The Importance of Titles


Think for a moment about your favorite books, your favorite music, your favorite photographs, etc., and the feelings they stir up inside of you.

For the Charles Dickens fans, do you conjure up images of life in a smoke filled London in Victorian England when you think of such books as Oliver Twist or Great Expectations?  For the Mark Twain fans, do you conjure up images of the long, hot, lazy days of summer when you think of such books as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?  For the music lovers, I am guessing Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen raises certain emotions, while Sunday Bloody Sunday raises other emotions for fans of U2.

Armed with the title, we don’t need to read the book or listen to the music to revisit the emotions locked inside us from the very first moment we read the words or heard the tune. Their mere mention rouses the emotions too. The same can be true for photographs.  For example, if I were to mention image titles such as Migrant Mother and Moonrise Over Hernandez you minds eye will probably see these famous images by Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams.

The simple fact of the matter is that titles are important.  If titles for books, music or photographs didn’t exist, what emotional response would you have when you have a discussion with someone about untitled books by J.D. Salinger, untitled records by Pink Floyd or untitled photographs by Michael Kenna?

I was having a discussion with some photography friends the other night about this very topic.  A judge at one of our camera club competitions placed a lot of emphasis on how the title of an image related to the image itself and this seemed to influence his choices in choosing and ranking the images.  A couple of folks felt that an image should stand on its own and should not be influenced by a title.  In other words, suggesting that the images should be untitled.  I thought about this and although I agree that an image does need to stand on its own, I also think that a title helps the photographer convey his or her message. A title will identify an image and its mention will remind the viewer not only of the image itself but also the emotional reaction they had when they first saw it.

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