What's In A Name

How do you come up with the names for your images?  One of the questions I am frequently asked is "how do you name your photographs?"  Maybe you yourself have wondered - how do artists title their respective works of art?   Personally, I have found 3 methods that work really well.

Some artists arrive at very simple descriptions - such as "Flower On A Hill" or "Winter Fox" or "Winter Bison" - rather straight forward, to the point! It says what needs to be said in a very simple fashion.  While others seem to have taken a tour of the rabbit hole that Alice wandered into and through an odd journey of sorts, fashion a grandiose, yet perhaps, cryptic name to christen their captured moment (say that 10 times fast).

Here's an example: "Eidolon Of Eros" - sounds like it should be a medieval adventure novel. Okay, I have to admit, that is one of mine - and I love it!  In ancient Greek literature, Eidolon is considered to be a specter or spirit, either living or dead.  In the case of the image at hand, it is the capture of a ghostly couple, late one night ascending the Spanish Steps along the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, Italy. At least that is the way I see the image...a specter of love.

To break it down, two individuals, seemingly very much in love, were caught ascending the grand staircase in this photograph. Since I was using a slightly longer exposure, their movement seemed to be recorded as two ghostly figures. As a result of their moving during the exposure they almost blurred out of the image completely. The whole process is simply about timing.

When we slow down long enough to take notice of a moment we may actually see a much larger canvas behind the immediate.  Often times, if not always, there is a bigger story unfolding than what we encounter in a casual cursory glance.  This is why naming a piece is so important to me - because a name still means something.  A name has power to tell of something behind the initial encounter. A name can reveal story.

Some artists prefer not to comment on their art - to allow the viewer to come to their own conclusions - to allow the viewer to take their own journey, free of the bias of another's experience. And although that thinking has its own merit, it is obvious that in even giving a piece a title, we are already adhering value to a moment simply by giving it a name. Why? Because a name means something. A name reveals story. It is in the name given that we reveal something of the moment intertwined with our own experience.

Back to the original question: How do you come up with the names for your image?  Let me give you three - time travel, immersion experience, and honoring the artist.  Here's what it looks like:

Time Travel - #1

Sometimes, honestly, a name simply pops in to my head when looking at one of my images.  Immediately I come to the realization that this moment, well, it reminds me of somewhere else in time.  Perhaps in beholding a moment - you realize instantly that you've been here before - that maybe it's something you've already experienced. Has that ever happened to you? Often I find that my strongest memories are stirred up from my years growing up.  The Midwest is where I spent the first part of my life, growing up south of Chicago, Illinois. Life then seemed very different from todays way of...well, just about everything.  Although, for some of us, our youth may have been riddled with trouble and sometimes very difficult experiences - I find that there was something powerful in the mind of a ten year old kid, before awe and wonder slipped away to the age of busyness and sensibility driven by a lack of time to imagine.  Back then a name still meant something. And imagination was big!

A number of my images are drawn from memories of stories when I was a kid, when wonder was still fresh. I tend to find that "THIS" image I am currently looking at reminds me of "THAT" moment in time. So, in a manner of speaking, time-travel.

Immersion Event - #2

Sometimes I simply stare at an image for quite some time and immerse myself in the moment.  It might be similar to taking your shoes and socks off and stepping into the cool rushing water of Lake Michigan as the sand slips between your toes.  Suddenly, in that immersion experience, what sinks in is that "This Moment" is a reflection of something more involved that just a moment. It is as if though a "Bigger Picture" is behind the immediate - something grander - something timeless - or even eternal.  Another way of looking at this is to realize that everything is not just about me.  In taking time to see beyond the immediate surface - you suddenly realize that "THIS" is about "THAT" - this moment, relates to something that transcends just a moment. Have you taken time to immerse yourself in a moment lately? It's not as easy to do in a world full of busyness.  These days I find that I have to schedule time to slow down.

Honor the Artist - #3

Sometimes, it is simply to give honor to the Artist behind the work.  As a landscape photographer I so love those moments when dawn spills on to the Teton Range crowned with billowing clouds reflecting the glory of morning alpine glow.  As the day comes to a close there is a brief moment where all the colors join together in a magnificent concert to remind us once again of awe and wonder.  In all of these moments, I have the great privilege to remember - that I - am not the artist. I do get to capture these moments of artistry that I myself could never create.  As much as the image is beautiful, I didn't create the actual light falling across the horizon, or the life that pulses through the forest, or the energy that holds the oceans in place.  There are times where I simply choose to honor God, our Creator, with recognizing His handiwork - the One who fashioned this place for us to enjoy and be reminded that He still is.

"Let Your Glory Fall" - Redfish Lake, Idaho 2020

A name still means something - and sometimes, "THIS" is about "THAT."  It is in the naming of a piece of artwork that I am also reminded that my own name means something.  Just like your name means something.  When someone knows your name - what do they really know about you?

In times past, names were given to imply a certain quality of hope into that child's future.  For instance, my name, Kevin, means kind and gentle.  In many respects my parents raised me with the hope that I would become that kind of person.  When someone looks at me, I hope that they would see beyond the surface - that they might see a greater depth than just a moment - that there is a story behind who I am and who I am becoming.  I would hope that they would take the time to see beyond the cursory moment to realize that there is more.

In the same way, I would hope that I make the time to see others in this same light.  To look into a persons eyes, whether friend or stranger, and remember that they have a past that has brought them to where they are today.  To take time to immerse myself into their footsteps with the hope to better understand their hopes and fears.  To acknowledge that we alike are fearfully and wonderfully made.  And to remember that somewhere within each of us there is an image that we bear that is somehow rooted in our Creator.

A name is a powerful thing!

May you take the time to remember that a name, such as yours, is ever revealing the artwork that you are becoming.  When someone gets to know your name - what do they really know about you?

Most people don't think of themselves as a piece of art. Most people think they're a piece of something else.  What would it look like if we really did treat one another and even ourselves as if though we were an actual work of art?