There are moment that are expressive by themselves. In other photos we are tackled by its atmosphere, or an emotion captured int the frame. We could love a photo because its pleasant or unpleasant nature generates strong memories in us. Or just like that: it’s funny. And there are the photoreportages.
Recently I visited the Robert Capa exhibition in Budapest. I took my time and I take a long tour of the rooms, to enjoy his work. Actually only two or three photos captured my mind or my soul. I don’t know if the problem is with me or with the photography style he founded, but almost none of his photograph did not work out for me without the captions. I became dejected.
Then I googled another famous report-photograph: Kevin Carter’s starving Sudanese girl with a vulture in the background. I hardly know Kevin Carter’s photographic work, but this photo meant much more to me than the entire Capa exhibition. And the photograph was without a caption.
And then it occurs me the question, leaving aside the ethical problems of this issue: is photojournalism, generally speaking, respect for the exceptions, readable without caption? In the early nineties one of the World Press winner photo was a grieving soldier in a helicopter. (David Turnley, American Soldier Grieving for Comrade, Iraq, 1991). In an article is stated: He [David Turnley] believes it has provoked such a strong reaction, and for many people has become symbolic of the war itself, because of its raw emotional power. ‘It is an unbelievably intimate photo,’ he has said. ‘It reveals the vulnerability of otherwise strong men.’ Why? Is that preconception, that men, even strong men don’t cry is such a novelty for you? Even in the early nineties?
Maybe I’m cynical: but this photo of David Turnley, (and the endless series of war photographs) beyond that it presents strong emotions of a situation we are not quite familiar with, I don’t believe it provides something new to photography. Unless you read the caption. And there is a lot of picture like this, that floods the world: a commonplaces that terrifies us. With or without caption. And if there is no caption hooked along the picture, in no time we scroll forward. I can hear the dialogue between the spouse: “– What are you watching at? – Oh, dear, they are killing each other again. Jenny, please bring me a cup of fresh coffee.” Photojournalism and the flood of the photographs depicting the horrors of war is a fabrication of all time mass-media. No photography. Just using, photography. Abusing phtography to cultivate more money.
And then, in an inspired moment, I turned the question: would it work an untaken photograph with a well-composed caption? It’s a very common situation, that talkative pictures come along with “No comment. But what if we turn the situation: No image. Just caption. And imagine yourself: what’s that picture all about…
Issues of ethics on photojournalism could be read here
Note: Even thought th illustration of this post have fictious captions, they could be for real.