Should we name our photographs?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by juan, Feb 22, 2004.

  1. juan

    juan Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,699
    Joined:
    May 7, 2003
    Location:
    St. Simons I
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Wednesday night at the Jacksonville Camera Club, we had a very useful, informative critique session. Members submitted prints to be commented on individually by three of the club’s better photographers. One of the photographs caused a discussion about the session’s format – and raised the question of names.

    The photo contained a lot of green vegetation surrounding one single white mushroom. One of the critiquers said he thought the “subject” of the photograph was the color itself, rather than an object within the photo. One of the other judges was bothered. Under the format, the photos were not labeled with names. He said didn’t know what he was supposed to see as the subject.

    The critiquer was uncomfortable seeing the photograph for himself. He wanted the crutch of a name to help him set definitions and limits for his feelings. It confirmed my thinking of the past few months.

    I have began giving my photos Chinese names – I don’t speak Chinese beyond Hunan Chicken, and I doubt that many of the viewers of my photographs do. I did it so that the beholder would quickly dismiss the name and look at the photograph as a photograph – not as a picture of something.

    The first photo I so named is here

    http://simmonsphotos.com/Galleries/XunRuiXu.html

    I first though of naming it “White Stump in a Graveyard” – but then I thought, “There’s much more here than the white stump.” It could well be seen as “Gravesites Surrounding a Stump” or even seen as the relationship of the curved sections at the top of the stump to the straight lines of the gravestones. Or the relationship of the white of the stump to the grays of the stones. If I gave the photo an intelligible name, it would limit the viewer’s relationship with the photo.

    I found a little support in my reading. From “The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts “When there are no names, the world is no longer classified in limits and bounds.”

    Also, from "Photographers on Photography" - an address given by Peter H. Emerson delivered to the Camera Club Conference, London, March 26, 1889 - (He discusses the failure of many photographs to succeed both scientifically and artistically) They serve, as many have served, as topographical records of faces, buildings, and landscapes, but often incorrect records at that. It is curious and interesting to observe that such work always requires a name (emphasis in original). It is a photograph of Mr. Jones, of Mont Blanc, or of the Houses of Parliament. On the other hand, a work of art really requires no name - it speaks for itself. It has no burning desire to be named, for its aim is to give the beholder aesthetic pleasure… .”

    Do your photographs have a burning desire to be named?

    juan
     
  2. photomc

    photomc Member

    Messages:
    3,575
    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2003
    Location:
    Texas
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    juan,

    You raise some interesting points and as is true with most photography, it really is up to the photographer/artist, IMHO. That said, my preference has always been to convey more a desription of the image (subject/location, person/title) that would allow someone 50 to 100 years from now to know who/what/when/where. On a personal leve, I do not care for 'cute' names, but again it is up to the person making the image. If looking at it does not tell me anything or if it is one that I am looking at to hang on a wall, the name does not matter - if I like it, I would still purchase regardless of the name.

    Just another 2 1/3 cents worth (used to be 2 1/2 cents but inflation).....
     
  3. ann

    ann Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,910
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2002
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Sometimes i give photos a "working title" . Referring to the image by that name;however, it is very rare that I name a finished print, including that name on the window.
     
  4. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council

    Messages:
    2,599
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Brooklyn, N.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    What's in a name?
    You can bestow a title or give a picture a name. To me naming or titling a picture is to identify it from others that may be similar.... Stump 1, Stump 2, etc.

    A title that begins to describe the image is a disservice to the image and the viewer. My description may not be what a viewer enjoys about an image. And an image accompanied by a line or verse of poetry is really a photographic failure.

    Thats my 2 1/3 cents worth.
     
  5. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

    Messages:
    6,242
    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    John,

    I really think that is a great deal of value to what you have observed, researched, and written. Of course I am writing from the perspective of someone who wants my images to be about something more then a "thing itself". Perhaps those who do commercial or portraiture will have a different idea from mine. I realize that they are entitled to their opinion.

