In writing my Critical Review I used the phrase that my photographs were ‘the opening gambit in a dialogue with the viewer’. I have already submitted my CR, but was looking to write a bit more on the never ending debate of art or not, and in researching references ran across a chapter in Fred Ritchin’s After Photography. It begins:
“The real story becomes a conversation, in which the author/photographer is simply the most prominent participant.” (DiNucci, 1996 in Ritchin, 2009: 97)
Ritchin then goes on to make the point:
“Photographs in their ambiguity can provoke, motivating the reader to interrogate their meanings. The photograph may create enough confusion and curiosity to stimulate the reader to solicit alternate voices, to peruse the accompanying text, or to click on the image and go to another screen. Digital media, in turn, promises that the viewer can pursue certain ideas that come up in the looking and follow up on interests almost as if in a conversation. The advantage of this form of exploration is how open-ended it is: the photograph stimulates multiple questions as much or more than it provides answers. If not overly constricted by a caption or accompanying title, the photograph’s odd appropriation of a fractional second and a rectangular space may serve to engage the reader’s curiosity.” (Ritchin, 2009: 97)
While Ritchin is primarily addressing in this book the shift from print to digital media, the basic point stands and is equally relevant whether one is viewing my work on a wall or page, or as is increasing likely, in an on-line gallery of some sort. There is an inevitable interplay between author and reader, and if I choose (as I have in my current work) not to constrain the reader with captions or accompanying text, the photograph is an open-ended question(s) that invites the reader to participate in the dialogue, each bringing their own interpretation.
There are indeed times when I as the photographer want to guide the reader; to give them some clue to the purpose or meaning of the photograph, but there are other times, particularly when the work is not intended to carry some specific information that I want there to be no guidance and to allow each reader the freedom to exercise their curiosity, indulge in the ambiguity and revel in the conclusions to which they arrive.
RITCHIN, Fred. 2009. After Photography. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.