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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Titles and Dreams
Old 09-03-2017   #1
Roger Hicks
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Titles and Dreams

Two new pieces on my .eu site: one photographic, about choosing titles for pictures, and the other more philosophical, about the nature of dreams.

What are your thoughts on titles? And indeed dreams?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-03-2017   #2
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Actually, I’ve always enjoyed choosing a title for a picture. I usually try for something witty (at least to me). For example, I photographed a bride-to-be several years back next to an open barn door. The door had a large wooden brace that looked like the letter “Z.” I titled the picture, “The Bride of Zorro.” (perhaps an in-joke for those who grew up in the U.S. in the 1950’s, and recall watching “Zorro” on TV).

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Old 09-03-2017   #3
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I prefer to be an invisible artist and let the work speak for itself. If I have to come up with a title, then I prefer the title to be quite literal rather than interpretive, e.g., "Woman holding a child." I'd prefer the viewer to interpret the image through their own experiences.
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Old 09-03-2017   #4
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I agree with the opinion that a photograph should speak for itself. Helping with the title is a bit of a cheating Well, I like good titles that help/complement, but to me it's already beyond the photography, we are into different form of art... Which is ok, but I would like to judge the picture based on the merits of what I see, not what I read. But then again - sometimes one need to tell the story where both picture and words are needed...
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Old 09-03-2017   #5
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Giving a project a title – even a pretentious one – is fine IMO but I dislike titles for individual photographs that go beyond specifying the location and date or the name of the subject. I particularly loathe "witty" titles which usually strike me as just a desperate attempt to make a pedestrian photograph seem interesting. For the photograph in the article, "Loudun, 2017" seems perfectly appropriate.
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Old 09-03-2017   #6
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I never take single, standalone photographs - all my photographs belong to series. Each series has a title, but the photographs within may be untitled or titled - depending on which adds to what I'm trying to say with the work.

A couple of examples... The first is from my series Digital Archaeology, about technology, consumerism and obsolescence. The photographs are presented on lightboxes, halfway between illuminated adverts and museum artefacts, and each is titled like a museum display. They have titles like "Apple iPhone 4S. Touchscreen smartphone, circa 2011". Also, an artist's statement is pretty much compulsory for contemporary artworks, so all my series have one (though I try to minimise the worst excesses of "art speak" while bearing in mind art critics seeing my work expect that kind of art historical/philosophical/theoretical background).

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The second is from my series Tempus Fugit No. 2: memento mori, reminding us to get on and live life and take chances rather than let time slip away being couch potatoes watching interminable TV. These photographs are untitled, and when hung in a gallery are labelled "Untitled, 2007", etc. This one I've unofficially named "still life"!

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Old 09-03-2017   #7
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I think images should speak for themselves, and therefore I am not keen on giving images titles; but sometimes you are required to for shows, so I grin and bear it, and just give an image an obvious descriptor. I thinks it's mostly gallery driven so they can keep track of inventory and sales, not for some esoteric art reason.
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Old 09-03-2017   #8
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First rule of photojournalism: A picture is worth a 1000 words IF accompanied by an informative caption. Some pictures do not need titles; sometimes a place or a person's name is enough; other times a title can enrich the viewing experience. When I see pictures in the gallery without titles, I often just get annoyed because the picture alone raises more questions than it answers. To insist that your pictures should never need a title sounds snobbish. Needs will always vary.
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Old 09-03-2017   #9
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Why clutter up a perfectly good title with a boring old picture?
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Old 09-03-2017   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ian_watts View Post
Giving a project a title – even a pretentious one – is fine IMO but I dislike titles for individual photographs that go beyond specifying the location and date or the name of the subject. I particularly loathe "witty" titles which usually strike me as just a desperate attempt to make a pedestrian photograph seem interesting. For the photograph in the article, "Loudun, 2017" seems perfectly appropriate.
Dear Ian,

Except that I take lots of pictures in Loudun, of many different subjects, in any given year. This means that your suggested title is useless as an identifier: I might as well call it "France, 2017". Or "Somewhere in the world, sometime." Or "Untitled".

