On yesterday’s picture, a very interesting comment was posted by Konstantin. He raised the question whether pictures should be accompanied by a story that describes or explains them. As he stated, I often read about street photographers refusing to comment their pictures as they think they should be self-explanatory. In other words, all the necessary information should be in the picture. That is indeed a very good debate and I do not think there is an absolute answer. In my opinion, it depends not only on the picture itself but also on what you are trying to achieve through photography.
To illustrate, let’s look at these two pictures I took over the last three days. Same city, same weather, but different hours and subjects. The first one is probably self-explanatory but it requires a close inspection. Indeed, at first sight it is about a man walking down the street at sunset. A second look will provide other clues such as his tired look, the guitar he is carrying, the moon, a hilly neighborhood and the illuminated cross of a drugstore. Provided the viewer is aware that it was taken in Paris (he should on this blog), he should be able to identify the neighborhood as Montmartre by recouping the downhill streets and musician. I guess that at this point, the pieces of the puzzle are in place to make a final interpretation of the picture: a tired musician goes home after a long day work in the Montmartre of “La vie en rose”. The cross of the drugstore probably emphasizes the impression of tiredness and adds to the atmosphere. All in all, I believe this pictures is self-explanatory to the scrutinizing eye, eventually adding a title such as “Montmartre – back from work” to help the viewer start the interpretation. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 50mm Summilux Asph at F1.4, 1/250, ISO400
Meanwhile the second picture below will leave the viewer completely clueless on what is going on. There is obviously a high chance that it took place in Paris since it is on this blog. Yet, the exotic dancer is not quite a typical illustration of Parisian folklore. So here an explanatory text or title is in my opinion necessary. The picture might be aesthetically pleasing regardless of the setting but I definitely think that some text adds to the viewer experience. It would be in that case “A Brazilian Queen celebrates the Carnival parade in Paris and contemplates her beauty in a wooden mirror”. I am sure that this picture becomes instantly much easier to interpret. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 50mm Summilux at F1.4, 1/4000, ISO200, ND filter
As a closing comment, the answer to Konstantin can only be “it depends”. It depends on the photographer and what he tries to achieve. My blog is about Paris and photography. Sometimes the pictures stand on their own, and other times I like to provide side stories that I feel might result interesting. But yes, occasionally there are pictures where I feel that no text is needed. So next time you see a picture with no comment, you’ll know why.