12 october 2011
following up on previous post from 10 october
So there, we like to label things. When first perceiving something new, our brain instantly asks ‘what’s that?’ and we just as instantly try to answer with a name of the thing. Naming and labeling helps us categorize, feel familiar with, make sense of the multitude of things and stimulus we receive from our environment.
Knowing the label we believe to know the thing. Knowing the name of a thing or of a person, we assume to have familiarity with that thing or that person.
Jonathan? Sure, he lives in that house at the end of the road, doesn’t he? Sure, I know him.
Yes I have read that article on the famine in Africa, I know all about it, it’s horrible.
‘Mom! I don’t want you to take me to Europe, I hate Europe. I know, Bobby was there last year with his parents and he hated it, I know what it is like there!’.
But do we really? Can we know anything without having experienced it? Felt it and lived it? It is not a simple feat to distinguish between knowing and mere opinion, even be it ever so based on intellectual learnedness. We can read all we want and listen to as many teachers as we can find, unless we experience with our own bodies and mind our knowledge remains an intellectual construct. This is not to say such intellectual constructs can not be of real-life service. We do not need to jump or fall off the height of a 100 feet bridge to understand the consequences. Yet, even that is still only intellectual knowing and understanding.
Now how does all this relate to photography? Well, consider the last time you were at an art show, whether photography or other. The majority of works, even abstracts, were likely displayed along with a title. I am not referring to image-labels that simply provide a means of archival identification for the individual image, such as ‘Street Scene Paris # 5’, or ‘Yellow Flower’, but titles that say what the image is supposed to mean, to tell and inform, that provide the story.
Clearly, there are circumstances in which it is appropriate to add words to the image. Consider a photograph of a crowd in the street, clearly in uproar, yet the image does not provide any clue as to the reason for the uproar. In a documentary, journalistic context a title and possibly even lengthy words of explanation may be very appropriate. Were the image to be displayed as art, maybe for it’s purely photographic merits, however, how would a title influence our viewing and experience of the work?
We can consider various possibilities. If an image does not have the strength and clarity to express itself, can a title make up for it? Is it necessary for an image to ‘tell a story’ at all? Should the artist provide a meaning, an interpretation, along with the image? Why? Why not? Should we, as the audience and viewer, expect to be served a story and meaning along with the photograph? Every photograph?
When you look at images the next time, try to get a sense of how the mere reading of a label, a name, a title, influences the path our mind takes in interpreting and finding meaning in that work? How it shifts and directs the experience of the image. How it can subtly or not so subtly limit the relationship our own mind could create with the work.
Viewing art is an intimate exchange and communication that takes place within ourselves. It has the potential to find meaning from within the context of our own personal life experience that each of us, individually, brings into this exchange. We all relate not only to art, but to people and their behaviours, and events and circumstances in all areas of our lives, in our own personal ways.
Thus, I also prefer to decide for each image individually and depending on the context of use whether a title is necessary, desirable, or limiting the potential for the viewer, and if a title is chosen, which purpose it may serve and why. The title becomes an integral part of the final work, after all, and deserves the same deliberation as the image itself.
enjoy the autumn colours with or without meaning