    Speaking from my perspective, as I view my images...I already know that something moved me to make the exposure. However for another person viewing this image the "name", if it is afixed, takes away from the experience of "seeing" for oneself.

    It is interesting to me, in my observation, that many are indoctrinated to think in terms of "seeing things"...when confronted with an alternative of experiencing in a different way some will engage in "seeing" and some will choose not to see by classifying the image as "uninteresting".

    I do think that "art" is personal to the observer. To "name" an image in a readily identifiable way takes away from this personal experience, in my opinion.

    Great thread.
     
  6. PaulH

    PaulH Subscriber

    Messages:
    171
    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2003
    Location:
    Hudson, New
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Juan,

    Like you I do not like to name my photographs. For a long time I was putting nothing on them at all. Since a lot of my photos are pretty abstract, I prefer not to tell the viewer what they are looking at. They may see something far more interesting. But people seem to want names and if they go into an exhibit, they all end up being called 'untitled'. I got tired of that and started naming them after where and when they were taken. Most times that gives no clues to the content of the picture.

    However, the first time I saw one of your photos with the Chinese names, it was 'Ran Shu Yi', I was distracted by the title. What I mean by that is that I spent more time than I should of looking to see if there was a likeness of one of the Chinese deities in the woodwork, and not enough time just looking. I couldn't find her so I went on to the next picture. That's when I realized that the names had no direct connection with the content. At that point I had to go back so that I could appreciate the picture on its own terms.
     
  7. dr bob

    dr bob Member

    Messages:
    871
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Annapolis, M
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    “...a rose by any other name….”. Maybe, but names, titles, and labels have a definite affect on observers of almost anything. Here comes another anecdote so skip if tired of these: In (circ.) 1970, I received one of those “special” invitations to attend an electronics show near Wash. D.C. The receptionist was a strikingly well endowed young lady with little concept of humor or reality who insisted that I must confer a “title” for my ID card. She was insistent even after I explained that we didn’t have much use for titles where I worked. So, thinking as quickly as I could (not very fast indeed), and recalling my address on Granville Ave. I blurted out, “Earl of Granville”, which she dutifully typed. So I went around all day as “Robert, Earl of Granville”. End of anecdote….

    It is troublesome to hear about judges who let titles influence their critical appraisal of art. I certainly can overlook titles. I could not tell you the “name” of any famous photograph right now (well maybe “Moonrise over Hernandez”). Can someone tell me why a critic needs a title / name to judge art? Do we really need to direct their vision? Doesn’t the image itself do that?

    Most of the shows where I exhibit desire a name / title for the art. I have found that it helps to use a fanciful name that reflects more an emotion than a description. For example, one of my more popular photographs is about an old general store still in operation complete with potbelly stove. I named this photograph “Almost Forgotten”. I have often thought of making a duplicate print with the name and, possibly, the location of the store just to see if it might still win recognition.

    Chinese, hmmm… doesn’t oriental art use characters as part of the art itself?
     
  8. dr bob

    dr bob Member

    Messages:
    871
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Annapolis, M
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I rather agree with this. However, last year the art group I work with hosted a show where one selected a piece of literature and placed a photograph with it as a unit. I did not submit any work, but I liked the show very much. I think it brought out the artists personality better than the photograph alone. I do not remember any titles as such.
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    17,922
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I think that one should avoid sentimental or emotional titles like "The Joy of Springtime" or "Intense" (I've seen portraits with this kind of title!) or "Youth has its Fling" in most cases. It's the job of the photograph to convey the emotion.

    It's probably unnecessary, more often than not, to use vague titles like "Rock and Stump" or "Old Castle" that don't add anything to what is plain from the image.

    I usually label landscapes with the location and the date and portraits with the name of the subject and the date. Sometimes details in the landscape do best with a description of what the subject is and the location, even if the subject seems kind of obvious, because it would be rhetorically confusing to have a title like "Grand Canyon, 1995" when the subject was some wildflower next to the trail.

