The following is my investigation into the inclusion or exclusion of captions in photography. Artist study, Willie Doherty
Willie Docherty is an Irish photographer focusing on the pain, trials and tribulations of Ireland. “He (Doherty)does not deal with the explicit, but with hidden histories, tensions and antagonisms inscribed in the familiar, everyday surface of things” My tutor suggested it due to this inclusion of text yet I found my thoughts went further than text and more into the meanings gleaned from captions and the thoughts of the viewers when no such captions are provided.
I looked at the work of Willie Doherty and admittedly felt it it hard to put a meaning too without any context or narrative. The text is overlayed in a bold direct fashion across the image using typography hierarchy, the text has the role of bold uppercase with the photo being noticed secondly almost like a pale lower case. ‘God Has Not Failed us’ one such image reads then the eye is drawn beyond into the photo of a seemingly abandoned house, the shutters hanging askew, the feeling of emptiness. The two images present a double-edged sword, is the statement ‘God has not failed us,’ words of strength refusing to accept the situation, refusing to lose hope or is it written sarcastically, ironically, ‘God has not failed us’ yet here is the proof. It is impossible to know the story without any background. Even if the viewer knew it was in Ireland, which story was it?
That is where I feel photography essays are made up of two important elements, possibly three if typography is a feature. One, the photo, two, the caption and three, the typography. Like two cogs, each is redundant without the other. The caption can still tell a story but the photo is needed to provide the emotion, or the double meanings, the story between the lines. Yet as I write this I feel constricted, two paths appear, do you need the caption or do we like to create our own stories. On one hand, with the caption, we are offered some more insight, a clue in a crime scene and we can make of it what we will. I read a review of Willie Doherty’s work and realised it was about the conflict of Ireland. Exploring the images is like being at a crime scene and finding several clues which will in turn lead you to deeper revelations.
Without the historial knowledge of the bombings of the bridge the viewer may interpret the image with their own imagery. They may relate the running to a situation in their own lives, running away from pain or fear…or running to a new future. The figure runs endlessly trapped in a infinity loop, someone who felt trapped in their lives would transpose their body into that of the figure so they were watching their own story playing out. Their feelings towards it may have nothing to do with the bombing of the bridge and the story Doherty is telling.
“Historically the only means of traversing the city’s two sides, the bridge was frequently bombed as a result of its strategic significance. A deceptively simple set-up, the camera catches the figure from the front as well as from the back in this double projection; even a cursory understanding of the site complicates the narrative”
Yet which is the strongest? Without the caption a photo can seem like staring through the window into someone elses lives. The window becomes evocative of a dolls house, you see the people, you see their characters and their surroundings and you create your own truths and stories out of that. Yet we can never know for sure whether the stories we are telling are the truth and that is where the beauty is, in the ambigious. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, sometimes the power of the photo comes from our own understanding. A piece of paper with the starting sentence which we then take as our own. The viewer is as much responsible for the final destination in the mind as the photographer.
This reminds me of Bergins work which I wrote about earlier here, he was asked to create the series for UK76 yet added his own words thus changing the whole meaning of the piece, thus becoming a completely new creation. Without those captions how would they have been interpreted? There would have been no double meaning as we are only shown one image. Does that mean to have a double meaning there must be two layers to the image, a caption (pushing the the meaning gleaned from the image in a new direction) and the photo itself.
This is something to be included in Assignment Four, writing a critical essay on a subject of which I’ve chosen Photography and Plato’s Cave, how the viewers interpretation will always be different to that of the photographer.