Archives for posts with tag: architecture

In April, my husband and I honeymooned (thank you, Hollingsworth v. Perry) for two weeks in the south of England and Wales. We spent a few days in London on our own, based at St. Ermin’s Hotel just around the corner from Buckingham Palace, doing Tourist Things (theatre, the Tower, the British Museum, the British Library, Westminster Abbey, the fabulously old and author-frequented Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a gaslight tour of the neighborhood around Parliament et cetera, et cetera), but the bulk of our time was spent being ferried about by our private guide, Michael Osborne (operating as Unique British Tours).

The great thing about engaging Michael was that we saw a whole different England than we would have seen on our own. Oh sure he took us to Stonehenge and Bath and Oxford, but we also drove off-highway along winding country roads that took us through alarmingly lovely little villages, complete with thatched-roofed houses in which real people actually live. He arranged overnights for us in assorted Wolsey Lodges (unique “luxury” bed-and-breakfasts that were mostly repurposed olde manor homes–including a horse farm in the country, a village great house, and (by far the best one) a converted 12th century mill) and a modern four-star hotel overlooking Cardiff Bay. He showed us things we hadn’t expected to see, like Avebury, a World Heritage Site with aged and worn monoliths that–unlike the more popular Stonehenge–visitors can actually wander up to and touch. He hosted us for beer at local village pubs and for a fancy-pants (and delicious) afternoon tea at the stately Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe.

Hazeland Mill in Wiltshire

Hazeland Mill, Bremhill, Calne, Wiltshire–the best of the places we stayed!

Of course pictures were taken, and since that’s what this blog is supposed to be about, let’s get to it. I hope some of these come off as something somewhat north of vacation snaps (for all our sakes). So Let the Travel Photography Begin!

For more travel and other photography, click here: www.ebutterfieldphotography.com

Big Ben at Night

Big Ben at Night

Tower Bridge viewed through a window

Tower Bridge viewed from the Tower of London

Gaslit street in Westminster, London

Gaslit street at night in Westminster, London

Gears in a mill in Wiltshire

Mill gears in a 12th-century mill in Wiltshire

Oxford Street

Street in Oxford

Avebury monoliths

Avebury monoliths

Close-up view of Lewis Chessmen in the British Museum

12th-century Lewis Chessmen, British Museum, London

Fan vaulting in the nave of Bath Abbey, Bath

Fan vaulting in the nave of Bath Abbey, Bath

Ruins of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales

Cardiff Bay, viewed from the St David's hotel

Cardiff Bay, viewed from the St David’s Hotel

Exeter College, Oxford

Exeter College, Oxford

Raven in the Tower of London

Raven in the Tower of London

Interior of the clock tower at Bath Abbey

Interior of the clock tower at Bath Abbey

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

 

For more travel and other photography, click here: www.ebutterfieldphotography.com

Today’s low-tech randomizer brought me to a series of photos taken during a business trip to Fukuoka, Japan in March 2012. The three photos here really expressed a lot of “Japan-ness” for me. Let’s see what they are…

First, this is just somebody’s front porch. I was walking around sidestreets in the city and came across this home. With the paper lantern, bicycles, architecture, and umbrella, it dredged up fond (but now disturbingly distant) childhood memories of storybooks and National Geographic articles about Japan. Obviously, Japanese culture cannot be boiled down to a doorway somewhere in Japan’s sixth-largest city, but for me it was a strangely expressive moment.

doorway in Fukuoka Japan with bicycles, umbrellas, and a paper lantern

Next, a detailed view of Jotenji Temple, built in 1242:

Jotenji Temple roof

And finally, sticking with the temple theme, the Tochoji Buddha is the largest seated Buddha statue in Japan (10m, or about 33 feet high) . The title of this photo, “Big Buddha” is absolutely not disrespectful: there is a sign at the foot of the stairway leading to the statue that reads: “Big Buddha is Upstairs.” This photo is also contraband: I was asked (after taking the photo) to please not photograph the Buddha. Given the absence of signage prohibiting photography, and there having been no direct request to actually delete the photos I’d taken, and having made a generous donation to the temple restoration fund, I don’t feel particularly bad about it. (Hm, it appears we have met the Ugly American, and he’s closer to home than we’d care to discuss.)