This is in many ways the point of the article: being able to identify a picture. Most people don't even know (or care) where Loudun is. Otherwise it's "a picture of somewhere, dunno where, by some bloke whose name I can't remember. It has a plaster leg in it."

I completely agree about "witty" titles, as I said in the piece, which is why I like simple but descriptive titles. Though again as I say in the article, words-and-pictures together can sometimes be interdependent, as in The Secret Life of Chairs.

Addressing a point that others make, indeed, a picture should often "speak for itself" and usually encourage the person looking at it to use their own imagination. But if it's any good it will probably do that anyway: I can't see why an identifier would stop it doing that.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-03-2017   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
I think images should speak for themselves, and therefore I am not keen on giving images titles; but sometimes you are required to for shows, so I grin and bear it, and just give an image an obvious descriptor. I thinks it's mostly gallery driven so they can keep track of inventory and sales, not for some esoteric art reason.
Few would argue with the highlight, though it's important to add that a title also helps with reviews and analyses. If you see lots of pictures, and talk about them or write about them, it's usually quite useful to be able to identify the picture concisely by its title.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2017   #12
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Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Except that I take lots of pictures in Loudun, of many different subjects, in any given year. This means that your suggested title is useless as an identifier: I might as well call it "France, 2017". Or "Somewhere in the world, sometime." Or "Untitled".
Yes, I understand that but I would ask why you feel that photograph needs an "identifier"? If it's a stock shot it'll presumably have a file name or can be given a catalogue number. If it's a piece of fine art and you feel it absolutely must be identifiable from the title, presumably the most simple descriptive title sufficient to distinguish it from others is sufficient? – e.g. 'Leg, Loudon, 2017'.
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Old 09-04-2017   #13
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Some titles are so pretentious they detract from the photograph. Some titles are so vague they are usually ignored and forgotten.

Although I admire his work tremendously, Frederick Sommer's titles often make we roll my eyes. The title "Circumnavigation of the Blood" is, at least to me, off-putting yet the photograph itself is, again to me, haunting and memorable.

But if you ask someone to describe William Eggleston's "Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973" you're likely to get only a puzzled look. But say "Red Ceiling" and many would immediately recognize the photograph in question.

Personally, I seldom title photographs other than person, place and date. I prefer to let the viewer mentally entitle the work based on how they see the photograph...if they see anything memorable at all.
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Old 09-04-2017   #14
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I'm a descriptor and year type of tiltler. I doubt I'll ever have two decent photos of the same thing in one year.
About "humorous" titles, when I used to judge camera club competitions, the "humorous" titled pictures were always the most garish cliched nonsense. After a few images I never looked at the title until after I'd scored the image, sometimes it's hard to seperate a bad title from an otherwise not bad image.
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Old 09-04-2017   #15
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When you go to a museum or art gallery, do you look for a title to a piece of art? And then when you go to the coffee shop to discuss what you've seen, do you really refer to that piece of art by its title? I guess I've been doing it wrong all these decades, because I just describe the piece. How does it help describing Renoir's painting of a girl with a watering can as "Girl with a Watering Can", or, more to the point, Diane Arbus's photograph of a kid holding a hand grenade as" "Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park"? If I go to a photography exhibit, I'm not going to remember 30-40 titles, especially if they are not descriptive.
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Old 09-04-2017   #16
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Originally Posted by ian_watts View Post
Yes, I understand that but I would ask why you feel that photograph needs an "identifier"? If it's a stock shot it'll presumably have a file name or can be given a catalogue number. If it's a piece of fine art and you feel it absolutely must be identifiable from the title, presumably the most simple descriptive title sufficient to distinguish it from others is sufficient? – e.g. 'Leg, Loudon, 2017'.
Dear Ian,

For the first point, simple memorability: an alphanumeric accession identification means absolutely nothing, whereas a title tells you (or should in my view tell you) something useful about the picture, to help you remember it.

