My last seven posts were actually an exercise in photo-blog formatting. Namely, they tried to show how the online presentation of a photograph might affect the viewing experience. As a whole, they also serve to ask if photographers, especially street photographers, should be compelled to follow a given style for presenting their work on the internet.
Each of the seven posts featured a black and white image of the street photography genre; however, each was different in the way it presented the image. One difference was the amount of contextual information accompanying each photograph, from significant in Post 1 (a week ago) to practically nil in Post 7 (yesterday).
- In Post 1 there is a title, a caption, and extended information through a digression of sorts (hyperlinks to ‘relevant’ material).
- Post 2 has a title, a caption, and text which is a personal reflection.
- Post 3 contains a title but no caption; in its place are some specs about the image.
- Post 4 is untitled but has a caption.
- Post 5 has a title functioning as an attempted ‘punchline’.
- Post 6 contains a simple title.
- Post 7 has neither a title nor any text (except in the categories and tags).
> Click here to see all the posts on one page (in reverse order, i.e., from 7 to 1).
This exercise explores how the photographer (me) finalizes the creative process. However, it might as well be about how the viewer (you) connects–or not–to the photographs, notwithstanding any judgement of the images on their own.
Decorative Text or Naked Image
Recently when posting a photograph I have been inclined to include some information about it under the pretext of providing context or guidance. This is in the form of a title, caption, or block of text.
However, it has dawned on me that attempting to supply context or guidance may actually be a mistake because the accompanying text could prevent the photograph from ‘speaking for itself’. With context, it would appear less likely for that image to invite the viewer to speculate, reflect, or conjure questions (i.e., engage with the image) as a creative work should. On another level, that urge to add context or guidance may in fact reveal the photographer’s unconscious judgement that their image is bland and requires a crutch.
For if a photograph was aesthetically strong, adding text (at least extraneous text) would be unecessary and, in fact, could detract from the image.
There is also the undesired effect of ‘too much context’ (as in Post 1–possibly). This is the result of over-associating the image with something else. (Yet the contrary position might be that even this kind of viewing experience can have value and artistic potential for people of a certain nature–ardent fans of Umberto Eco might approve.)
Furthermore, one might argue that the ultimate example of ‘guidance’ is the punchline approach (such as in Post 5 or in Hiding Hydra, above), which results in what some may call a contrived presentation that makes the viewing experience somewhat fake or unwholesome. (The counter argument to this is that the punchline is integral to the viewing experience, and this makes it legitimate in addition to being ‘amusing’ or ‘clever’).
At the other extreme is an ideal: the naked image, with no accompanying information (such as in Post 7). Instead it invites the viewer to explore, interpret, and muse on the image in any way they wish. In other words, the image speaks for itself (or at least attempts to). But the obvious question is whether this is enough.
This apparent dichotomy (or rather, evident continuum) regarding text and guidance may be applicable to the visual arts as a whole, but it has particular relevance in street photography where truth and candidness are supposedly key components of the medium.
Thus the catalyst for this exercise came about; because while making blog posts (combining text and street photographs) I began to wonder to what extent this non-visual component enhanced–or interfered with–the viewing experience. I found myself asking:
- If a photograph was truthful, wouldn’t text be unnecessary?
- Is it justifiable to ‘improve’ a satisfactory–or even ‘good’–photograph with some added context, such as a caption, reflection, or punchline?
- Are street-photography bloggers compelled to follow by example the style of the uncontextualized photographs by Henri-Cartier Bresson (and other highly regarded master photographers) when presenting their work, even on the internet platform?
- Assuming that ideally a photograph should speak for itself, is there an acceptable margin for adding context or guidance in the digital era, where headings (titles), captions, categories, and tags (text) are prominent attributes of an image on a properly designed web page?
Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson (Alicante, Spain, 1933)
(Source: The RedList)
The collective response may be simple enough: just take the middle path, i.e., provide relevant information if you so desire, but keep it minimal in scope.
Yet maybe it depends on the purpose of the photograph, too. (A good, brief departure on the purpose of photographs is here). Perhaps, then, adding a punchline or some deeper context/digression may have merit if it is truly fitting and purposeful. Or, to stretch it a bit, maybe photographers of any genre should be free to choose any style to present their photographs (contextualized or not)–for art’s sake, as it were. On the other hand, it could be that by definition street photography should not include decorative text–in alignment with the principles of truth and candidness–unless, of course, text is integral to a photographer’s unique syle of expression as an artist, e.g., combining verse or a quotation with an image.
Over to You
Here are some questions to consider.
- Did you sense different viewing experiences when looking at Posts 1-7 ? Do you have a preference for any of the formats?
- When looking at photographs on blogs here on WordPress do you think that a title and text (or a certain style of title and text) appearing with an image produces a positive or negative viewing experience?
- If you have a photo-blog, do you follow a certain rationale regarding text when you post photographs?
These questions are especially directed at enthusiasts of street photography, but they can apply to photographers of any genre. Your thoughts are welcome in the comment box below.