Big Buddha

(All photos were taken with a Nikon D90)

My plan for this series in LensCaps at the start was twofold: First, to force myself to blog more regularly (I have found that like flossing and New Years’ Resolutions, it is extremely unlikely that I will commit to blog regularly after the initially burst of enthusiasm unless there’s some outside force compelling me: a pricey personal trainer makes me a much more constant gym membership user, and a public statement that I’m embarking on a numbered series of posts makes me feel guilty if I miss a day or two); and B, to feature older photographs that haven’t been featured lately (selected at random via an unscientific method of using the mouse wheel and random clicks in an index).

So what happens right after RPOTD #3? I go on a business trip to Oklahoma City, and posting to the blog becomes difficult, and it falls off the earth. Literally threes of devoted readers are if not mildly disappointed, at least somewhat aware of the break.

And then what do I do? I come back, and immediately violate the Highly Scientific Random Photo Algorithm. Today’s photos are from my recent trip, and I just thought it was cool that a couple of them were inadvertently sort of thematically linked, which is serendipitous, which is kinda like random, so I guess we’re OK.

This is the Devon Energy Center, at 52 stories the tallest building in Oklahoma City and tied for being the 39th tallest in the US. Architects were Pickard Chilton Architects Inc. The building itself is nice (if a little ridiculously out of scale with the rest of Oklahoma City (see the aerial view), but I really loved the morning sun peeking from behind it.

Devon Energy Building

The aforementioned aerial view:

Aerial view of Oklahoma City

The other “sunshine” photo is also an aerial, taken as I flew over California on my way back home (thank you, United, for the upgrade!), I was baffled by these three shiny objects on the ground below, and had to do a little webbly investigation to determine what it was that I’d been looking at. It is, in fact, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), near Nipton, southwest of Las Vegas. It’s the largest solar plant in the world, generating 377 megawatts by using mirrors to focus the sunlight on solar receivers on top of the central power towers (can we tell I think this is really cool?). The three plants together generate enough power to serve 140,000 homes during peak hours, and reduce CO2 emissions by over 400,000 tons annually. (Source: BrightSource)

Aerial view of Ivanpah Solar array

More non-random randomness. Well, to be specific: the selection of the initial photo is totally random; it just seems that sometimes a couple of photos around it, or that I know are related to it, come to mind and I just can’t help myself with making little photographic statements, because the synergies just amuse me. This little exercise is quickly evolving into something not entirely random, but that’s just me being a control freak. Anyway, let’s look at three kinds of China: ancient, recently modern, and contemporarily futuristic, all of which seem to live together happily in the People’s Republic in a big ol’ chunky melting pot of old and new.

First, the Great Wall. specifically the “Wild Wall” (Simatai-Jinshanling) section in the Shuiguan Mountains, about an hour outside Beijing. (Photo taken September 2012 with a Nikon D90)

Great Wall of China

Next on our itinerary, a vendor selling figs on the side of a road out in the countryside somewhere in the general vicinity of Beijing. The figs were excellent, but there’s a lot of serious history in that face and uniform. (Photo taken September 2012 with a Nikon D90)

Fig seller wearing People's Army uniform

And finally, because the whole point of this Random POTD thing is brevity in the name of maintaining consistency, the fabulous “Bird’s Nest”, formally known as the Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008). Day view from from Main Lake. (Photo taken September 2012 with a Nikon D90)

Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing

 

Here we go again, although I suppose it’s not quite actually “random” if I’ve applied a theme. Anyway, this time, let’s look up.

First, the rotunda of the Indiana State House in Indianapolis. Built in 1888 and designed by architect Edwin May, (Photo taken with a Nikon D7000 with a Nikon DX 18-105 lens, September 2013)

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Below, the rotunda of the Elks National Veterans Memorial in Chicago, taken in 2006 with a Nikon E880, back in the very early days of me taking pictures of things.  Egerton Swartwout, architect (1926).