For the second point, we are in fundamental agreement except over one basic consideration: what constitutes "the most simple descriptive title sufficient to distinguish it from others". For me, this IS the title I used. My memory is crowded. "Plaster leg in magazine rack" stimulates a lot more neurons than just "leg"; and I find the date completely irrelevant except for placing a picture by someone else in historical context. I have taken tens of thousands of pictures over the last half century. Many have appeared in books -- others' books as well as my own -- and in magazines, quite apart from on line; and I have had quite a few exhibitions.

Also, I have used many others' pictures in my books and magazine articles. For some years now, I have had a regular weekly column in Amateur Photographer magazine, Final Analysis. Here is an example. For others, Google "Roger Hicks Final Analysis".

In all this, memorable identifiers are invaluable. I do not propose that my ideas will work for everyone: "one size fits all" is normally a recipe for disaster. But if you are serious about your photography, and reasonably competent, the chances are that sooner or later your pictures will fall into the hands of those who use words to describe them. Indeed if they do not, your pictures are quite likely always to remain little known. It is, therefore, rarely a bad idea to furnish your pictures with a unique, memorable, verbal identifier.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2017   #17
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I'm a descriptor and year type of tiltler. I doubt I'll ever have two decent photos of the same thing in one year.
About "humorous" titles, when I used to judge camera club competitions, the "humorous" titled pictures were always the most garish cliched nonsense. After a few images I never looked at the title until after I'd scored the image, sometimes it's hard to seperate a bad title from an otherwise not bad image.
Dear Michael,

But it's not just the same year. I've lived just over 10 miles from Loudun for almost 15 years. I really don't care much whether I took a given picture in 2007 or 2015. Why would I? The subject matter, though, is much more important to me.

I completely agree about the regrettable correlation between bad pictures and bad captions, though, and about the way that a bad caption can (and all too often often does) drag down an otherwise competent or even good picture.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2017   #18
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Also, I have used many others' pictures in my books and magazine articles. For some years now, I have had a regular weekly column in Amateur Photographer magazine, Final Analysis. Here is an example. For others, Google "Roger Hicks Final Analysis".
A better title would have been "Green and Gold Living Room"; I wouldn't know a Pucci chair if I was sitting in one. And why is the image credit to Amateur Photographer instead of Nancy Baron?
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Old 09-04-2017   #19
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When you go to a museum or art gallery, do you look for a title to a piece of art? And then when you go to the coffee shop to discuss what you've seen, do you really refer to that piece of art by its title? I guess I've been doing it wrong all these decades, because I just describe the piece. How does it help describing Renoir's painting of girl with a watering can as "Girl with a Watering Can", or, more to the point, Diane Arbus's photograph of a kid holding a hand grenade as" "Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park"? If I go to a photography exhibit, I'm not going to remember 30-40 titles, especially if they are not descriptive.
The examples you give are comparatively easy to describe. Do I look for a title? Rarely. Do I remember it if I see it? Usually. Do the best titles normally fit the subject well? Pretty much invariably.

Your "I guess I've been doing it wrong all these decades" is a classic example of defensive "one size fits all" thinking. You've been doing it right for you. Fine. You've been doing it wrong for me. Whether that's your problem or mine depends on how we're discussing things.

Also, I'd have thought that most of us wouldn't need to remember 30-40 titles. We'd remember the pictures (and the titles) that are important to us: usually, a handful.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2017   #20
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A better title would have been "Green and Gold Living Room"; I wouldn't know a Pucci chair if I was sitting in one. And why is the image credit to Amateur Photographer instead of Nancy Baron?
Highlight: Because that's where THE ARTICLE came from. Did you not notice the very first paragraph in the link? Or are you so determined to argue that you ignore anything that does not suit you?

And no, that wouldn't have been a better title. It might have suited you better because you can't be bothered to learn what a Pucci chair is. I didn't know either. So I Googled it. I am more interested in learning than I am in trying to demonstrate my ignorance.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2017   #21
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Why clutter up a perfectly good title with a boring old picture?
Dear Jack,

For many pictures, this is the perfect answer!

