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?
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).....
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.
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.
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.
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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.
“...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?
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Truly, dr bob.
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.
Originally Posted by Bruce (Camclicker)
I love the smell of fixer in the morning. It smells like...creativity!
Truly, dr bob.
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.
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.