If I could put the meaning of my photo into words, I wouldn’t have bothered taking the photo. If we are a judge on a photo competition, we can write a long analysis of a photo, saying what its meaning is and how it achieved it. We could (and we do) write a lot of words about the photo. And the person who took the photo might also be able to write about their photo. And when we have articulated our thoughts about a photo, we can turn it around, and then go out and look for photos that fit the words that we’ve written. So we could say, I’m going to try to find photos that express a sense of urban desolation. I want them to be very minimalist, to have nice geometry and to have quite subdued colours. But then aren’t you looking through the camera with a filter of words clamped onto the end of the lens?
Some photos need captions to reveal their real meaning. This is often the case with photojournalism. Pictures can be ambiguous and words can clarify their meaning. But sometimes you want your pictures to be ambiguous, sometimes you want them to be unclear. Sometimes you can explain in words why you’re taking a photo, sometimes you can’t.
A picture can be worth a 1,000 words, so they say (there’s a blog about photography called 1,000 Words, precisely because of this saying). Some photos can be worth a lot more. Pictures in newspapers can take up a whole page (that’s potentially more than 1,000 words’ worth). A photographer got annoyed about a blog I’d written the other day and, in a bit of a huff, he said: I’m too busy taking awesome photos to be talking to you! I laughed out loud but he perhaps has a point.
A photo of words