Commission 08: Talking To Me?

Icons and Statesmen. © Knut Skjærven.

Icons and Statesmen. © Knut Skjærven.

Don’t be afraid to use texts in your images. I do it all the time. And with great pleasure.

Texts can have positive effects on image content and bring forth ideas that, in other ways, would be impossible to have. Like in Icons and Statesmen above. You did not know that icons and statesman could be symbolically compared to empty classes, did you? Well, maybe you knew. And that the guardians were women?  Maybe you knew that as well?

Texts can be used in many ways. Let me point to 3:

1) Text can be neutral and not have an explicit impact on picture content. Let’s call this indifferent text. This is probably the texts you see most of the time. It is just there and don’t add anything in particular.

2) Text can be affirmative and support and confirm the visuals in question. Let’s say you take a picture of a door and the text says “entrance”. That would be using texts the affirmative way.

3) Text can, however,  be used creatively in many ways too. Let’s label this creative use of text. Text is creative if the text adds something that was not already there. If is combines existing components in a new and different way.

I don’t use the word creative randomly here. A well known definition of what creativity is, in fact, a combination of existing elements IN A NEW WAY.

Lets look at the photograph, which by the way is shot at the reopening of  Museum The Kennedys, in Berlin, November 24, 2012.

Is the text in the picture used indifferently?  I would say, hardly.

Is it used affirmatively, then? Could be, if you find that empty glasses are that closely connected to icons and statesmen that it is just a question of yet another confirmation of the relationship? I would say hardly even here. This shot is not as straight forward as the door and the exit sign mentioned earlier.

That leaves us with the creative use of a text. The photograph brings together something that is not already there. In the meaning that it combines and stresses elements that was never thought of in the context. That is what makes this image itching. It makes it creative.

Let me also add that when I use the word creative it is only a reference to specific way of building a message. It is not an evaluation of the photograph compared to others. Some might prefer indifferent use of text, others to use text affirmatively, and others again to use text more as a teaser to the possible creative reading of an image.

The commission is: a) Take 2 images where you use text indifferently;  b) take 2 other pictures where you use text affirmatively; and  c) take 2 photographs where you use text creatively and establish a possible reading of a photograph that is beyond what was already there.

When you are ready, post it all to your own site and link to your fine specimens from comments to this very post.

I am not going to interpret the possible content of Icons and Statesmen. You can do that. I am not sure that is will go well if you know someone who are in politics.

And then there is the ironic smile of the women in the right hand side. She knows everything.

Good luck with it.

© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved: Text and Picture.

December 11, 2012.


  1. #1 by Alex Coghe on December 11, 2012 - 3:18 pm

    Interesting your POV but I don’t agree. Text are not universal and understood only by those who know the language.

  2. #2 by Knut Skjaerven on December 11, 2012 - 11:18 pm

    Thanks, Alex, for your comment. Always appreciated.

    I am not quite sure that I get what you don’t agree on. It is a fact that texts are very often part of pictures, and particularly in street photography. You can hardly avoid it since there are signs, ads, graffiti, posters all over the place.

    One of the forefathers of street photography, Walker Evans, is one of the best advocates for it. He has made numerous photographs where text (signs) were an ingredient and even the main subject.

    Roland Barthes has written chapters on it, just to take another angle.

    It is hardly something I have invented.

    What I did suggest, however, was the three types: a) indifferent; b) affirmative and c) creative ways of using text in (street) photography. I am sure there are more ways. Maybe even a d) for contradictory use of text.

    Sure, as with any language, even the visual, it can only be understood by those who know it. Apart from that I perfectly understand what you mean :-).

    Have a good evening, over there. It is closing in on midnight here.


    • #3 by Alex Coghe on December 11, 2012 - 11:26 pm

      Knut, naturally I am not against texts, but I am happy that you got my poit about the universality of the reading. In this sense English is more universal, but you try to imagine Chino mandarin or simply Italian…

      • #4 by Knut Skjaerven on December 12, 2012 - 9:53 am

        Yes, on that point I agree with you.

        I am sure that Mandarin and Italian texts works very well in those countries. Your point is valid but it should not prevent photographer to experiment with text in their images.

        Thanks, again Alex. Have a good day :-).


  3. #5 by Knut Skjaerven on December 11, 2012 - 11:25 pm

    By the way, I did not insert the text in this photo. It was painted on the desk as the theme for the photos hanging in this particular room at the museum :-).

  4. #6 by elisam75 on December 19, 2012 - 7:50 pm

    sawing your picture and digging on Klein’s play with words makes me chilly :-))))

  5. #7 by elisam75 on January 18, 2013 - 7:01 am

    Hi Knut,
    It’s pretty hard to find such a situation and one that is commonly understandable. I love the subject but i am quite struggling with it :-).
    The first one that could be worth sharing on this is here:
    I called it Cafe Madame. What is your thinking?
    Have a good day,

    • #8 by Knut Skjaerven on January 18, 2013 - 9:35 am

      Thanks, Elisabeth.

      Yes, and your solution is good. I like it. Why was that hard?

      The main idea is not to copy, but to let yourself be inspired by the image above (if that is possible) and to simply keep eyes open for similar situations: text and picture combined.

      Good day to you :-). TGF.


  6. #9 by elisam75 on February 3, 2013 - 12:59 pm

    Hi Knut,
    Here is another try.
    I call it a love story after the film sign:
    What is your thinking?

    I had some other but harder to to understand. Fun for french but can you understand the fun behind this one? : “Au Canon” : or behind this one? “A serious guy” :
    Have a great day!

  7. #10 by Elisabeth on February 12, 2013 - 5:02 pm

    Hi Knut,
    Here’s another try for this commission:
    I called it “And the winner is…”.
    I wonder if you think it works.

    • #11 by Knut Skjaerven on February 15, 2013 - 10:33 am

      All these are to the point, Mme Maurice. I thought I already had commented. Sorry :-). Have a good day.

      • #12 by elisam75 on February 15, 2013 - 7:57 pm

        Thank you so much! You made my day!!!!
        So happy!
        The tool is defintly in my mind now! I keep seeing those situations now!
        I’m on the go to say thank you again :-)!
        Have good evening :-)!

  8. #13 by Knut Skjaerven on February 19, 2013 - 4:50 pm

    Hi there.

    I did not think that having you and Kim running public was a great success. So I made both of you private, meaning not visible in the blogroll :-).

    Have a good evening.


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