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Lorna, 1955
Album page, my mother holding me, 1955

[12Aug22] A thought today: The attachment of a title declares, or at least implies, the importance of an image, made with intention and with purpose.

This applies whether the image is on a gallery wall, in a family album, in a report or newspaper.

The choice of a declarative Untitled (date optional) is a special case, stating that this is art, made with intention and with purpose.

There are two modes of untitled, firstly as bestowed by the photo-artist while still alive, and secondly bestowed posthumously by a gallery or vendor which has the additional function of emphasising that its maker was an artist.

See also here on multiple titles and there is a Dyer anecdote on Robert Capa titles in Anglo-English Attitudes that I might already have cited.

[5Aug19] I recently expressed the view that while I think it is appropriate to give a project a title, for individual images the subject and/or location and date should be specified, but not an interpretive title as the interpretation should be left to the viewer. Titling an image Untitled is usually taking things too far (Cindy Sherman being a case in point.)

[30Nov19] The Times today reported on How we are fooled by pretentious titles on art — in a study from University of Waterloo, Canada ,

the team showed 800 people different computer-generated artworks and asked them to rate their profoundness. Some had no titles, some had mundane titles, and some had ones generated by “randomly arranging a list of profound-sounding words”. For instance, one was called “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomenon”. The Times, ow we are fooled by pretentious titles on art, 30 Sep 2019

They found that viewers preferred the last category and a separate study revealed that the random titles were, "indistinguishable from real ones used in genuine artworks".

There are exceptions and here I will list the good titles.

John Baldessari
© John Baldessari

John Baldessari, Throwing Three Balls In The Air To Get A Straight Line (Best Of Thirty-Six Attempts), 1973

Baldessari needs his title to transform a puzzling abstract into an entertaining, whimsical project.

Moth on a hot greenhouse roof
Moth on a hot greenhouse roof

One of mine, Moth on a hot greenhouse roof, 2019, included equally for the title and to complement (in approximate composition and colour) Baldessari's image.

Sam Taylor-Johnson
© Sam Taylor-Johnson

Sam Taylor-Johnson's Self-portrait in Single-breasted Suit with Hare, 2001

The Taylor-Johnson is a striking image with or without a title, but it is worthwhile to add the information that it is a self portrait: the choice of mentioning the self-evident hare is interesting.

Commenting on the 2018 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, I noted,

Untitled (etc.),
Alejandra Cales Taolra

In the same section was my winner of the silliest title award, Alejandra Carles-Tolra's Untitled (Charlotte, a member of the Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society). Jerry L. Thompson (2016 pp.41-42) distinguishes between photographs that do and do not need titles. Those that do he regards as "journalistic", those that do not needs titles he calls "pictorialist". In journalistic photographs it is the information conveyed that is most important; for the pictorial, what matters is how they look. Those who know Thompson's work will not be surprised to learn that he prefers those who steer a middle course, between the two. The distinction is quite illuminating, but there is another consideration — some photographs need a caption to make them interesting, this being one such, a run-of -the-mill portrait only elevated from the mundane by a curious title.

I encountered Dieter Meier's 29 pictures within 5 minutes, London, 14-October-1970, 17:00-17:05, in front of the Victoria and Albert Museum in the opening show at the V&A's new (in October 2018) photography gallery. It reminded me that I used to photograph bench occupation choices when commuting in South Wales in the 1970s. There are more details of Meier's work here.

I picked up on the idea for EyV Asg. 5 but that sub-project was not submitted.

Meier Meier Meier
See above for the title
© Dieter Meier

Philip Jones Griffiths
Philip Jones Griffiths
Boy Destroying Piano, Wales
, 1961

I first saw Philip Jones GriffithsBoy Destroying Piano, Wales, 1961 at the Huxley-Parlour Gallery Masters of Photography, 2019.

As I commented there, "it could have been me - I was seven at the time and living in Wales".

Paul Adams
Paul Adams, The Clam Digger's Wife
and her Clandestine Trampoline

A portfolio from Paul Adams appeared in the December 2019 edition of Black + White Photography Magazine. Adams runs the photography programme at Brigham Young University and creates composite images with whimsical titles some of which evoke fairy tales. Several of the images shown would qualify for inclusion, but the finest might be The Clam Digger's Wife and her Clandestine Trampoline.

Logo v.2


Gabriele Basilico, Contact (1984)

Missed chances

Here, some examples where the photographer might have tried a little harder for the title to match the complexity of the image or the height of the concept.

As noted in favourites,

[28Aug19] An addition, recalled from the Photo London 2019 show, Gabriele Basilico's Contact (1984) an example of the relentless determination of the photographer at the expense of his subject with a remarkable outcome. This richly deserved a better title.

Other media

Elaine Cameron-Weir
Elaine Cameron-Weir

[26Aug19] Photography has some way to go in comparison with other art forms. Hyperallergic reports on a work shown right by Elaine Cameron-Weir entitled Historical events influencing the disappearance of this determined that from the end of the time to the beginning of the century, only the area of the current Old was and the early axis remains only as a vestige as it nails itself to the cross, (2018) and made of "marble, stainless steel, aluminum, pewter, leather, parachute cord, orthopedic jaw fixation device".

Photograph by Charles Benton.

Page created 05-Aug-19 | Page updated 16-Aug-2022