Photography – The role of text

In my post,, I was musing about the role of text to accompany photography.  Yesterday, I read the most recent blog post at Visions of the Heart where the author really makes the point about text accompanying photography.  And since he’s an authority, I’ll quote his words here;

“I’d like to begin by drawing attention to the text that goes along with this particular image:
Three women, survivors of the violence, watched as the remains of relatives and friends who were killed in the early 1980s are exhumed.

It’s a very powerful image but the text adds to it, so I want to begin by focusing on the importance of text with photographs. When I was first involved in photography — and it’s an old canard that still floats around the photographic community — it was said that a photograph should not need text, that any photograph that needs text is not as good a photograph as it could or should be. That is to say, photographs are not supposed to need text. This is conventional wisdom, but I just cannot disagree with it more. Not all photographs need text, certainly, that goes without saying. But a photograph like this one is so empowered by having the additional text it would be a shame not to.

So many photographs are, essentially, stories. Without the story the photograph just isn’t as interesting as it could be. This is still an interesting photograph even if you have no idea who these women are, if you don’t know anything about Guatemala or about the internal strife there, or that they’re sitting on the edge of an exhumation of people who were killed as a result of the violence. But, when you know this context, it enhances and perhaps changes entirely the ways that we’re predisposed to interpret this photograph. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why so many people think that photographs should not need text is because text does influence the way we look at photographs.

In my way of thinking, a photograph is a means of communicating. In this case, it’s communicating the story of these people. It’s doing so graphically, but it’s also doing so textually. Any photograph that purports to tell a story is likely — is probably — going to be enhanced by the text. As photographers we need to spend as much time learning the skills of preparing text, gathering text, writing text, editing text, the power of language, and the nuance of words. These are important skills for us supposedly “graphic artists” because so many times we’ll find that we’ll need them in order to communicate the stories more effectively. This is particularly true in print, in magazines, in books, and sometimes even with wall art. Even an exhibition of photographs have text that goes with them on the placard next to it — a title, a date, or a location. All of those things tell us something about the photograph and communicate part of the story. Pay attention to text because it’s important.”  Brooks, Lenswork

It’s good sometimes to get your thoughts validated!  In the past month I’ve been trying some different formats such as descriptions and captions to add to my images to see how that works.  With this explanation from him, I’ll make it a common practice!  And work on my captioning skills.


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