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  1. #1

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    Letting photos speak for themselves

    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.

    Cheers,
    Ian

  2. #2
    David H. Bebbington's Avatar
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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. #3
    Ole
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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...
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
    Norway

  4. #4
    BradS's Avatar
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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. #5
    blackmelas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ian_greant
    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.
    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 blackmelas; 05-26-2005 at 05:10 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  6. #6
    TheMissingLink's Avatar
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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
    everything becomes more worse. one thing becomes better: the moral becomes more worse.

  7. #7
    Struan Gray's Avatar
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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. #8
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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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.
    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  9. #9
    Struan Gray's Avatar
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    I am fond of this one.

  10. #10
    David H. Bebbington's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb
    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.
    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.

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