Illumination I, 2000 

Titles have always been challenging for me. While I always use a working title for a developing series, often, I don’t know what to title the works until I truly understand them – and that can be long after they’ve been created. Sometimes I change the titles of a few of my images after I’ve released them.

Most of my images, being a combination of at least two images from different times and places, don’t fit the typical place date format. To date, I’ve only used this type of title for one series, Antarctica, because I want that work to be seen as more editorial in nature.

Because I want to leave plenty of room for the viewer, I avoid titles that impose a single interpretation on a work of art – Exhibit A : Evidence Of My Failed Relationships. I also don’t want a title to make up for what’s not already strongly felt in an image – Unimaginable Grace.

Initially, I grouped work according to the dominant natural element in it, using a set of six series, interlocking because many images can fit into more than one series, under one larger title – Elemental: Dreaming In Stone; Waterway; Fire Within; Aerial Boundaries; Songs From Wood; and Animalia.

Later, I came to understand there was a further reason I didn’t use standard place/date titles. I want my images to be seen not as records of things (a materialistic viewpoint) but as traces of processes (a wholistic viewpoint).

I’d like to use an active verb for my titles, but the image isn’t the active process itself, it’s some thing made from observing processes. So instead of the word Illuminating, I use the word Illumination.

I use a number to indicate the order of creation in a series.

The date attributed is the date of release, not the date of exposure.

Read How To Title Your Images here.

Read more about how writing can help stimulate your creativity.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Neko Harbor, Antarctica, 2007

(Watch how focus and content shifts when these alternate titles are used – Freezing Point, Glacial Retreat, Blue, Constellation.)

When in doubt, when selecting titles for your images keep them simple and neutral. Less is more, more or less.

Good titles complement works by giving viewers more relevant information that makes their experience richer, indicating it’s creator’s relationship towards a subject and medium and audience, suggesting but not limiting attention to dimensions of a work that might otherwise remain overlooked, all the while leaving room for viewer’s extended interpretation.

Bad titles dominate or subvert works by attempting to make up for what’s missing, focus attention on one aspect of work and deflect attention from others, add heavy-handed interpretation leaving less room for viewer participation, or tell viewers rather than show them.

To avoid bad titles, rather than becoming a master of language, keep it simple. While there are notable examples where this maxim has been defied with success ­– singer/songwriter Fiona Apple titled one of her albums with a complete poem containing over four hundred characters causing a buzz-worthy stir which reinforced her reputation for being both poetic and eccentric ­– at a minimum it takes a significant flair for style or even genius to pull a stunt like this off.

You might be tempted to keep it really simple. Remember, Untitled is still a title. It’s the most neutral to the point of being non-descript and almost uninformative. Sometimes it works – well. Many times, it’s not enough. But eliminating it altogether and simply stating the medium used is almost always never enough.

In a majority of cases, just a little more will do just fine. The classic convention for titling an image is to identify the subject (name the person, place or thing) and add the date of creation: if it’s a photograph use the date of exposure; if it’s a painting use the date of completion; if it’s a composite photograph default to the latter; if it’s an image of an historic event add the date of the event in the first part of the title and add the date of completion of the image.

It’s the times when this convention doesn’t fit that more creativity is warranted.

Use this list as a springboard for exploring your options.

1     List the subject and date, Neko Harbor, Antarctica, 2007 for instance.

2     State a relationship to the subject, yours or someone else’s; i.e. My Mother or Her Home.

3     Use a general category for the subject rather than an individual one, such as Slave or Statistic.

4     Name a formal element in the work – number, shape, color, size, etc.

5     Refer to another medium, such as poetic or musical form.

6     Loosely interpret the subject subjectively; similes and metaphors often work well here, such as Smells Like Teen Spirit.

7     Use a technical term, related to either the subject or the creation of the work, in a way that furthers more inquiry, Ascent or Descent for example.

8     State what the subject is not – Is Not Untitled.

9      Create a contradiction ­– think of Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe entitled This Is Not A Pipe.

You’ll no doubt find ways to expand this list.

It’s interesting to note that when you keep it simple and conventional, specificity works in your favor, yet the more creative and unconventional you get the more ambiguity, sometimes coupled with a dose of irony or contradiction, works in your favor

You may hit upon one ingenious title. If you should be so lucky quickly ask yourself, “Can you repeat it?” One genius title amid a cluster of duds will stand out like a sore thumb. Bodies of work beg some consistency. That said, you may find that varying your titling conventions between different projects is an effective way to further differentiate them.

Consider creating a standard for your titles, after giving considerable thought to both its short and long-term effects on the way audiences will respond to you work. There are many benefits to creating a consistent practice, including the creation and fulfillment of expectations and the reduction of the time and energy you put into resolving new terms. This will also call more attention to the times when you deviate from your standards, which can be advantageous if used strategically.

Like your art, titles are all about communication. Titles become a part of your art. Make sure your titles make a contribution to effectively communicating what you want to communicate. It’s worth the time you invest to put some thought into how you title your work.

How do you title your work?

