Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Name This Image. Collapse a Universe.

Ambiguous Image
Name this image!
A few days ago, I blogged this cryptic statement without an accompanying explanation:

A title collapses the wave function of an image's meaning.

The line popped into my mind when I was trying to figure out a caption for last Saturday's image of a warrior woman and Supergirl. It was from a set of photos I took in a session combining various action figures in random poses.

Since there was no preconceived story behind the picture, when I started playing around with title ideas I realized it could be interpreted in many different way. For instance, Supergirl could be lounging in the afterglow of a sexual encounter. Or the warrior might represent a fierce external persona hiding the more vulnerable character in the background. And so on.

The title I eventually ended up with (Even Superheroes Get The Blues) was still somewhat ambiguous. But it made me realize that reading an image's title is like looking inside the box in Schr√∂dinger's thought experiment about the cat. It collapses the universe of potential interpretations into a constrained set.

For most practical purposes, that's a good thing. If an image is of a documentary nature, accompanying text helps guide a viewer to a more accurate interpretation of the physical-world occurrence that was captured. In an artistic work, a title allows the creator to more clearly reveal her intended meaning.

Still, something inside me recoils at the hubris of believing I am more than a medium of expression for the works that emerge from my consciousness. And I wonder why I feel the need to restrain an image from expressing its entire universe of potential meaning.


sororNishi said...

I make a dog mine by naming it (or a child) and maybe that ownership is one of what may be several reasons for naming a piece of work too.

Kandinsky said...

Interesting and revealing that you compare a title with Schrödingers thesis.

I prefer to take in pieces of art for instance without knowing their title... it is a way of making the experiance MINE.

Then I look at the title and try to trace the artists intentions, sometimes possible but not always.

I am not sure I want the experiance to be same way with books for instance.

Dirk said...

"And so it goes."

Cryptic, yet leading somewhere.

Botgirl Questi said...

soror: Interesting observation! Another aspect of naming a pet is that it transforms it from a generic animal into a sentient being possessing personhood. I've wondered about how the names we choose for virtual identities influences both the way we are perceived by others and the trajectory of how we view ourselves and live out our virtual lives.

Kandinsky: It's cool that you intentionally avoid reading a work's title until you've had the chance to experience a work independently. One of the things i live about the remix culture is that it gives people an incentive to see works beyond the context of the originators and then give life to their new vision.

Dirk: Sometimes somewhere is nowhere. :)

Joey1058 said...

Naming images can be blamed on Microsoft Windows as far as I'm concerned. Granted, a name is a lot easier to remember than a number when looking for a certain image. But what if I was happy with my digital SLR arbitrarily filing photos with numbers?

So if I name a photo of my uncle, do I say "This is my uncle", referring to the photo, or do I say "This is his picture", referring to my uncle? See the irony of naming in this context? Many people trip over the idea of having a photograph for an uncle! In that same vein, having named the photo, do I own the photo, or my uncle? Is the photo now sentient, now that it's been named? A silly argument, to be sure. It's one for future philosophers to sort out.

As for your pic in this post, Botgirl, I'd tag it as "drinks after work".

Carl Houston said...

"A title collapses the wave function of an image's meaning."

AKA disambiguation.