Over the course of a year, we have numerous opportunities to enter our photographs into a huge variety of photography competitions. This includes Leica with the OSKAR BARNACK AWARD, for instance. Many of the published pictures do have titles and some competitions make titles mandatory. However, are titles really necessary?
In my opinion, this should be left to the photographer/artist. Just as it is our choice to take our photographs the way we see the world around us, it should be up to us if we want to give our photographs a title or not, and we certainly should not be penalized for not having a title when entering a photograph into a competition.
Demanding a title can on occasion lead to some rather curious results. I used to teach two professional photography courses at a private college here in Minneapolis. To give my students a broader evaluation of their work, I routinely invited various photography associations and photography clubs to hold their competition judgments at the school. In turn the students were allowed to enter the competions even if they were not members of the association or club.
One photography association that regularly came to the school was the local chapter of the PPA (Professional Photographers of America). They demanded that every photograph entered had to have a title, otherwise it would be rejected.
I, as well as most of my students were never too fond of the local PPA. It seemed that most of the photographs entered by their members were following the general ideas and tastes of the membership. The similarities were often such that the pictures could have all been taken by the same photographer.
I always challenged my students to use their own ideas and to come up with something different because it would make their photographs stand out from the crowd. I was often proven right with that approach because my students quite regularly walked away with the majority of winners, even though they competed against individuals that worked as experienced, professional photographers.
The absurdity of demanding titles was shown especially with one photograph. It showed a variety of different size artist paint brushes, one of which had the tip of the brush coated with red paint. Out of necessity, the student called it “A Dab of Red.” The judges were quite impressed. They gave it all kinds of accolades. In fact, they saw nothing that required critiquing or suggestions for corrections. A flawless photograph. Yet at the end, the photograph was denied a first place finish. The argument was that the title was incorrect. We were told that “A Dab of Red” was misleading since the metal sleeve of one brush next to it showed a reflection of the brush and the red dab of paint. Thus, they argued, there was more than one dab of red.
Frankly, to downgrade a photograph because the title is not quite right is about as myopic and pedantic as it can get. Such thinking relegates the photograph to second place status behind the title. It makes absolutely no sense. Nobody at the school agreed with that decision.
Subsequently, when the time came again for the PPA to visit us, we decided on a little payback. One of the students created a photograph of a campfire, showing a frying pan with a freshly caught fish in it. As a title we chose “Der Fisch in der Bratpfanne auf dem Lagerfeuer” (The fish in the frying pan on the campfire). When the photograph was shown it created quite a problem for the announcer to read the title. But there couldn’t possibly be any argument about the accuracy of it.