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Finally, the next photo is of the central rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.,  Hornblower & Marshall, architects (1910). Taken in May 2009 with a Nikon D80. And below that, the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, DC. (Charles Bullfinch, Architect, 1824), featuring “The Apotheosis of George Washington” fresco by Constantino Brumidi (1865). Photo taken with a Nikon D80 in May, 2009.

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For a wider selection of randomness, visit my online gallery: EButterfield Photography.

Chinese national flag and Bird's Nest stadium, viewed from the Convention Center

The Bird’s Nest viewed from the Beijing Convention Center

(This is Part Two in a series of photography blogs about my recent travels to China.)

During my last business trip to Beijing, I stayed at The Beijing North Star Continental Grand Hotel, which is connected by a sort of maze-like afterthought of a hallway to the Beijing Convention Center. The hotel sits about two blocks from Olympic Park (Aolinpike Gongyuan – 奥林匹克公园), the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. To get there, one takes one’s life in one’s hands and scurries as quickly as ever so possible across Bei Chen Dong Lu, pausing on the traffic island under the entrance ramp to Ring Road 4, then ambles through a cluster of food vendors, takes the slightly wooded path around the public restroom building, and thence through the turnstiles to the main entrance to the Park. This, you’ll recall, is where the breathtakingly phenomenal Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics were held in the striking Bird’s Nest (formally “National”) stadium  (Niǎocháo – 鸟巢). You remember those: 2,008 drummers beating illuminated drums in perfect unison; a synchronized salute to movable type; the deflating sense, that grew as the evening unfolded, that the phrase “Opening Ceremonies” was being redefined right before your eyes, and that a dozen grinning children in traditional national costumes performing indigenous folk dances while rhythmic gymnasts twirled long ribbons and a pop singer sang something about this-is-the-moment were just not going to cut it anymore, opening-ceremonies-wise. This was where that happened.

Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing at night

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008).

Sometimes a famous landmark fails to live up to one’s inflated expectations when seen in real life. I remember my first impression of the Coliseum in Rome being, “but it’s so small…”, my mental image of the ruin having been forged by movie sets and CGI models that made the Coliseum appear, well, vastly more colossal than it actually is. The Bird’s Nest, not so much. It really is quite a gorgeous piece of architecture, carefully placed in its surroundings with an eye to the Chinese fondness for feng shui.

Bird's Nest stadium reflected in Main Lake, Beijing

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008), viewed across Main Lake.

“Feng shui” (風水) is an interesting, ancient concept that I shall proceed to butcher through simplification here. Basically, it’s a philosophy governing the mindful placement of structures and their components in a way that is both aligned with the natural elements of their surroundings and harmonious with more esoteric considerations. The result of successful feng shui design is the creation of auspicious conditions for the inhabitants and a generally more pleasing environment for everyone. The idea dates back, like practically everything else in China, it sometimes seems, to before 4000 BC. So it’s not a trendy new idea despite its current popularity with some interior designers. The phrase feng shui refers to wind and water—elements that naturally flow when unimpeded, or back up and create unpleasant pressures and inconvenient consequences when blocked. Feng shui attempts to enhance the free flow of elemental energies through and around structures.

You can see feng shui at work in the Olympic Park, where architectural and natural elements are intentionally placed to interact with one another. A winding, lily-lined, man-made lake (that’s designed to resemble the 2008 Olympic torch) reflects the Bird’s Nest in about as perfectly aesthetically balanced a way as one could want. The Bird’s Nest itself is an artificial concrete and steel object made to resemble a natural, nurturing one; an open structure that allows air and light to flow freely through its body, creating constantly changing patterns of light and shadow. (You can also see feng shui at work in the rhythmic flow of progressing through the Forbidden City (more on that later), and, as I wrote about here, in the way the Great Wall hugs the mountaintop terrain over which it winds.)

