When I teach photography I often speak of a triangle consisting of the brain, the heart and the camera. When all points of the triangle are used to make an image they can create a powerful, compelling photograph. A picture that “speaks” to the viewer. For many years I have tried to make images that do not need captions. If an image is made well, the photo speaks for itself, no other explanation is necessary. Obviously in photojournalism the 4 W’s are needed. Answers to who, what, when, where, and why are important to give the image context. Some, or even all of these questions can be answered in the photo itself. For example a famous person in a familiar location doing something we understand does not need much verbiage to allow us to comprehend what is happening. Sometimes the who or where is not important, depending on the circumstances. What is important is that the photo communicates, we have something to say and our camera is our voice. In my mind this is the biggest difference between a happy snapshot, and a meaningful photograph.
I have always worked on this concept, but in the last ten years or so, making photos that do not need words has become very important to me. You see, I live in Thailand, I don’t speak fluent Thai. I use social media, and most of my followers only speak limited English, if at all, so I must say what I’m trying to get across in the photograph itself, and not rely on the description. I feel my photography has much improved in the past ten years because of this. Give it a try. Post an image on social media without verbiage, or with minimal words like date and time. I think if you try this you will find yourself being very selective in what you post, carefully choosing an image that speaks for itself. Photography has been called the universal language. I believe that is true.
I also use this concept in everyday life. When I go shopping I often make photos of items I need with my smartphone. Then when I’m at a market instead of fumbling with a translation app, I show the clerk a photo of what I’m looking for. I get a quick yes, or no, and if yes I’m guided to the location. This method works every time without fail.
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