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2017   #22
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Also, I'd have thought that most of us wouldn't need to remember 30-40 titles. We'd remember the pictures (and the titles) that are important to us: usually, a handful.
If I go to an exhibit, I would need to remember all the titles because the handful of images that were important to me might not be the handful of images that were important to the persons with whom I am discussing the exhibit, and I would want to know which ones they were talking about.
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Old 09-04-2017   #23
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Highlight: Because that's where THE ARTICLE came from. Did you not notice the very first paragraph in the link? Or are you so determined to argue that you ignore anything that does not suit you?
Great. I am going to write an article about HCB and give myself all the image credits, because that is where THE ARTICLE comes from.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
And no, that wouldn't have been a better title. It might have suited you better because you can't be bothered to learn what a Pucci chair is. I didn't know either. So I Googled it. I am more interested in learning than I am in trying to demonstrate my ignorance.
So now I need to Google the titles to know what they mean. So much for easy memorability. What kind of mannequin leg is in your picture? Maybe it is a Hans Boodt or a Bernstein or a Mader? There's your title: "The Mader Leg and All the Rest". Now everyone can Google "Mader" to see what you are getting at.

And why is it always when someone disagrees with you, such person is being merely argumentative? I just happen to disagree with a lot of what you have to say, and offer a different opinion. And I am not even going to touch your article on dreams.
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Old 09-04-2017   #24
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Great. I am going to write an article about HCB and give myself all the image credits.

And no, that wouldn't have been a better title. It might have suited you better because you can't be bothered to learn what a Pucci chair is. I didn't know either. So I Googled it. I am more interested in learning than I am in trying to demonstrate my ignorance.
So now I need to Google the titles to know what they mean. So much for easy memorability.[/quote]
I refer you to the previous post. Paragraph 1, remember? "The Pucci chair and all the rest, by Nancy Baron". Which bit did you not understand?

You don't find the title memorable? You've no desire to learn something new, or even to work it out from context, i.e. that there might be a particular kind of chair in the picture, perhaps designed or made by someone named Pucci? OK: your loss. Not Ralph Pucci's. Not Nancy Baron's. Not mine.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2017   #25
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. . . And why is it always when some one disagrees with you, such person is being merely argumentative? . . . .
That's not fair. Sometimes they're just ignorant. Sometimes proudly so. Time to hit the ignore button, I think.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2017   #26
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That's not fair. Sometimes they're just ignorant. Sometimes proudly so. Time to hit the ignore button, I think.
So now when someone disagrees with you and offers a different opinion, not only are they being merely argumentative, they are also ignorant. More ad hominem. What an ego!
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Old 09-04-2017   #27
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I hope I've got better at titles over the years. As much as I do love puns, I have made an effort to resist using those as titles.

But, after reading your article, Roger, and this thread, I think I may need to give more thought to my titling.

I have mostly used simple descriptives as titles but to any one else , I suspect they are not very helpful.
"Waiting for Water" doesn't tell you anything about what that photo is. And while "Waiting for Spring" might be better, that still isn't especially descriptive of what the photo actually is.

And, I have not included the photo itself here: most people reading the titles will have some image in their minds about the photo--I suppose a few may remember it--but, I suspect, that idea is not anything close to what I shot.

So, a better title for that might be some variation of "Boats Hanging for Winter Storage."
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rob_bi...in/dateposted/

Which all leads me to the idea that titles and photos ought to reinforce each other.

Now I just need to work out how I'm going to apply that idea to my photos.

Rob
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Old 09-04-2017   #28
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I hope I've got better at titles over the years. As much as I do love puns, I have made an effort to resist using those as titles.

But, after reading your article, Roger, and this thread, I think I may need to give more thought to my titling.

I have mostly used simple descriptives as titles but to any one else , I suspect they are not very helpful.
"Waiting for Water" doesn't tell you anything about what that photo is. And while "Waiting for Spring" might be better, that still isn't especially descriptive of what the photo actually is.

And, I have not included the photo itself here: most people reading the titles will have some image in their minds about the photo--I suppose a few may remember it--but, I suspect, that idea is not anything close to what I shot.