Beijing National Stadium, reflected in Main Lake at night,

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008), reflected in Main Lake at night. There’s a convenient fence surrounding the lake that makes a serviceable tripod for long-exposure night photography.

Back at the Olympic Park, you can see feng shui at work in the Beijing National Aquatics Center (popularly referred to as the “Water Cube”), where Michael Phelps swam to multi-medalled glory. A building that physically embodies the “wind and water” of feng shui, it’s a high-tech construction of more than 4000 thin, inflated plastic bladders mounted on different sized frames surrounding a pool: literally a box of air containing water. Unlike the Bird’s Nest, the Aquatics Center’s ETFE walls have not aged particularly well in the punishing weather and pollution of Beijing, and now have the powdery dullness of a grocery bag snagged in a tree when viewed in the harsh light of day. At night, though, the Center glows with a blue iridescence.

National Aquatics Center, Beijing

National Aquatics Center (“Water Cube”). Architects: PTW Architects (Australia) (2008).

Bird's Nest and Water Cube at night

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. and the National Aquatics Center (“Water Cube”), at night. Note how the wall around the stadium resembles the Water Cube’s geometry.

Coming soon: Forbidden!

It recently occurred to me in a rare moment of clarity that I haven’t posted on this blog for a while. I know that both my readers were despondent about this, and after initially assuring themselves that I was enjoying a fabulous eco-tour of some exotic location, undoubtedly fell into the inescapable conclusion that I’d been abducted by bug-eyed and throbbing-brained alien invaders with a proclivity for probing; or been dragged off by gaily-clad gypsies and forced to participate in traditional woodland dances and fits of fortune-telling; or perhaps I had fallen into a deep, deep hole. Rest easy, gentle readers, for none of these terrible things befell me. Nope, I’m just Lazy. And don’t think for a moment that I haven’t been thinking about you all this time, and scolding myself for being a Bad Blogger.

I can only offer the following series of excuses:

1. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the London Olympics, and then sat glued to NBC’s selective coverage, utterly enthralled by all the leaping, bounding, diving, and whatnot; and/or

2. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the Mars Science Laboratory (“Curiosity”) landing on Mars, and became so obsessed that I forgot to eat, and then sat riveted to NASA-TV’s livefeed from Mission Control, becoming alternatively misty-eyed and hysterical as Curiosity survived the Seven Minutes of Terror; and/or

3. I spent a great deal of time in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel conference rooms being all Serious and Business-y; and/or

3. I spent several weeks mesmerized by the civil, adult, substantive and insightful policy debates engaged in by the various candidates for US President, and had to take many days just to parse the intricacies of the detailed and thoughtful plans they’ve laid out for the nation’s future.

(OK, that last one’s just silly.)

Whatever the reason for my Bad Bloggerishness (Bad Bloggeritude? Bad Bloggery?) there has nonetheless been time to do some photography, which is what I write about here. And since I continue to bask in my delusional, narcissitic, and potentially psychotic fantasy that anyone in the world cares about what I’ve been doing, I shall then proceed as per usual to revel in the minutiae of the minorest of my daily activities.

Southern California Blues. The biggest benefit of having to travel quite a bit for work, aside from the whole meeting-new-people and broadening-one’s-horizons thing, is the opportunity for more (I think) interesting aerial photography. I try to make it a point to sit by a window (this is a wise move for three reasons: 1) for photographic purposes; 2) because no one climbs over you to get to the lavatory;  and 3) because the bulkhead is nice to lean against, and adds an inch or two more personal space—you’re welcome for that little Travel Tip.) Anyway here’s the coastline of Southern California shortly after takeoff from John Wayne International Airport in Santa Ana:

Southern California coastline

Tentpole. I like architecture, and this photo from Denver International Airport is a good demonstration of why: Not only is it functional (the pylon is holding up the tent-like roof of the terminal) but it’s attractive. And what’s more, given the right angle of approach, it becomes a nice display of abstract geometry, divorced from its actual purpose. As a photographer, that’s one of my favorite things to do: get so close up to something (in the case of macros), or so far away (in the case of aerial views of the desert Southwest) or so particularly angled (like here) that the thing being photographed loses its “thingness” and becomes something new: a collection of lines and angles and colors, for instance. But enough about that. Here’s a picture from DIA:

Support pylon at Denver International Airport

Please Come to Boston. I took a little business trip to Boston, and snuck out on a rainy morning to see what was up in the Public Garden. This swan boat seemed a lovely thing, and the water droplets are, to me, quite nice.

