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Documentary & portraiture photography

2.1 The gaze in portraiture 2.2 Image and text 2.3 Case studies
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Beginners Part 1 of 2

The use of words in photographs has changed from numbers and initials scratched onto the rebate, to hand written messages adding to the narrative appearing directly on the print. How has this affected our understanding of the relationship between words and pictures? Do we separate the two, or regard the text as something integral to the final work?

My first calling to be a professional photographer occurred in a New York bookshop in the Wall Street area in 1986. I happened upon a copy of Ansel Adams’ autobiography, and opened it at a photograph he had taken of Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park, a black and white image of the face of a mountain, with a storm cloud above. In the accompanying text, he described how he felt at the time he visualized the picture, and the act of taking one of his more famous images. He also printed opposite the photograph, a letter written to his brother outlining the feelings he had at the time, and how the experience moved him. The combination of his words and pictures led me into thinking that this was something I could hope to achieve; the powerful combination of words and images could interpret my experiences and form a medium to share my vision.

Together in the book, the letter and the photograph had a significant meaning in my life, and their relationship to each other had a unique significance in that the meanings of both the photograph, and the letter were altered in a special way by appearing on the same double page spread. My luck was the moment of inspiration one feels when one discovers a path, one that I have followed for 16 years so far. The relationship between the words and the photograph was a trigger for me, perhaps uniquely, and their meaning was so derived because of my state of mind at the time. Reading the same book now (I bought it) and looking at the same pages, the feeling of inspiration felt by Adams as he describes his moment of creation, and the discovery of his calling, returns me to my moment of discovery in the bookshop, and the start of what has become a quest to examine the relationship between words and pictures.

Traditionally words and pictures appear in newspapers and books side by side in the form of captions - text that explains and enhances the pictures. They also appear in photographic exhibitions beside the work displayed as a form of explanation.

In all situations, text and images are complimentary, and are meant to be viewed together as separate elements.

© John Frederick Anderson

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