    So if there is to be a title, I think it should be concrete, enough to provide some geographical or historical context if there is any to be had, but the rest of the interpretive work is up to the image and the viewer.
     
  10. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

    Messages:
    2,512
    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2002
    Location:
    Omaha, Nebra
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    If you go to the library and pick up a dozen books of well known photographers you will probably find at least a dozen different naming conventions, with some photographers having different methods over the course of subject matter and career. I suppose it is up to the temperment and goal of the individual phtographer.
     
  11. lee

    lee Member

    Messages:
    2,913
    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Location:
    Fort Worth T
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I agree with David but I don't think of it until I am ready to hang a show. These gallery types seem to want to put a label on everything. Generally place and date are enough to satisfy those conventions.

    lee\c
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,702
    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2002
    Location:
    Wine country
    Where did names come from. It is my understanding that early on in history we were named by a given name to identify us within our family. "Come here _______. " Without his name there would be confusion. Maybe no dinner.

    Then as we traveled, moved around, socialized we needed a name to identify where we were from. Jesus of Nazareth, Bob of Tulsa. Then we also needed names to identify who we "belonged to" like Angus McGregor where the Mc" means from the clan of Gregor, or Eric von Trapp where the "von" is from the family of Trapp. We loved this tribal thing because it gave us a sense of belonging and security.

    That out of the way, when we talk about paintings, sometimes names are an identification. Whistler Mother --a name. Otherwise it's " that painting with the old lady facing sideways.... Or Mona LIsa, with out that name, what is it,-- the annoying painting with the insipid grin.

    I have attended many photography competitions where portrait photographers and others have named their work, partly for identification and partly, I'm sure, just to piss me off. Cutesy stupid names for cutesy stupid pictures. Oftentimes to add mystery or eloquence to a picture that didn't have any.

    Where would we be if music was not named. We all get our own experience from music and they are all named. Do the names affect the experience, I don't think so, often they add to the experience.

    So to answer the thread, I'm torn. On the one hand, we humans like to identify things so we can discuss them or curse them or whatever. In that case I see names as being valuable and important.

    On the other hand as others have said, don't give away the ending. Let the viewer lead themselves through the story and attach their own meaning to the piece. A name could mess up the experience.


    So besides not knowing what the hell I'm talking about, I don't have an answer.



    MIchael MCBlane
     
  13. Francesco

    Francesco Member

    Messages:
    1,020
    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2003
    Location:
    Düsseldorf,
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I spent some time in Tokyo as a student and do believe that in the Kanji (Chinese style characters) alphabet the characters are created by the thing it depicts and not simply the creativity of man. I only name those images that have already identified their names to me. Most times, especially when I work to achieve a technical type of shot, I title (as oppose to naming) the image (e.g. Sunset, Stockholm, Sweden or Winter Pond etc..).
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. bjorke

    bjorke Member

    Messages:
    2,032
    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2003
    Location:
    SF & Surroun
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    As usual, there is no single answer. A name, a caption, any verbal attachment to a picture is, in a way, a separate (mental) picture. The combination (I would usually say "collision") of these two ideas (picture & words) can at best result in a stronger whole; at worst, the picture will be hopelessly skewed and ruined. Your intentions, and your savviness about the context and predjudices of the viewer(s), need to be your guide -- just as they should be when presenting the photo in the first place.
    • [​IMG]
    One could as easily label your white stump "Punishment." What sort of photo is it now? What about the title "Atonement," or maybe just "Graveyard"?

    An aversion to words that force the viewer's interpretation are why so many photos get labelled simply "Kent, 1983" or "Santa Clara, 2004." But even such place names can be loaded with history and meaning. Is your stump in Shenzen, Nova Scotia, Chiapas, or Glendale?

    How about: "My Dog Did This." Now what has become of this shot?