 Swan Boat iin Boston's Public Garden

OK, possibly Shocking Displays of Skin below (probably safe for work, unless you work in a church).

You’ve been Warned.

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Tough Guy. I continue my efforts to pursue portrait photography using the nice little home studio equipment I acquired not all that long ago. James wanted a series of photos taken that looked “model-y” and showed off his physical assets, so that was a fun project for a summer afternoon. (More of these here)

Shirtless male model with sunglasses

Daddy Bear. One thing seems to lead to another in this interwoven, interconnected, interdependent world we wander through, and shortly after James I found myself photographing Andre for what were to be some more…personal photos. This is one of the tamer ones. Interestingly (although not surprisingly to anyone who’s been to an International Mister Leather event and heard the big scary-looking S&M guys chatting about recipes and window treatments) Andre is not nearly as intimidating as he looks: he’s actually quite sweet and funny (I think this actually captures that a little bit), and the shoot was a lot of fun. (More of these here)

Male model in leather vest and codpiece

So that was what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I shall endeavor to be a more courteous and consistent correspondent in the future. With upcoming business trips to Beijing, Florida, New Jersey, and Belgium, plus whatever photogenic models wander my way, there will no doubt be much more to write about. And anyway there’s always Gimli The Cat:

Cat staring, reflected in tabletop

There’s a Harry Chapin song that goes, “All my life’s a circle / Sunrise and sundown.”  And there’s a folk hymn made famous by the Carter Family, among others, that asks, “Will the circle be unbroken…” Dead or Alive described how “You spin me right round, baby / right round like a record, baby / Right round round round.” Blood, Sweat & Tears told us about the Spinning Wheel (that’s got to go round), and Tommy Roe’s head got all Dizzy (and it’s you, girl, making it spin),  and the Lion King reassured us all about the Circle of Life (which, of course, keeps great and small on the endless round). So many songs about circles.

Well, enough of that. If it’s not obvious by now, I’m obsessing a little bit about circles. Last time, I wrote about a recent trip to Japan, and I’m still thinking about that trip, for a number of reasons. So while I was looking at my photos from the Great Japanese Adventure, it occurred to me that there were a lot of, well, round things.  An unusual number of photos that featured circles, or circular objects.

Now admittedly, my compositions often tend toward the geometric, whether or not they’re abstract. I’ve frequently caught myself carefully cropping in the viewfinder, trying to split an image precisely between, say, wall and sky, or to catch just the exactly right angular perspective on part of a structure.

(I like cropping in the viewfinder, by the way. It’s helpful, at least to me, to think about what the final image will look like as a photo (photo qua photo, as one might have said back in graduate school, when one was pretty much utterly unbearably smug and self-important, as opposed to what one is now, which is–well, never mind that). That is, I may be looking at reality, but the viewfinder helps me think about the art I’m finding in the reality. But more on that some other time. For now, it’s all about circles.

And of course, I’m not opposed to circles on principle.  I have been known, from time to time, to capture circular compositions over the years.

But this many circles in a one-day photoshoot—that’s something sort of new and unexpected for me.

Now, it may be that there are just more circular things in Fukuoka than anyplace else, although that seems unlikely. It may be that in my cultural and linguistic panic (described previously), I sought the homey, snuggly, psychological comfort of round objects more than hard-edged angularity. Or it may just be utterly random, one of those little happy chances that sometimes occur without need for elaborate explanation. That’s probably the most likely explanation, but where’s the fun in that?

