Monday, July 16 , 2018, 1:23 pm | Fair 72º

 
 
 

Paul Burri: If a Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words, Do They Need Titles?

In most cases, photographs speak for themselves

This is an ongoing argument between one of my friends and me. It also comes up at the local camera club I belong to.

Some say yes; some say no. I say, “Yes and no.”

Those who say yes, say that a title enhances the picture and adds another dimension to it. That is certainly the case, but only sometimes. There are many times when a title is unnecessary and superfluous. Those are sometimes called “dictionary titles” or “horse titles.” Open the dictionary and look up camel and you will see a picture of a camel. Look up horse and you will see a picture of a horse, and the title below the picture will be “horse.” Necessary? No. Superfluous? Yes.

If there is a picture of a sunset, does it improve the picture if the picture is titled “Sunset”? Yes, yes we can see that; that’s a horse title. How about “Sunset over Saint Jean Cap Ferrat”? Perhaps that improves it, but not much. How about a portrait of Uncle Charlie? What should this portrait be titled? “Uncle Charlie” springs to mind, but it doesn’t do too much for the portrait, does it?

There are any number of pictures where a title is simply unnecessary and superfluous, including portraits, sunsets, pattern shots, still lifes, abstracts, many action shots and most nature shots.

And by the way, do you think that Leonardo da Vinci put that title on the Mona Lisa? Or Michelangelo on the David? My guess is that those titles were added many years later for the convenience of referring to those works of art. Would they be any more or less exquisite or valuable if they were called “Portrait of a Woman” or “Naked Warrior”?

Yet there are many pictures that are enhanced by a clever title. A memorable picture taken by a member of the Channel City Camera Club was a nude — shot from behind — holding a straw hat that hid almost nothing. By itself this was a spectacular picture, but in this case the title put it into a category of its own. The title? “What to Wear.” In this case, the creative title added a further dimension to a spectacular shot.

But a picture that is well composed, dramatic, unique, creative or eye-catching does not need a title. It stands on its own. Its beauty and creativity are such that a title adds nothing to it. An example of a picture that needs no title is the one of two Emperor penguins facing each other that is used frequently to advertise Canon cameras. Would it be a better picture if I titled it, “Come Here Often”? Perhaps.

What all visual artists should strive for: pictures that do not need titles. Pictures that “speak for themselves.”

Or so it seems to me. What do you think?

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer, guerrilla marketer and iconoclast. He is available to local organizations for speaking engagements and to local businesses for business consulting and/or mentoring. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul.

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