Friday, August 31, 2012

Sometimes the audience needs help

A couple of years ago I told a small group one of my favorite stories from the Jewish folk tale tradition about Elijah the Prophet.  Elijah, a master of disguises, is denied admission to a banquet when dressed as a homeless beggar, but is treated as an honored guest (though a stranger) when dressed in a tuxedo.  During the meal, to the astonishment of the guests and the host, he proceeds to put the food into his pockets instead of eating it.  At the conclusion of the banquet, when quizzed by the host, Elijah remarks, "When I appeared here dressed in rags you turned me away, but when I returned in a tuxedo you gave me a seat of honor.  Obviously, you are feeding the clothes and not the person."  When the storytelling had finished, I overheard a father turn to his son and say, "See, you should always dress appropriately."

I don't believe in explaining a well crafted story, but I had to set the kid straight.  Without contradicting the father, I simply added that the story also is about how we should treat other people, regardless of the way they look.  The father had to get in the last word, however, and repeated to his son that he should still dress neatly at all times.

Photography is also a medium for storytelling.  Sometimes a viewer "just doesn't get it" and needs a little assistance.  Brooks Jensen, in a recent blog posting, says there are times we might have to help our audience of viewers.
If, however, we feel strongly about the audience understanding the photograph from our point of view, we need to make sure they have enough information to be steered down the path of our choice. It's one of the fundamental decisions we need to make as art makers and then take actions with titles, descriptions, or even the image content so that our wishes are known.
Jensen gives us permission to supplement the image in such cases.  Though this goes against my own strong belief that the picture needs to speak for itself in its own voice,  I agree there are times a caption can make things easier.

Dining Room Chair ... July, 2012

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