In any case, it is—to me at least—an interesting bit of kismet that for whatever reason my eye gravitated toward round stuff in Japan. Oh, I took my share of hard-angled geometric shots, of course, but the raw ratio of round to angular in this collection is…surprising. I’m open to suggestions regarding why this happened. A general bored disinterest is also, of course, always welcome.

Anyway, make of it what you will, here are Some Round Things, fresh from Japan:

Decoration on the gate to a Buddhist cemetery

Manhole cover in an alley. Fukuoka, Japan.

Clock on the facade of the Hakata rail station

Incense urn at Tochoji Temple

Roof of Jotenji Temple

It’s interesting how what something’s called influences–or reflects– how we feel about it. While Shakespeare may have been on to something when he wrote that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” and Gertrude Stein may have been full of wisdom about a rose being a rose being a rose, I notice that the word “rose,” even by other names (rosa, ros, róża, ruusu , roos , роза , or 薔薇 ), is more appealing in its way than “skunkweed” or “poison sumac.” The rose might easily have been descriptively called a “painful bloodweed,” which might have made receiving a dozen of them possibly somewhat less romantic.

(This, of course, gets us into a chicken-and-egg territory I’m not sure I want to enter, where we ask if what we think is beautiful would be different if we lived on an alternate world of pale gray blobs. I suspect we would arbitrarily deem some pale gray blobs more subtly beautiful than others, because we would be so attuned to the varying types and shades of gray blobbiness we lived with every day, and it is only our culturally- and environmentally-influenced perceptions that make the  full spectrum of colors and nearly infinite variety of shapes we are surrounded with seem superior to a landscape of gray blobs. I get this all the time, mostly from people who live in Chicago or New York or Boston: “Oh but I could never live in Southern California, because I do so love my four seasons.” Well, nonsense. There are four seasons in SoCal, they are just (I’ve learned, a few years after being transplanted from the Midwest) reflected in subtle changes in the climate. The context of seventy-and-sunny — and how horrifying and ghastly is that? — is pretty constant, but there are details that clearly say “fall” or “spring” or “winter” or “summer.” Plus, it’s seventy-and-sunny when my Chicago friends are slipping on ice in the gloom and getting slush blown up their pants, so nyah.)

Jeez, that parenthetical went on a bit. Someone seem to have an Issue. Apologies.

We were talking about names, I believe, at the start of that paragraph that somehow got away from me. A picture, it’s generally agreed, is worth somewhere in the vicinity of a thousand words. However, there’s a role for words in most photographs, and that’s as a title.

The title of a photo can be more than just a statement of what the photograph is a picture of (“Wet Water Avens”), although that’s important. And a title of a photo can be more than simply an identifier of the picture in a series (“Clothes Make the Man 3“). The title can be the photographer’s way of communicating directly with the viewer not only by showing the observer what the photographer saw, but more importantly how he or she saw it as well. A title like that isn’t just a label on a photo, but an intrinsic part of the observer’s whole experience of the photo, a way to bring the observer into the photographer’s sense of what was seen, and what it meant, resulting in a more intimate relationship among  photographer, photograph, and observer than simple viewage.

This, interestingly enough, wanders us into the fascinating field of semiotics which addresses, among other not-really-relevant-in-the-grocery-store considerations as the relationship between names (the signs) and the named (the signified); how those signs and signifiers reflect broader linguistic, social, cultural, and even biological structures (structuralism); and what the signs mean functionally, emotionally, and psychologically to the people who use them. And all that verbiage there serves a dual function here: First, it describes the reality of the relationship between titles and photographs, which is the ostensible topic of this blog (although as in many cases of this blog, its author seems to be taking his own sweet time getting down to the issue at hand); Second, it establishes that I’m a smarty know-it-all who spent way too much of his time in graduate studies in English. Some may have already suspected this, but it’s good to get it out on the table.