    (BTW, the January Aperture contains an article of interest about news photo titles and captions -- the writer's conclusions land not far from my own thoughts)
     
  16. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

    Messages:
    1,627
    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2003
    Location:
    Southern Cal
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I do name my images, It's easier for me to keep track of what I was looking for, what I was thinking about when I executed the image and where it conforms within a series. The series which dictates the approach to a particular image. The last thing I want to do is generically label my creative process so that I'm looking at engineering data. When someones work catches my eye I look at it, then if theirs a title I read it. That means I get to look at the image twice. Once for my interpretation and once for their intent. Double my money. I will say however The title better work or it could ruin the piece.
     
  17. e_joyner

    e_joyner Member

    Messages:
    27
    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2003
    Location:
    Columbia SC
    I'm glad this topic has come up. I'd appreciate some input.

    I have been seriously pursuing photography for a couple of years. I lacked focus and found myself shooting anything, which I suspect was the biggest reason for disappointment. Anyway, I gave myself a project about reconnecting to the simplicity of childhood. Things I recall that were imaginative and fun. The *eventual* goal is a portfolio of images I want to submit for exhibition.

    Being this is my first attempt at anything "ambitious", I am making this all up as I go along. So I started with the title for the project; Ghosts of the Imagination. Then I made a list of titles for images I had yet to take, that I *want* to take, words that evoke emotions I can convey (or try to) on film.

    I'm stimulated by words, quotes, poetry, music, etc... Many times it is a single word or phrase that inspires me to take an image. Something sparks a fire, and I pursue the image I "conceive" in my mind. So, am I crazy and working ass-backwards, or what??? So it's not a question of my images begging for a title, it's my titles begging for an image.

    To answer the original post, personally a title doesn't make or break an image for me. I either like an image, or I don't; it has nothing to do with the title; whether it's descriptive, documentary, or "clever". In the whole giant scheme of things, it's irrelevant. It's just another label that allows us to converse with others about what you've seen. A title helps stimulate the recall of the visual experience. Or, that's what I think anyway.:smile:

    So, I'd like to post an image in the Non-Gallery Pictures forum. Would you mind looking, and give your honest feedback??? In this instance, does the title help, support, or totally piss you off? :wink:

    http://www.apug.org/site/main/album_page.php?pic_id=2034

    Thanks in advance for your input and guidance.

    ~edye
     
  18. juan

    juan Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,699
    Joined:
    May 7, 2003
    Location:
    St. Simons I
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    We had a discussion here a while back that I participated in, in which I said all artists set up rules for their work, and then work within them. Several other people disagreed.

    I think what you are proposing - setting up titles (emotions) and then seeking photos to express them, is you setting the rules for your work, and is a legitimate way to work if it achieves what you're looking for.

    Good luck and post some of the images.
    juan
     
  19. e_joyner

    e_joyner Member

    Messages:
    27
    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2003
    Location:
    Columbia SC
    My reply to the comments that were given to the picture I posted, and it's title. The opinion is so far that it is redundant. So, here is the other part of my question that I now must ask. I appreciate the experiences you all share, as I am trying to learn as much as possible...thanks for your guidance.

    Ok, so there is an agreed consensus...I'm over the top here.:smile: I appreciate the input, I'm taking mental notes. In your opinion, do you think such titles can cause a body of work to be taken less seriously? I mean, this project and the ultimate goal of it, is very important to me. I don't want to be discounted on such a trivial aspect. I approach the idea of titling as an extension of the creative process, but perhaps I need to think about it more. Hmmm, this is interesting...and something else to keep me awake at night! I know it's been said it's a personal matter, but....well, you guys got me thinking now.

    edye
     
  20. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

    Messages:
    2,512
    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2002
    Location:
    Omaha, Nebra
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Your last post mentioned a body of work. Is the posted image part of a group of cohesive or related images? If so, the portfolio title may be all you need to introduce the body of work. Perhaps a single paragraph with the images would "set the stage" for the viewer.

    If the work is for a potential gallery, I suppose from a comercial standpoint I would try see what is prevalent for title conventions among those that are represented there. Maybe contact another photographer represented.

    If the image is part of a project could you give us some more details? From seeing the image posted it looks very interesting.
     
