On stories – From Montmartre to Brazil

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)

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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)

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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.

6 Responses to “On stories – From Montmartre to Brazil”

  1. Fotolebrocq dit :

    Interesting indeed – Personally I enjoy your ‘stories’ which adds another kind of creativity and humour which sets your work apart – Incidentally, the 50 Lux you are now using is brilliant in your hands – Hope you keep it

  2. Konstantin dit :

    Dear Yanidel, thank you very much for your detailed answer – for taking the initiative and write a whole post about this! I thought it may be « depends » indeed and I myself have seen/done both. The picture of the man to me in this case tells only part of the stry – it surely communicates that he is tired and it is clear where the picture has been taken but the question of the inclusion of that cross completes the picture like nothing else in the details. It in fact begs other questions to my mind like why did this attract your eye? Were you in a similar state? how conscious was the choice of the inclusion of the cross? How concious was this central composition?

    These are mostly rhetorical questions and I know that the answers can be speicfic but that’s not the point. My curiosity is for the sake of understanding street photography better and I simply enjoy reading your thoughts here when you present your pictures :-)
    KM

  3. Anonyme dit :

    I’m sorry but this is on an entirely different note: what nd filter(s) do you use? Do you own multiple filters? I’m trying to decide whether to buy one that reduces the light with 1, 2 or 3 stops. Ofcourse it will depend on the situation I will use it in. Mid day, say 2 o’clock on a sunny day, will probably require a filter that reduces the light with 3 stops.

    I’m assuming the picture of the exotic dancer was taken around mid day in pretty harsh lighting conditions. So what nd filter did you use, if I may ask? : -)

    Keep up the wonderful blog. It’s truly inspiring and informative at the same time. There aren’t many blogs like this one out there. Kudos.

  4. admin dit :

    Konstantin,

    Actually I think I spend about 15 minutes on that spot for the good subject to arrive. I had spotted the cross, the steepy street and the general atmosphere, I just needed something to happen. When I saw the man coming I waited for him to be right in front of the slope to get a sense of depth. I was a bit lucky on the focus, not easy to do when someones arrives perpendicularly.

    As for the ND filter question, I use 0.6 ones which reduce light by 2 stops. With a top speed of 1/4000 on the M9 it is usually enough for very bright light. I sometimes have to stopped down to 1.7 or 2.0 but usually it is enough. 3 stops ND filter would be safer, yet remember the downside if suddenly you get in the shadows and have no time to remove the filter …
    The picture was taken at around 14H00 I believe, the sun was strong.

  5. Bo dit :

    Yanidel,

    Thank you for taking up this discussion, it is a good one. I think though aside from the obvious, most of your pictures do stand alone, but I feel there is a lot to be learned from your insights and comments, so personally i read them mostly as better understanding what made you capture a image. I don’t think any of the classic images particularly need caption, but I sure would love to know what some of those photographers really was thinking and what did lead them to a particular image.

    Bo