Any time I can get my son out of the house to take pictures together, everything stops and we go to wherever he wants to; it’s not often he’s willing, even though I try to coax him quite often. So the other day he finally agreed to go and he chose the North Carolina Museum of Art as our destination. It was a wise choice since it was a sweltering and humid day, so being indoors with cooling air conditioning appealed to us both. It didn’t really matter what might be on display since we usually just wander around and photograph whatever piques our interest. Basically, we try to use the artwork simply as an instrument to create something that may be interesting to look at, and not have the photos resemble the actual paintings or sculpture in any way. We wander around, sometimes together and sometimes on our own, looking and trying different techniques to create something unique.
Most photographs will speak to us in their own way, if we only take the time to listen carefully…Clem Kadiddlehopper — photographer, philosopher, sage
Supplying the viewer of a photo with a title, provides a bit of additional information in order to produce an intended response or message from the image, but in doing so, may do a disservice to the viewer by suggesting that he or she cannot absorb the information within the photo to extract the photographer’s intent through a normal, visual interaction, and needs some gentle guidance. It could also suggest that there is only one correct takeaway from an image, when it’s possible there are many, many more. Another possibility is that the photographer has failed in conveying whatever intention, story or message there may have been for taking the photograph in the first place. Quite often, the inclusion of a title offers the exact information the maker wants to provide in order to lead the viewer to a desired conclusion, suggesting the idea, story or intention behind the photo, thereby possibly reducing the intensity of any engagement the viewer might otherwise experience.
I have to admit here that I have fallen victim to this on occasion as well, most recently titling a sequence from a morning shoot on the Outer Banks Spectacular Sunrise No.1, 2, etc. It was done to easily indicate to me which morning it was, and immediately bring to mind that day. It was not done to steer a viewer into believing it was indeed, a spectacular sunrise, when they may not have the same view, but the title nonetheless does make that inference.
The concept of titles was radically suggested by a photographer friend of mine many years ago as unnecessary, and should never be included since the image should speak for itself, and be heard by the viewer, as they see it, without any outside influences from what the photographer’s take is from the piece; a title being one of those outside influences. Along with the title, any background story of extra effort needed, or extraordinary circumstances to “get” a photo is totally irrelevant, especially if the photo is nothing special, since that effort will not make the image any better. For the most part, I completely agree that a title will influence the viewer’s initial response, but only if it’s read before viewing the image. It is possible, that by including one, the viewer can look at the image first, come to their own conclusion, and afterward, their conclusion can then either be validated or supplanted by what the title has to say about the image, or simply incorporate the title information into their own takeaway. Obviously, there are several ways to consider the idea of titles and their purposes, and whether or not they should be included with specific photographs.
The vast majority of the images I make generally involve the natural world, so it’s been an odd few months recently that most of the photographic interest and images seem to have veered away from it and landed on a few other types. Ever since Memorial Day morning, and the suddenly illuminated puff of fog, this summer the camera has been aimed mostly toward cities and towns. That same morning, as mentioned in a previous post, I headed off to downtown Raleigh to extend the short time photographing at Jordan Lake. About two weeks later, a small group met one morning in Selma, NC to see what we could find there, and a few days after that, we headed up to NJ to visit family after an absence that was way too long; and an unplanned photo excursion to Manhattan, the new Pennsylvania Station and World Trade Center site was squeezed into the schedule. Most recently, although not having gone out for any landscape photography except in my own backyard, some time was spent in front of the computer reprocessing a few recent images into final versions that are very, very atypical to say the least.
I suppose everyone has a driving force behind their desire to create, and for me it’s the landscape; always has been. But lately, that force has been all over the map in the chosen subjects: architecture, cityscapes, still life, conceptual, intentional camera movement, so many things that were not natural landscapes. I wonder what caused this sudden change in that primary interest? Is it temporary? Or is it a major shift in photographic preference? Boredom? What does all this have to do with the image at the top? I’ll get there eventually…
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