The Fifth Admendment of the Constitution of the United States of America allows me not having to incriminate myself. Why should I tell anyone how I came to make such a dreadful print?
I am with David Vestal..and if I read correctly Donald Miller...on this matter. Photographs do not mean anything, they show something.
Donald If I misunderstood you I apologise.
Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)
The whole question of combining text and photographs has had a long historical debate. I presume that each person will come to their own understanding of a photograph based on their experiences, state of mind, ability, etc. Invariably that impression will be different than the photographer envisioned and rightfully so. I don't want a someone who view my photography to see what I saw. I want them to experience it in their own way. The photograph in that way is merely a 'gift' to provide opportunity to sensate.
Someone asked the poet Robert Frost to explain one of his poems and he replied, "What, you want me to say it worse?" Maybe this begs the question because photos by definition are non-verbal but I find that text stands in the way, or at least redirects my own thinking about a photograph. I'd rather read about it after I've had a chance to experience it without the props of the photographers blurb. Maybe this would be different for historical or documentary stuff rather than the ill-defined fine art genre.
well said. *VERY* well said... and I agree, all the way!
Originally Posted by David
It bugs me when I realize how much more skillful at writing some are than I am ... "David" here as a shining example.
I hope my photography is better than my writing.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
I've found a few reasons why photographers do not try to explain their work. These reasons are based on personal experiences with my own work, and observing reactions between teachers and students when I was in portfolio critiques.
I have seen painters talk for a long time about their paintings and why did what they did. I have never seen or heard of a photographer do this. I am sure they are out there.
For one, I personally find that one of the beautiful things of photography, and image making in general, is that the lack of words allows a viewer to appropriate the image into their own life story. They are free to put their own meaning into the work. Many photos that I find beautiful, are not considered beautiful by other people for the same reasons. Likewise, some images that I find insignificant personally illicit profound emotional response from other viewers. The lack of words also allows an image to transcend the barriers of time: photographs viewed in different temporal frames of reference allow the viewer(s) to attach meaning specific to their generation.
Secondly, while watching critiques I learned of the value of words when explaning your photographs. Many times myself and other students in my classes would stand up to explain an image that we had created (either a standalone, or as part of a larger series), only to be knocked down based on what we had said. If you say that an image is supposed to convey a specific idea or emotion, and it clearly does not, then you have failed to do what you initially intended to do. This reaction often instilled fear in myself and other students: we were afraid to explain our work because we were afraid that others would not agree with us. This goes to support the points I made in my previous paragraph: the image portrays an emotion or idea specific to my own interpretation. There is no right or wrong in an interpretation, as it is based solely on your personal history and life events. However, when push comes to shove, especially when you are being critiqued on your final mark, I (and others!) have often tried to adapt the meaning of the photograph to one that the observing parties would agree with. But this action diminishes the original intent of the photograph!
When people see my work and tell me what they think of it, I don't always agree. One project I worked on was to create a book of images based on a common theme. I had spent months photographing naked trees on winter nights, placing emphasis on the inherent beauty that the trees have in the absense of their leaves ("clothing"). My instructor thought that my book was great, but for the wrong reasons. Instead of seeing the naked trees as I had photographed them, he saw an analog of veins and arteries of the human body! He interpreted the images as he saw fit, and agreed that the images were great -- but not for the same reasons I did!
Personally, I'm happy to explain my work to people. True, once I explain it they can usually see what I was trying to convey. Prior to my explanation however, they may like (or dislike) the work for their own reasons.
Just my two cents.
Hmmm ... revisiting what appeared to be a "dormant" thread...
After giving this some thought, I'm wondering about the implied questions that are being answered:
First, rephrasing, "In general, painters CAN explain their work and photographers cannot. Why?"
I disagree with the initial premise ... I've found that painters, and a wide variety of other artists have the ability to explain the reasons behind their work with the same frequency as photographers... and in all honesty, the reasons seem to be the same - most often: "I saw this, and I wanted to..."
Second, again rephrasing, "Why don't photographers discuss their work as often as painters?
I think they do. Both seem to be as reluctant, initially to "rant on", but if a certain level of inquiry takes pace, there could well be a flood of history behind the work.
Third, "Why don't photographers SAY what a photograph "means"?
... And why do they have to? In doing so, aren't they immediately accepting a failure to communicate - defeat? Wouldn't that be a "proof" that their work has not "communicated" ... that more is necessary to complete the work?
Or even, that we have to cheat by using another media to "make better" what we have done?
I remember reading that someone once asked Robert Frost to explain one of his poems. His answer, "What? Do you want me to say it WORSE?"
Now, all that said... There is a matter of "pre-conditioning" - Something that seems to be a major activity in Art Schools. The instructors says, "Look! There is the image of a bee flying around a pomegranate! That is a statement of deep sexual repression in our society. When we see this, we immediately experience the emotion of being repressed..."