  21. e_joyner

    e_joyner Member

    Messages:
    27
    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2003
    Location:
    Columbia SC
    Yep, this is part of the body of work. Whether it's cohesive or not, well I guess I'll know when I finish.:wink:

    The gallery (or the first I attempt) I plan to submit to, posts a short bio and artist's statement along with the images. Not even a full page, so it's short and simple. Come to think of it, most exhibitions are simple one-word or untitled images. I have soooo much to learn, this art stuff is frustrating!

    Would you like the long story of how the whole idea came to me, or the abridged version?:smile: The abridged version is in my previous post. I'll spare you the boring details, unless you ask for it.

    Oh, and Juan, I apologize for hijacking your post! Forgive my rudeness, but it has been very helpful to me.

    edye
     
  22. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,519
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Back to the original question: "Should we ...?"

    If you want to. The "title" *CAN* set the stage - create an atmosphere - mindset that will have an effect on the perception of the work. So will the mat, the frame, the color and texture of the wall, the location of the gallery....

    The title is a tool. I wonder if Dali's "Dream Evoked by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate" would be perceived in the same light with another, simpler title.

    "Should we ...?" I don't have any answer other than, "If it seems that it should in your aesthetic judgement - GO to it".
     
  23. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

    Messages:
    660
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Above all else, titles should not limit the viewers experience of the photograph. Usually a title naming the object(s) in the photograph says that that is all the photograph is about. The viewer is directed not to see anything more than that. Other times, use of "Untitled" gets in the way of the viewer's experience of the work--if they are wondering where something was made, for example.

    In an exhibition I once saw there was a Walker Evans photograph of a church in Albama. The title was simply, "Alabama." Someone else may have titled the photograph, "Church in XYZ Alabama." To my way of thinking the first title implied that this was a photograph of a whole culture. As such, it expands the viewer's experience of the picture. The second title forces the viewer not to make a connection like that and, in this regard, would be not as felicitous a title.

    The worst titles are the "cute" ones and titles like "sunset." They direct the viewer's experience rather than giving the viewer credit for getting something more out of the picture, perhaps even more than the artist intended.

    All photographs that are works of art are about something more than what they are of. And what they are about may be something different to each viewer, for each viewer brings his or her own life experiences to the activity of looking. For the viewer, the art of seeing, of receiving, is a participation in the creative process no less essential and direct than the artist’s own. Do not limit that experience with poorly chosen titles.
     
  24. Francesco

    Francesco Member

    Messages:
    1,020
    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2003
    Location:
    Düsseldorf,
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    A photograph captures me from the outset - if it has a title I probably will glance at it only AFTER I have finished paying attention to the photograph. I think this is because letters are not as striking as images. Because I see titles only after the fact I am never concerned that a title will cheapen or enhance a photograph. The photograph speaks to me about itself (or what I feel is its message) irregardless of how it is titled.
     
  25. mwtroxell

    mwtroxell Member

    Messages:
    73
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Location:
    Jasper, Tenn
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    My titles are normally just the location of the photograph, "Chimney Tops Trail, Frozen Stream", "Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park", "Abandoned Silo, Marion County". etc. I tried naming photographs years ago but it just didn't seem right. It seemed like I was trying to limit the photograph to what I thought about it at the moment I named it.
     
  26. sparx

    sparx Member

    Messages:
    376
    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2004
    Location:
    Norfolk UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I had a similar experience as Juan. I submitted a picture in my local club competition. It was a macro shot of a rusty metal fish sculpture I had in my garden. I had to give it a name under club rules so I called it 'Rusty Fish'.
    The club then proceeded to spend 10 minutes trying to work out why the picture was called 'rusty fish' and I didn't get any comments or critique on the image itself. To them the name was more important than the image.
    For me the image should be the important thing. If I look at a picture and get something out of it that is different from what the author intended then so what. But to not look at the image at all because you are hung up on why it was called that seems to defeat the object of photography.