Lately I can’t stop thinking about the impact of words on our photography. The way in which our descriptions, or lack thereof, can give the photograph a totally different meaning. To the point where often the words can transform a fairly mediocre image into something viewed as being better than it really is.
Take a look at this photo.
My Dad a few years back as we were out hiking around. The morning sun was casting a nice glow on the scene as he stood looking over the landscape, and I saw the moment and captured it.
Here’s the thing. Look at this photo again.
I made this photo a while back of a man in his later stages of life. This moment, as he stood and looked over the sprawling hills, the morning sun washed the scene in a glowing warmth. That warmth battled with the cool morning air of Spring. A battle between cold darkness and warm daylight. As the warmth washed over him, he thought of the coldness of life. It had taken everything from him, his Mother years ago, a sister some years after. He felt the coldness inside as he wondered how long until it took him too. The cold inside battling with the warmth of the morning light, the promise of another day that’s been given, he paused and just took it all in.
Ok, one last time. Look at this photo again.
Daybreak | Fujifilm X100T | ISO 200 | 1/480th | f/5.0
See what I mean? In the first viewing I left a very basic description of the scene. In the second I left a very vivid, yet in this photo’s case, fictional story to accompany the photo. The third I simply gave a one word title with the camera info. Each method I’ve used when sharing my work, yet each creates a different impact.
It really has me thinking about what people are seeing when they look at my work. Are their comments and feelings about the photo based on the photo itself or based on whatever sort of comments or story I’ve posted with it?
If the words that go along with a photo carry such weight, is it a good thing to attach them to the photos? On one hand, if the story you share with your images can lead to a greater appreciation of the image or images, isn’t that the goal? But on the other hand, if it’s the story behind the photo that is resonating with people, how can you ever know if your actual photography is any good? Are the actual photos having an impact or is it just the caption or story causing the reaction to the work?
I’m really not sure what the right answer is. I suppose each side has it’s merits and in the end it’s up to us to decide what we feel is best.
Yet I can’t help but carry a fear that my words are carrying more weight than my photos? I would feel terrible if I knew I was sharing very mediocre photo work, but my written words that accompany that work blind the viewer to the mediocrity of the actual photograph. I’d love it if one was equal to the other, both standing on their own while also complimenting and enhancing each other.
In a perfect world that’s how it would work, but the world isn’t perfect.
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