Water by Mark Whitney
Artist: Mark D. Whitney
Media: Digital Photograph

This is not a Title

I never think in titles.

I don’t understand why images need titles.

When I submit images to shows, the organizers always require titles. In which case I make something up on the spot. I just grab the first thing that comes into my head. I never record what name I give what image so tomorrow the titles could all be different. Sometimes I use a number like Water #34. Of course the same photo could be Bubbles #2 next week.

A title gives people a handle I guess. They can use it to say things like “I really like your Grey Stones and Water“. Of course this means nothing to me because I forgot what photo that was as soon as I wrote it on the form. I have a lot of photos with grey stones and water in them. I just smile and thank them politely.

Show organizers may need a title so they can keep track of the works clerically. Fair enough, but the title thing seems to go beyond merely a bookkeeping aid. Some people take titles very personally. I’ve actually had them get angry with me when I won’t give them a title or when they realize that I’ve just made something up.

It freaks them out. “Everything needs a title! How else will I know what it is?”

You could use your imagination for one.

“To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.” – Claude Monet

I love that quote.

Names are wonderful things to organize life.

I should know. With a master’s degree in chemistry, I spent hours upon hours studying nomenclature – the systematic naming of compounds. Naming chemicals is uber important. You wouldn’t want to mix up the wrong stuff because your name for something is different than your colleague’s name for it. The results could be disastrous.

But we’re talking art here.

As Claude pointed out, names can force us into a certain train of thought. Names can switch off our minds. If I take a photo and I title it “Maple Tree in Winter”, well that’s it then, eh. You stop looking. Everybody knows what a maple tree without any leaves on it looks like. Next!

If as Minor White says, we should photograph things not only for what they are, but also for what ELSE they are, then that name “Maple Tree in Winter” has killed all hope I might have of you seeing anything else. You see a tree because I told you it was a tree.

What if I titled the same photo “Loneliness”, because that’s what I think the tree means to me. Again I’ve stopped your imagination. Now you try to find the loneliness in the photo. Maybe you would have thought it looked like strength or age or waiting. We’ll never know because titles, names, are death blows to imagination.

I got no more titles for you.

In past blogs and even when I started this new blog I dutifully entered a title into the caption of my photos. It seemed like the thing to do. I didn’t like it, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be done. Well no more. I’ve gone through the media library here and removed all the title lines from my captions.

You’re on your own. Figure it out for yourself. Forget the name of the thing your looking at. Don’t even try to name it. Let the image be. Let it take you somewhere new.


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