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
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?