Communication is key. That’s a refrain we hear all throughout life. In relationships, in the workplace, and elsewhere, too. I think it extends out to photography, as well, and in ways, we might not normally imagine. Photography—and all art—is a type of communication in which we’re transmitting meanings and emotions to the people who enjoy our work.
In all of this communicating, there are details that we probably overlook, or that we take as a matter of course without really thinking about what these details are communicating to our viewers. Titles are one example of this. There are all kinds of ways to title an image. Give it a meaningful name, title it with the location at which you took it, or give it no title at all.
Each of these things communicates something different. If there is no title present, then you make no demands on the viewer. That’s why some photographers eschew titles—because they want their viewers to consider the image without any extraneous information that may skew the interpretations that individual viewers come up with. Titling images by location asks viewers to consider it in the context of the location. Giving a meaningful title is a way to add layers of meaning to a photograph if you so desire.
But that’s just one example. There are all these other little details that we can use to communicate certain things. This includes stuff like the blurb you’ve written for the image, if you’ve written one, or in books, the foreword, explanations and other bits of text to accompany images. Even small things like edition numbers can convey something to a viewer by telling people that only a certain number of these prints will ever be produced—which limits you to adhering to that number, or to releasing new editions with different numbering.
It’s worth thinking about each of these things carefully. Why? The answer is simple: Because when you commit a title, edition number or a bit of text to a photograph, these are pieces of information that will follow that photograph always. Wherever it goes in the world and all throughout history, this information will continue to add to—or take away from—the image.
And that’s a hefty burden when you stop to consider it. We so often consider these little pieces of extra information as something of an afterthought. But once affixed to an image, they’re tied to that image for the image’s lifetime, which means that these things should be considered just as carefully as the photograph itself. But as with the creation of the image itself, the effort is worth it. Art often outlasts the artist, and when done well, these pieces of information can go on to enhance the photograph’s meanings for decades to come. As they say, the devil is in the details, and it’s time well spent sorting and perfecting these details to make each photograph the most complete experience possible.