The first school of thought is strongly against it. The image should speak for itself and there is no need to add any distractions in terms of a title or brief description. It is up to the viewer to see, experience and interpret the image. Based on heated conversations online, I suspect that most photographers subscribe to this notion.
I don’t share this opinion. Here’s why.
My entire photographic career is based on one important pillar. Photography is a form of conversation between the photographer and viewer. And as such it is required that both sides participate in this exchange or experience.
This notion of a conversation has always guided my work, even if I don’t think about it. It goes even deeper. As early as my observation process I am already hunting for a visual narrative. I am not interested in documenting things although, given the minimal intervention to my images (no adding or deleting any elements, minimal post-processing), they could all be characterized as document-style photographs.
This visual narrative is the starting point of the conversation. It is of prime importance in my work. Adding titles to the imagery enhances this process by providing the audience with a hint, an invitation, a sort of a mystery. For example, some of my titles are not directly linked to the image – the viewer is required to go deeper into the image and find the connection between the title and the image. Notice that I am not taking away the entire experience. Most of my work has some underlying abstract, making the combination of title and visuals one cohesive but highly tempting, mysterious summons. Most of my images are “unfinished photographs” from a narrative perspective.
But there is another layer to this issue. After years of experimentation and mixing genres I now approach photography as a performance art. When I decide to share my image online, not only do I start a conversation, but it becomes a presentation – almost a stage act. Therefore, the way I present my images, context, frame, even time… becomes a part of the image and yes, I am a sort of conductor.
Of course, it always starts with a strong image. That’s a proviso. You can spend a huge amount of money building the set but if the play is just written and acted mechanically, it won’t work. The same here.
Last but not least, the entire process extends my photographic process well beyond the capture stage. When I teach my workshops, I dedicate a generous amount of time to what I call “Reviewing and presenting your image.” This is a valuable period when you spend a lot of time with your image – evaluating, experiencing and eventually deciding if you should share the image and in what form. For me it is like a second art – as if I was taking the image again – this time on a much deeper more personal level. I am not afraid to share this stage with my viewer. This is where the title comes in. I could spend weeks viewing an image and developing narratives around it in my imagination. But view it as an invitation to a highly personal experience between you and me. Yes, it is me who sends the invitation, but it is up to you to accept it so we can experience the image together. We both write the narrative. We become creator and audience, as one.
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