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No Caption Needed

I want to draw your attention to a relatively new blog called No Caption Needed. Robert Hariman at Northwestern University and John Lucaites at Indiana University put it together in support of a book they wrote by the same name. In daily postings they choose a current photograph or two and discuss their visual operations and how they work, or don’t work, as well as what they might mean from a rhetorical position.

I encourage you to check out the blog, comment where you feel appropriate and introduce yourselves to Hariman and Lucaites. I think there is a lot of opportunity for rich conversations between us, who are involved in the picture making process, and the academics who are critiquing them. This is a great place to do it.

No Caption Needed is also featuring a photographer’s showcase where work is presented in more depth than the usual one or two images. My work from Xinjiang, China, is being featured today. Last weeks feature was work by Patrick Andrade from the 2008 campaign trail. I’d be honored if you would take a look.

Best regards,

Aric Mayer

ps While I was at a conference hosted by Robert Hariman at Northwestern, I met Michael Shaw of BAGnews Notes who many of you are familiar with. No Caption Needed was originally built around the model that he created at the BAG.

by A. Mayer at 2008-02-01 13:44:29 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) New York City , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Stupid question: so why does every single image there need a caption?

by Stupid Photographer | 01 Feb 2008 14:02 (ed. Feb 1 2008) | Holy Smokes, Holy See | | Report spam→
Thanks for pointing this blog. Interesting analysis. A good reminder of what true even classic photojournalism can be. Could be ?

by Daniel Legendre | 01 Feb 2008 14:02 | Paris, France | | Report spam→
Hey Stupid: (it’s so wonderfully freeing to call someone that and know that you are just using their first name…) Great question. I think their answer is, and I am paraphrasing, “No caption needed, however, plenty are provided.”

by A. Mayer | 01 Feb 2008 15:02 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
Stupid — Good question actually. There are several answers. First, the title “No Caption Needed” is something of an irony. We actually believe that all images are captioned in some manner — implicitly or explicitly — and so one of the things we are trying to do is take account of how the images operate in the context of multiple codings (captionings), You have to remember we are actually academics and so we get off on looking for complexity in the simple (but somtimes we try to find the simple in the complex too).

The more direct answer is that Aric provided the images with the captions. Hariman and I debated whether to use them or not. But since the photographer gave them — and since it would be hard for most people to recognize the part of the world or at least the political frame in which they were being offered — we included them. A judgment call I guess.

But I have a question for you. How do you think we should have displayed them? Any title at all? Just the overalll title (A Different China)? Or what?

Thanks for checking the images out. JLL

by John Lucaites | 01 Feb 2008 15:02 | Indiana, United States | | Report spam→
My view is that a site which calls itself “no caption needed” should be constructed to utilize work that needs no captions. As the last resort, I should come up with my own stupid ones.

Thanks for pointing out the images. I’ll go back and check them out. First time around I was too busy reading the captions to notice them.

by Stupid Photographer | 01 Feb 2008 16:02 (ed. Feb 1 2008) | Holy Smokes, Holy See | | Report spam→
Fair enough. But you sort of beg the question as to what a “caption” is. Would you include a “title” for the group of images? Would you attribute them to a particular photographer? Would you give his/her biography? Don’t all of this “tags” function as “captions” every bit as much as the legends under the specific images? That is, can we ever really avoid captioning (however much they may not be “needed” … and again, that in itself is a troubling issue),


by John Lucaites | 01 Feb 2008 16:02 | Indiana, United States | | Report spam→
Great site, and great idea! I get weary of heavy-handed interpretational captions—ones that tell you what the photo means (the NYTimes does this online). I would much rather read a general heading about the work, along with minimal individual captions, little more than identifying the place or context. With long, overwrought captions, you don’t have a photo essay. The photos aren’t doing the work of driving the narrative; they are just occasions for the text.

If the photos are doing the real work of conveying the meaning, if it’s a real photo essay, then words should be in the background.

Photos have power. Why dilute it with words that assume a viewer can’t figure out what’s going on?

Note that this is NOT a commentary on Aric’s presentation on the site but my musings on the general topic at hand.

by [former member] | 01 Feb 2008 16:02 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
I think it would be good exercise to present the images twice, first with no captions, no headings, no information at all…. and second as they are currently.

For one, the images will perform much differently without captions. It would be interesting to critique the two experiences. They also perform in a broad range of meanings across cultures and political persuasions. In a traditional media sense, captions serve to clarify those agencies that can’t be seen but that have influence on the subject or story. Personally I am drawn to the way images perform without words at all. And I am aware that that performance can be widely varied within different viewers.

by A. Mayer | 01 Feb 2008 17:02 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
No captions needed, if you had an index page, as in any stupid book.

by Stupid Photographer | 01 Feb 2008 17:02 (ed. Feb 1 2008) | Holy Smokes, Holy See | | Report spam→
Thanks, Daniel. I agree that the site points to what could be, or should be, or might be possible.

by A. Mayer | 02 Feb 2008 13:02 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
No debate, just beautiful work Aric.

One question are the Uygur Indigenous people to the area?

by lisa hogben | 02 Feb 2008 14:02 | sydney, Australia | | Report spam→
Thanks, Lisa. The Uygur are indigenous. They had their own republic that was taken over by the Chinese in the rapid expansion in the ’50’s when they took over Tibet. They belong ethnically with the countries further west, Tajiks, Kazaks, and so on. If you walk through a market in Xingiang, it smells, looks and feels more like Afghanistan in culture than China.

by A. Mayer | 02 Feb 2008 14:02 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→

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A. Mayer, Photographer A. Mayer
New York City , United States
Stupid Photographer, Dazed, shocked, stupefied Stupid Photographer
Dazed, shocked, stupefied
(Stupid Photographers Agency)
Holy Smokes , Holy See
Daniel Legendre, Photographer Daniel Legendre
Paris , France
John Lucaites, Professor, Rhetoric and P John Lucaites
Professor, Rhetoric and P
Indiana , United States
lisa hogben, Visualjournalist! lisa hogben
Sydney , Australia


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