All this litcrit theorybabble boils down to something simple: photograph titles are important, not because they tell the viewer what it is he or she is looking at, but because they can more fully inform the viewer about the photographer, what he or she saw, and how the photographer’s mind interpreted what was being seen. To the extent that you think that three-way relationship (no, not that kind!) between photograph, photographer, and viewer is desirable or creates a more interesting overall experience of a photograph, the more you’ll agree that the title is more than just a name-for-a-thing; it is part and parcel of the thing itself. It can (and probably is, frequently) argued that a photograph should embrace its visual purity and stand alone; that the photographer is a vehicle for self-expression and that that’s where his or her role ends; that the important thing is the relationship of viewer to viewed, and the photographer’s opinion matters not a whit.

This is the same argument that goes on in literary criticism circles, about whether it matters that Dickens, for all his celebration of families, was something of an unpleasant man to his own; or that Carl Sandberg was a violent man; or that Walt Whitman was a not-at-all-secret homosexual. The work, say the purists, stands alone, unfettered by the author’s life experience. That experience may have created the work, but the only thing that matters is the work itself, and the audience’s reading of it. Once the last i is dotted and t crossed, the author should just sit down and be quiet. On the other hand, in film criticism, for instance, the auteur theory holds the opposite: that the work is all about its creator, and the audience’s interest should be primarily in who did it and how, not what was done. (This happy approach permits the celebration of half-assed film-makers as long as they have a recognizable style and technique, regardless of how satisfying the end result may be for an audience.) By now it should be obvious that I fall onto the “author-matters” side of things, but not so far as to say the viewer doesn’t.

Photography is no different than film or literature, in this way, as an art form. To me, that three-way relationship is part of what makes photography so instrinsically intimate an artform. What the photo shows (unless, of course, it’s been Photoshopped within an inch of its life) is pretty much what I saw. The viewer shares the inside-my-head viewpoint of that single instant in time and space. The photograph’s title (yes, we do eventually return to the topic) can be a way for the photographer to create an even more intimate view: in effect saying, “This is what I was thinking when I saw what you see.”

But, as has been said, a picture is worth a thousand words; and since we’re now well beyond that magical millennial point, how about I shut up and bring on the pictures. There follow some examples of what I mean, drawn from my own work. I would really like to hear what you’ve called your photos, and why you chose to call them that. What role do titles play in the photos you take? Please share some examples, along with the “why” behind your “what.” If you include a link to the image in your comment, that would be even more faboulous.

But while you’re working on that, here are some of mine:

spinning slot machine display

The spinning slot machine display could easily have been called "Vegas IV" or "Slot Machine." But the title "Anticipation" makes it, it seems to me, more about the experience than the thing itself.

elevator shaft and hotel balconies

This photo of the atrium and elevator shaft inside the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, Georgia could easily be just a nicely-balanced architectural study. It's that, but to me it seemed organic and physical, as the title, "Spine," suggests.

This covered walkway in Zhangshen Park, Beijing, is--at least to me-- more about the composition than the place. The title, "Converging Lines," helps focus the viewer on that flattened aspect of the photo as geometry, rather than a pretty park near The Forbidden City.

Of course, sometimes a photo just cries out to be a punchline. This is the headquarters of the "Workers Daily" newspaper in Beijing. When I saw the "I" had dropped off, I immediately was reminded of the tired saying about teamwork, and there we were: "There is no "I" in Comrade"

Sometimes the title is both self-referentially jokish and at the same time can say something about the photo. Here, the title ("He is So") obviously refers to the model's shirt. On the other hand, his behavior, his natural and unguarged laughter in this moment -- and the fact that he would own this shirt -- all suggest something "so" about him as well.

I talked about this photo before, but it's relevant here because the title ("The Pink Room") points the viewer to the thing I hadn't seen, even when the photo was taken. Far from being a simple airshaft study, focusing the viewer's attention on a single interesting window shares the evocative mystery and odd melancholy I felt when I first discovered it.

Sometimes a photo title can indicate it's part of a series, but still be more subjective at the same time. Here, a series of businesses shut down due to the economic recession are presented editorially. The title's reference ("Invisible Hand") refers sarcastically to Adam Smith's notion of an unseen force that rationally guides macroeconomics. The photo isn't just a storefront; it's a commentary on the shortcomings of American capitalism.

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