they make it easier to refer to images in writing or in discussion, and to differentiate between images when writing about or speaking about same; and
    2) they engage that part of our brain that verbalizes things.
    If a title is chosen well, it has the advantage of suggesting an approach to the photograph. You may or may not want to make such a suggestion, but I think that if you do, the interplay between the words you use and the image on the print/slide/screen you see can add to the experience of the viewer.
    By creating such an interplay, it is much more likely that the title will serve as a sort of shorthand, whereby being reminded of the title, invokes a clearer, more detailed memory of the image, thus enabling further appreciation for it. "Moonrise over Hernandez" is probably the most familiar example of this for many - just think how hard it would be to initiate a discussion about that photograph here if it was untitled, and we weren't able to refer to a posted image.
    By no means do I expect that any of you here will have any great desire to retain a memory of the photo posted by me here, but I do think that if any one wants to discuss it, it is much more easily referred to by its title, then by an attempt to describe it (e.g. microwave and other relay towers on top of a Telus switching station in New Westminster, in near sunset light, with interesting storm cloud formations in the background ...)
     
  21. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    I'm all for titles, Think they can be part of the moment. (some moments can be really cheesy) As much as I enjoy Blanskys tounge and cheek perspective this one was kind of mean spirited. It just seems to me that if someone takes the time to create something they have the right to classify it also. Whether it is something intuitive or just documentation it is part of who the images is.
     
  22. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Back years ago when I was active in the Professional Photographers of America and the Professional Photographers of Canada I would go to the conventions and if we wanted we could sit through the print judging where a few hundred prints would be judged. As they were shown the title was given. There were so many prints with cheezy titles and cutesy names that everyone in the room wanted to barf. Many attempts were to try to get higher scores on the prints but usually is was just a mediocre print with just a "cute" name.

    I got jaded.

    Generally the good and great prints just had a basic name with no attempt to be cute. If it's a good print it probably should be able to stand alone. I do agree that titles are beneficial to identify a print.

    Michael
     
  23. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    I like it when there are no hints in the title that try to lead me by the nose into interpreting a photograph a certain way - I want to make my own judgements about what the photograph means to ME.

    Where I live is BIG country (few people, few roads), so to title a print, Passing Storm, BC, doesn't give enough information for people to know where it was taken. Passing Storm, Cape George, Porcher Island, Hecate Strait, BC...or...Hemlocks and Snow, Coho Flats, Kitimat River Valley, BC, lets people know roughly where they were taken. In the end they became known as Passing Storm, and Hemlocks and Snow anyways, but at least the rest of it is on the back of the print. It also may be important information to historians researching my work when it becomes valuable loooooong after I'm gone.

    (I wish they had GPS when I started out 22 years ago, that it worked easily under the thick rainforest canopy, and that I had the wisdom to use it to pin-point my location when photographing. I have quite a few forest scenes that are now clear cuts. For a future photographer in several hundred years to re-photograph the scenes would be interesting...botanists and naturalists would find it interesting as well I think).

    Murray
     
  24. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    Titles should not limit the viewer's experience of the photograph. It is not important that the viewer get from the photograph what the photographer intended. Because of his/her own life experiences, a viewer may get more from a photograph than the photographer intended--or get something very different than what was intended.

    In other words, titles should not get in the way. Titles such as "Sunset," "Springtime", etc, get in the way. At the other extreme, if a photograph is made of an identifiable landscape, and is titled, " Untitled," that gets in the way. The viewer may wonder where the photograph was made and that may keep him/her from getting further involved with it. Knowing where it was made is not usually what the photograph is about, but by titling it with a place name, as in "Hernandez, New Mexico," a barrier to the photograph is removed.

    Titles reveal the intention of the photographer. A Walker Evans photograph of a church interior titled "Alabama" implies that the picture is about a whole society, a way of life. Had Evans titled it, "XYZ Baptist Church, ABC, Alabama" the same photograph would have been read/seen merely as a document of a very specific place and the resonance implied by the simple title, "Alabama" would have been lost.
     
  25. Saganich

    Saganich Subscriber

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    Frankly I'm jealous of people who can name their photographs and feel satisfied. I can't do it. I try but I always feel foolish because there are no words for me other then "this is my eye seeing a (fill in the object in the photo)" Someone said their photographs are the relationships and arrangements of everything in the frame, but actually the subject is ourselves in relation to and precieving the objects in the frame. A title that doesn't pay homage to this reationship must be superficial and won't add anything positive for the viewer.
     
  26. Jose A Martinez

    Jose A Martinez Member

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    help me to name this image

    I had a show at "Fototeca de Veracruz" with the work of the slaughterhouses. I titled it "In Extremis" and as subtitle "alguien tiene que hacerlo" (someone has to do it). The images were "named" in order of inventory control as "Cabezas (heads) 1", "Cabezas 2" ... "Feto (embrio) 1" "Feto 2"... etc. The museographer call me when they end to hang the whole show and ask me for individual titles or captions for one of each photo, I answer him to put the inventory code or "name", and he said that don't like them but he will put at the beginning a "cedula" (small caption with the title and work description) with the following text: "All of the images shown are silver prints, 16x20 inches, taken between 1999 and 2003".

    The question is how do you title this photo as it is "Embrio 1"? or something else? if you have to put a title for a show.
    embrio 1