November 19th, 2016 … the Mechanics of Aesthetics
This will be a series of articles about what and how photography attempts to work. I say attempts because whether you are aware of this or not, it attempts to work. The title of this part is a key to what I’m getting at.
The Big Idea
The big idea of photography is to capture the light of something in a 3 dimensional world and make a new object on a 2 dimensional world. The photo can co-exist in the 3 dimensional world but the 3 dimensional world can’t exist in the 2 dimensional world or photo. There is a translation of realities that happens that forces us and allows us to hold witness to the new reality. It’s not always a pretty picture.
We hold witness to the moment of time and the photo made for it. That moment of time forces us to be accountable for the truth of the photo that marks the lie of the moment. See, the photo captures a fleeting moment of our life. As soon as you release the shutter, the photo, yet finished is already dead. It does not move with or change with time. It is a stagnant representation of what we felt necessary at the moment of exposure. Meanwhile, the reality that inspired the release of the shutter has breathed countless breathes to the future leaving us behind to make the truth as the camera saw it. That truth of the photo is the lie of the reality that inspired its existence.
Something that I learned on my own decades ago but do not claim to be the origin of, just the self discoverer of an uneducated photographer is….Titles. This has been a long arduous journey with many opinions from many different people. I always stood for what i believed to be the truth as I knew it, whether others believed in this truth or not.
The Truth About Titles
There are times to use a title and there are times not to use a title. A brief example: in police work as evidence, a photo usually needs a title or even more description. A Horticulturist may use a title in a photo of a flower to aid viewers in understanding the plant in the photo. A tourist on a journey may use titles on the photos to show location and other info. There are countless examples of using a title on a photo.
There is a common usage and purpose to most photos being with a title. That purpose is to provide information to the viewer as the viewer enters the world of the photo. It is a semi-description to aid the journey of the photo. This of course also sets to play, the dreaded preconceptions.
Shooters and Titles.
I was asked to curate photos for a project. So, it’s been going on for a while. I have seen many hundreds of photos. Almost every single photo has some sort of title to it. The titles are mostly descriptive and certainly have poisoned my mind. Try as I may, it’s impossible to enter the photo with a clean slate. Example: standing on the corner. Well, maybe that is the message wanted to pass on to the viewers but for me, when I enter the photo, I absolutely look for: standing on the corner. The shooter has given me the photo and told me what to see. It’s almost impossible to discover the beauty of the image. I am forced to seek the meaning of the title in the photo and not allowed to discover any hidden or not hidden meanings on my own.
Active vs Passive Title
We as photographers inherited the title crap from painters etc. Yeah, it’s true. So, here it is. An active title is like so: sunset at Mary’s, ferris wheel at 9:00 pm, John doing the jig and anything more descriptive then needed.
A passive title is like: Untitled, RT 61, Phila, New York, July 21st, 730 am Pittsburgh, Andrews Ave, Paris, The Outback, McDonalds…. a title like this presents a time and place but not descriptive to the point of interference of the investigation of the photo.
So, back to mt task of curating. After going thru hundreds of photos more then a few times, it seems to me the ones that are most interesting have a passive title. I didn’t go into this task seeking the title stuff, I went in to find my selection of photos. I saw photos that at first glance I liked, then saw a title and instantly felt locked in vision.
Portraits are also effected by titles. Of course it’s easier to get into a photo if it’s a portrait because of the nature of the image. A title usually doesn’t hinder the visual experience although it could. What does this all mean? Well, when you take your camera out and choose a lens, or get into LR and process, whatever, you give thought to what you are doing. If your serious, you tend to be aware of what you are doing. You also are very committed to your vision and making sure that photo you made represents you. We can get complacent with french fries and burgers and salad and tea and coffee but we dare not get complacent with our images.
Hold on now….hmmmm ya know, if we are that careful and loving about what we are doing, maybe, just maybe, I know it sounds crazy but…. maybe we should pay attention to titling our work and making sure the title supports OUR VISION and not detracts from it.
… go in peace my friends but go with a camera in hand …