OK, I'm no expert in this stuff, but:
Post-modernist: The "unemployment" picture is just as validly reinterpreted as a beautiful scenic view of a river symbolizing X to a particular viewer and Y to another viewer and all interpretations are equally valid even though the author had interpretation Z in mind when it was created.
New Criticism: The structure, composition, and choice of subject matter all lead to a particular interpretation/meaning, and this meaning is that of the author who crafted it in such a manner that its meaning could be seen by the viewers. Sometimes you have to dig into the life of the author (maybe) to figure this out, but the meaning should stand on its own apart from the life of the author or comments the author has made, those facts only strengthening the value of the work.
Historical/Traditional: In order to understand the photograph you have to study every aspect of the author's life and the circumstances surrounding the creation of the photo, including whatever the author said about it and anything else the author ever said or did. Who did they borrow from? What are their influences. And their shoe size. Shoe size is very important. You must start with this study and then, only after digesting it all, go look at the actual work of art to be able to understand it.
Societal: What does the photograph say about the people who are in it (or who live in the place where it was taken)? How is the author reflecting/strengthening/challenging the society in which he/she lived and took part in? What did it cost for a photographer to live and photograph in Pittsburgh? What types of audiences was he/she trying to reach.
Gender: The sexual orientation/gender of the photographer is a characteristic that imbues meaning into all of their work. Consequently, rivers mean women, factory smokestacks mean penises, etc., etc. (I know I'm trivializing, but this sort of work is so abused it needs some trivialization. Not that it sometimes isn't valid, but every upward rising cadence in Tschaichovsky doesn't necessarily figuratively symbolize an ejaculation, if you know what I mean.)
I'm sure there are others...
While I'm willing to accept post-modernist criticism on its surface I find new criticism (which I think was invented at Yale in the 50s so I'm not sure why it is "new") more insightful and thought-provoking. Especially when it is coupled with some historical study of the author, especially that surrounding the creation of the work itself, and some historical understanding of the societal underpinnings. And I think New Criticism will draw on any method of interpretation as long as that method can be supported by something in the work itself. The craftmanship of the author is just as important as the societal influences, the sexual influences, and the historical influences.
As far as talking about your own pictures, to quote Louis Armstrong "if you don't get it, man, you ain't never gonna get it."
"I am an anarchist." - HCB
"I wanna be anarchist." - JR
Me too. I just talk about lines since I love lines and geometric shapes. I would never see the connection between a full moon and unemployment. Not in my photographs or anyother person's.
My wife got "Calendar Girls" for Christmas and in it they advertise for a photog. One of the photographers is explaining his work, Funny as hell.
Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI
So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004
I've always noticed the split between the visual and verbal. I don't worry about it any longer.
Pay attention to how people talk sometime. Visual types say things like "I see what you mean" or "I'll try to focus on the problem" etc., while musicians "hear what you're saying" and the hands-on types "have a bad feeling about this." The visual and verbal require two different skill sets.
I recently had a major surgery that affected my memory and verbal skills so I'm much more aware of the dichotomy now. Fortunately, it left my visual skills intact and I'm very grateful for that since I'd rather see it than talk about it.
There are images that I'm attracted to for who knows what reason. One in particular by a Spanish photographer who's name escapes me at the moment is a very simple photograph. A 4-of-clubs playing card lays face up in a dark field of clover leaves. I'm overwhelmed by this picture for some reason (and am aware of the shape similarity/visual echo) but have never been able to express why verbally. Lots of pictures are like that, and that's OK.
Duke Ellington once said, "If it sounds good, it is good."
Originally Posted by smieglitz
To paraphrase for visual arts, "If it looks good, it is good."
"I'm a photographer, not an intellectual!" - Helmut Newton
Originally Posted by Rio
I used to attend critiques for about two years, but finally after going regularly showing work I realized that most critiques are bullshit. Some people really like to yak about cruddy work, those that produce interesting pieces don't talk so much. I think that says a lot about public discussions. Critiques aren't worthless, often they can help you clarify your own thoughts, but just as often take what is said with a grain of salt as most of it is impulsive reactions and not deeply thought out. I think that writing about your work can help break the verbal block about expressing what you are doing. Writing like this can start out as a ramble but eventually your thoughts will become more refined and truthful.
My 2 cents,
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I don't think you can really explain a photograph. You can say what you did, why you did it, where you did it & reasons for taking the image. What you hoped it would be for you before, during & after you took it as well as through darkroom to finished print. What excited you so you put in this effort. If you can communicate that you can get the excitement you felt when you originally saw what made you stop & set up the camera. But you still won't 'explain' the photograph though you will communicate what you did & partly why you did it. The audience or person you are talking to will supply their own meaning no matter what you say... unless they are lacking in imagination.
"Explanations" fall under the heading of marketing, I think, and the vocabulary used is probably best tailored to the character of the person to whom the explanation is being given. Save the art terminology for critics and gallery owners, use Jungian/Freudian terms with the doctors in the crowd, and conventional English for everyone else. You might, for example, discuss how the particular image relates to your overall vision, and how artistic vision relates to your philosophy of life, etc.
In other words, if they didn't "get it" immediately, try to give them a reason to buy it.
[COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]
Rio Rancho, NM
Good photographs need no explanation. A good photograph will catch the viewers attention and allow them to project their own interpretation on to it. That interpretation may be the same as yours or 180 degrees opposite. Why does the meaning really matter if people enjoy looking at it.
"Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
This is an interesting discussion. I have often wondered too about this. I volunteer at a local photography gallery and every month I see collections of work by photographers and their 'artist's statements' and I often wonder if I was to show my own work, what would that piece of paper on the wall say? I have no idea. Sometimes I find the statements interesting and even if I don't like the photographs themselves, it helps me to understand what an artist is trying to do and come to at least respect the photographs in that way, and other times it's just a bunch of art talk hooey and I find myself thinking 'oh please, where are you coming up with this stuff?'