Read more about how writing can help stimulate your creativity.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

 

Finding the right words can make a big difference.

Learn more about how you can use words with my online resources.

Making the Visual Verbal

February 22, 2011 | 1 Comment

Many take the view that pictures should be seen and not heard. I did. After being called to comment on my work time and time again, I realized that learning to comment on my work not only made my work more effective but it also helped me understand my work better and solve certain creative challenges. In fact, I realized that there are many types of writing and many uses for writing. Writing is now an integral part of my creative process from start to finish. Making the Visual Verbal is a useful skill that can benefit everyone, including you. You don’t think you can write? Anyone can finish a sentence. Finishing it well just takes practice. And some kinds of writing don’t need finished sentences. While it’s true there’s only one Shakespeare, we can all write. After all, think of all the great writing (fiction and nonfiction) that’s been written since Shakespeare. Personally, I don’t want to receive love letters written by Shakespeare. I want love letters written to me by my wife.

Here’s a piece I wrote several years ago on scottkelby.com.
Tune in tomorrow for a new piece on scottkelby.com – Developing Personal Projects.

Making the Visual Verbal

“Pictures should be seen and not heard.” “If we could communicate what we want to communicate with words, then we’d be writers not artists.” The words had rained down on me so many times that my mind had been saturated with the idea. While it reflects some truth, chiefly that a text (written or verbal) can never be a substitute for an image, it can also be misleading. Pictures have always been, continue to be, and will always be talked about-particularly by artists.

Growing up in an artistic family, the parade of visitors and people we visited included many types of artists from musicians to sculptors and most frequently photographers. The topics of conversation were far-reaching and colorful. Often there would be complaints about what had been written about their own work, sometimes about what had been written about each other’s work, or ……what had been written about other artist’s work. Then, if they existed, out would come quotes from an artist’s personal writings that were used to illuminate, reinforce or refute varied points of view (Artist’s letters, journals, interviews and statements have always held a special position in the history of art. They have forever shaped the commentary that surrounds work.) Inevitably, the very same artists, who claimed that artists should remain mute, would be lured into giving a lecture or an interview about their work. Artists approach the process of making the visual verbal with mixed feelings; part trepidation, part confirmation, part validation. To be sure, while there are many pitfalls to be avoided, there are many positive byproducts to making the visual verbal.

Writing can illuminate new avenues of inquiry for the viewer and in so doing enrich the entire viewing process, including the subsequent viewing process of future works by other artists. Writing is a process of revelation, It is a process of making thought visible. It is a matter of clarifying a process of thinking. By making what was intuitively sensed visible to the conscious mind, the familiar is clarified and the unfamiliar is brought to light.

Writing about images is inevitable. This kind of writing has always been there. It always will be. Someone, somewhere, sometime will write about your images. You have a great deal to contribute to the process. Along the way, you’re likely to find that writing about your work will be extremely revealing.

Many positive things happen when you engage writing. You will understand your work better. You will be able to communicate more clearly about your work. You will affirm the strengths of your work. You will be able to chart your own artistic development over time. You may even be able to uncover the seeds that will provide future growth in your work.

There are a variety of ways to make the visual verbal. There are artist’s journals, artist’s statements and writing exercises that can be used to get to the core of the inner life of work. There are ways to prepare for interviews; these days many interviews are conducted through writing over the Internet. There are lectures, and writing and rehearsing creates a solid structure for them. Writing can be a tremendous aid to any creative endeavor at any stage in the process …

Read the rest here on scottkelby.com.

Find more tips on writing here.
Read my artist’s statements here.
Read interviews I’ve given here.
Read my conversations with photographers here.
Learn more in my digital photography workshops.

You can read my writings from three separate voyages to Antarctica.

The first statement was written midway through the trip to help me focus.

The second statement was written at the end of the trip to clarify my practice.

The third statement was written as a daily journal for live blog posts.

Three different trips. Three different kinds of writing. One evolving process.

Writing has helped my creative process. How can writing help yours?

Find out about my exhibit here.

Stay tuned daily for more resources.

Get priority status in my Antarctica 2011 workshop.
Email info@johnpaulcaponigro.com.


It’s a privilege to be invited to guest post on Scott Kelby’s blog. Vincent Versace and Joe McNally contributed excellent first and second guest Wednesday installments. Mine’s the third.

I’m hoping guest blogging becomes an industry trend. I’ve already got several invites out to select colleagues who will join me here on my blog and I’ll join them on theirs! So be on the look out for more guest blogging!

The title of my guest post is Making the Visual Verbal. Do you think pictures should be seen and not heard? If so, you’re half right and half wrong. Commentary is no substitute for an image. Sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words. But, there are times and places for commenting on images. In fact, often words and pictures can complement each other synergistically to create a total effect greater than the sum of the parts. And, there are many different ways of making useful comments. Find out how and when in this essay.

Read the full post on Scott Kelby’s blog Photoshop Insider.

Download my related PDF on making Artists Statements here.

Read many of my Artist Statements here.

Hear me talk about my work here.

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