We are "supposed to "see" and "experience" repression. Whether or not that is a natural reaction is not important: what matters is learning a language known only to insiders .. and by using that language we can become part of the "elite group". There is the key to a great deal of Art Criticism: How well the interpreter of the criticism is pre-conditioned... and the test of that pre-conditioning is "classroom critique and the student- critics defense of their critique.
To some, attaining membership in the "Elite Clique" is all-important. It was for me, once, many moons ago. It is NOT, now. Now I only want to SHARE what my work invokes in me.
I wonder ... what would be Monets' answer to "Why did you paint these water lilies" - and what does this mean?... or Rodins' to "Why did you sculpt "The Thinker" - and what does it mean?
A lot has been written about Ansel Adams' "Moonrise Over Hernandez" ... how he braked the car to an emergency stop, how he hurriedly set up his camera, how he had so little time to make the exposure, how the light was going away and his mental process of determining exposure.
With all that, I can't ever remember seeing an explanation of the questions here: "WHY did you make this photograph?", and "What does it mean"?
To hell with "bees and pomegranates".
Ed Sukach, FFP.
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There is both a danger, and an enlightenment, to providing a commentary on a picture, and different viewers will have a different take. For some, the commentary allows them to emotionally participate more deeply in the environment of the image: "I know that area. I can imagine myself standing where you were standing. I can hear and smell and feel what you felt when you made that image".
Some will not be enriched by the commentary, as has been illustrated by previous respondents; the experience may in fact be diminished by the information. The artist has no control over any of this, its just a fact relevent only to the viewer.
We are, however, sentient on more than one plane and with more than one sense. I personally vote for commentary that provides some context (if the image is about anything but colour or shapes). Even "Pepper #30" adds context to Weston's work. He could have just called it "Vegetable".
Most of us process pretty, graphical, colourful, emotional imagery as a matter of ordinary life. Many otherwise decent photos need a little more to get past the "Yeah, so?" point. That's what contextual commentary provides.
I'm probably the only one on the planet who thinks AA's Moonrise exists as an icon only because of the story. Yes, yes, I see the highlights etc, but without the lore, I wouldn't have ordinarily given that particular picture more than a second glance. But then, I don't "get" Pepper #30 either, but also haven't seen the original print. But I have handled hundreds of peppers in my lifetime...
At times, the title can "set the stage" for any work of art. The perception of any piece MAY be modified through an accompanying story/ description... sometimes that is desirable, sometimes NOT.
In My Humble Opinion, there is NO hard and fast rule that all photographs MUST be "explained" ... most of those that I have seen, many of my own, defy explanation. Does that cheapen or detract from them in some way?
I really take exception to the idea that, "If you cannot describe/ justify/ tell us WHY a photograph was made, you are not SERIOUS about your work."
I would suggest that everyone attend a few Life Classes, for the one and two minute poses. Wonderful exercises in "getting out of one's prison". There is not enough time - literally - to think, or to squeeze oneself into "doing the BEST I can". It is a matter of "getting lines on the paper"... If one tries to think, to analyze, to rationalize, and justify ... the pose changes, and we are left with one or two perfect, but meaningless lines.
What is a revelation is the quality of the work produced in these sessions. Most of the time (I hesitate to say "invariably", but damn close to it) the student is amazed at just how good the work is when the reflexes and pre-conscious overrides the conscious.
I understand the idea behind "deliberateness" - TRYING to make "good ones", but IMHO (again) spontaneity is ALSO a **very** useful tool.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
Here here! This is another angle on what I had said in my previous reply. While one may say that the juxtaposition of a bee and a pomegrantae speaks of sexual repression, that interpretation is dependant on the interpreter and the events shaping that interpreter! If an interpreter is from a different society, say Eastern vs. Western, would the second interpreter see the same repression? Likely not!
Originally Posted by Ed Sukach
Well, I think in addition to all the very good points already made, I think another one comes to mind. I would think that artists choose the medium they feel most comfortable with, or most capable of expressing what they want to convey. Photographers choose photographs... otherwise they would write a novel or a poem and be writers
I also don't think that the lack of stories or descriptions is necessarily a sign of arrogance on behalf of the artist. In a way, I think it could be seen as humility: you try your best to express what you feel through a given work - if people don't get it, perhaps you failed, and instead of attempting damage control, you go back to the drawing board to give the public what you feel they deserved in the first place. Combine that with the desire to let everyone experience a piece of work on their own personal level, and it almost becomes a policy of non-interference with the audience's right to their own perception.
Of course, some people are just arrogant pricks - there is no denying that fact. And some people, like me, have no delusionsof their own skill and are more than happy to explain whatever you want explained
By George... I think he's GOT IT!!
Originally Posted by gnashings
Well ... almost. I don't consider the use of some direction... say a title, or a short description, or even combining a poem with the exhibition - as totally forbidden... in fact I don't look at anything as being totally forbidden.
Frequently - or so - I'll place a title on my work; very rarely will I do more.
Ed Sukach, FFP.