So, a better title for that might be some variation of "Boats Hanging for Winter Storage."
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rob_bi...in/dateposted/

Which all leads me to the idea that titles and photos ought to reinforce each other.

Now I just need to work out how I'm going to apply that idea to my photos
.

Rob
Dear Rob,

Yeah, that's pretty much it. As is the point about the meaningfulness (and usefulness) of the title to others. And of course puns!

THINK is the magic word. As I say, there's no "one size fits all".

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-04-2017   #29
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As much as I do love puns, I have made an effort to resist using those as titles.
I'm not much of a photographer so yeah, I do mostly puns or just pretentious artsy titles

If I'd ever properly exhibit anything... I'd probably still do it
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Old 09-04-2017   #30
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I must say that almost all the responses in this thread are more amusing than my first impulse at responding, which is that I don't ordinarily give my pictures titles. But then again, my favorites are portraits of people I know, which is interpretive, of course, but not in a way that lends itself to choosing a title. "John Smith, December 1985" kind of sums it up. Then again, the particular pleasure of all this activity, for me, is less "Art" for those "out there" and more the perversity of seeing what 30 years has done to a person . . . I provide a certain technical competence. But it is time and tide that is doing the work here.

Interesting question Roger. As always, it is a pleasure to sip from the pot you have stirred!

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Old 09-04-2017   #31
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Two new pieces on my .eu site: one photographic, about choosing titles for pictures, and the other more philosophical, about the nature of dreams.

What are your thoughts on titles? And indeed dreams?

Cheers,

R.
Other than factually labeling a photo to document content
such as "New York City Skyline 1938"

giving titles to photographs makes no more sense to me
than giving titles to strangers you pass on the street.

A photo stands or falls on its own in the eyes of the viewer,
winning with some and losing with others.

If a photographer feels the need to label their pics beyond factual content,
its usually a sign to me that they have failed as a photographer.

Stephen
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Old 09-04-2017   #32
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Some years ago when I was still selling framed photos in exhibits, I would be asked to place a title on each photo. This may be due to having most artists using oils and watercolors, and having titles seems to be part of the final product for them. I recall having many photos with the title "Pensacola Beach Sunset" .... I had a good laugh one evening when two people inspecting my framed photos at an exhibit commented on the "beautiful calligraphy". They meant my scribbled signature with a marker!
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Old 09-04-2017   #33
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I would prefer not to see things so Black and White.... such stern rules

When it works it Works... when it does not, oh well
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Old 09-04-2017   #34
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For works of fine art / conceptual photography, a more elaborate title is often more than fitting, I find. And even when it isn't, it's not hard to look past the title.
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Old 09-06-2017   #35
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Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...

A poet titles the poem. A song writer titles the song. A painter titles the painting. A sculpter titles the sculpt. So on and so forth...

If a photographer is an artist then whatever the photographer wants to do in relations to the photograph is up to the artist. Give it a title, give it a number, give it a nothing; give it a chance at being remembered as something worth remembering.

All I am saying is give it a break - or at least, give some wine a try; preferable a red wine, perhaps a good cheap one with great taste and a title.
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Old 09-06-2017   #36
ptpdprinter
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Another question to ask is: in actual practice, when do you title your images? Do you title your images when you edit them, when you print them, when you mount or frame them, when you post them on the web or show them to friends, or when you exhibit them is a show?
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Old 09-06-2017   #37
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Another, question. When do you read the title? I would never read the title first, so the first 'reading' of the picture is without the benefit of the title. Even when a picture is offered with more information, like Chris Crawford's work I take that in AFTER I've taken in the image.

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Old 09-06-2017   #38
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
Another question to ask is: in actual practice, when do you title your images? Do you title your images when you edit them, when you print them, when you mount or frame them, when you post them on the web or show them to friends, or when you exhibit them is a show?
Often before I take them, though many of my photographs are deliberately named "Untitled" since they will be part of series - and it's the series that needs a name not the images in it.
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