The Act of Naming
Like any creative work, my photographs nearly always earn a title, and I view a title as another creative aspect of the work itself, sometimes offering a subtle layer of meaning, like “Fly don’t walk,” “First Light, Winter Solstice,” or even something as simple as “1491.”
Naming new work is always a challenge, because we generally want something “short and sweet” as they say, without being too blunt or factual. It’s a fine line, because hopefully the title is also perhaps a little poetic and a natural reflection of the work itself without seeming to force anything. It seems to me that a lot of the best titles leave something for the viewer’s imagination too, so that they’re able to fill in part of the idea with their own interpretations with whatever meaning they may find in the work.
My son and I did a collaborative photograph last year, which was an adventure for both of us, because he’s way better at various tasks than I am, and this photograph couldn’t have had this look without his input and actual work with the various parts, like the camera, gas mask, and film.
I generally like to name new work fairly quickly, but had way to much stuff going on to name a few of the photographs. Since this was a collaboratively made photograph with my son T’naa, it was only fair that we named it together too. We bounced a lot of ideas around in my office the other day, including why the photograph looks like this, and all of the elements we made to put in the composition.
At any rate, we were in my school office last week bouncing names around. T’naa played in a metal band as one of two lead guitarists who would sling riffs back and forth, so I asked him to look up the titles of a lot of the metal bands, because they seemed to have the attitude we were looking for. Some of them were “Criminally Insane, Spirit in Black, Hell Awaits,” and so forth. Good stuff. We were inspired, but didn’t want to steal any of their names and were at kind of an impasse.
Just by dumb luck, T’naa is taking a college writing class right now and he explained that some classic writing verses have what’s called an “iambic pentameter.” For an example, Shakespeare used an iambic pentameter which consisted of five pairs of two syllables (or iambic feet). This means that there is a quantified rhythm to the English language (same with the Tlingit language, and most likely others too), so we looked up many of my own existing titles and they were mostly five or eight syllables. I wasn’t fully conscious of using this rhythm for years, so this became a part of our discussion too. T’naa has a natural gift for language, so this was a lively, fun discussion.
Ready for what we came up with after all this? Drumroll please, and preferably from a Metal band:
“Sunrise Stroll Across the Wastelands”
We both liked it because the idea of a sunrise is about hope, a literal new day that we can make our own. The word “stroll” seemed perfect because it infers something leisurely and maybe even kind of carefree, like the idea of a relaxed walk through a park or garden. Much like the photograph itself, the words are juxtaposed with the last word “wastelands,” which is what helps add momentum to the idea that the photograph may be a bit satirical. When we tossed this title into the mix it made both of us laugh out loud, so we knew we nailed it.
The meaning of the work and the new title
This photograph was designed to go along with the existing body of work “The Home Planet, Global Climate Change.” The broader body of work is about taking a peek at what’s happening with planet Earth with the human impact of burning a seemingly endless supply of fossil fuels for decades. Hopefully, the work will help people to realize their own contributions to this problem, because it seems that when people do things like buy a new car these days, they’re not giving a second thought to all of the fossil fuel emissions that this new car is going to spew into our atmosphere.
I don’t have a single friend or acquaintance who has purchased an electric car yet, they’ve all opted for new gasoline powered cars, knowing full well how bad they are for the environment. Same here, I have a gasoline powered car, and am looking for a way to get rid of it after being a bicycle commuter for over five years. It means that from a real life point of view, people still really don’t care about what’s happening with our global climate crisis, because their actions speak louder than words as they say. And millions of cars still emit mass quantities of carbon dioxide every day, with hardly any hope of it decreasing, even as we’re in the midst of an ecological meltdown. It means that most of humanity is already doing the metaphorical “Sunrise Stroll Across the Wastelands,” blissfully enjoying the new day without considering the dire straits in which we live.
Transforming the digital photograph into platinum
This does not mean that film is quite dead yet, I still love the look of a darkroom photograph printed with skill and artistry, such as the mural prints made by our good friend Sage Paisner. Shawna Hanel, Sage and I have been printing scanned medium format negatives for months, and they look great. In the meantime, I’ll be shooting more photographs with this Nikon D800 for future platinum prints.
By using the professional grade Nikkor lenses coupled with the Nikon D800, you’re essentially able to make photographs with impeccable sharpness. One of my favorite lenses is the Nikkor 24-120mm F/4 with ED glass (extra-low dispersion elements), which renders photographs that rivals the sharpness of a prime lens. When I need photographs that are as sharp as a 4×5 lens, I pull out one of the Nikkor prime lenses, and lately I’ve been partial to the lightning fast 85mm f/1.4 lens with the stunning bokeh (SHARP image area juxtaposed with a beautiful bokeh, or blurred background). At any rate, this is a knockout combination of using the D800 with Nikkor lenses.
For most photographers, they generally don’t need to transition their photographs back into analog form; there is little reason, because their photographs usually get used via a digital file. What I’m doing with the digital Nikon cameras and lenses is pushing their capabilities to the very edge, and pulling as much quality out of them as possible to successfully emulate what was formerly made with a 4×5 camera and film to make a 19th century process platinum photograph. I love the look and am looking forward to making more platinum photographs with this extraordinary D800 and Nikkor lenses. In reality, it’s going to make my platinum printing faster without compromising image quality, which is what us photographers are constantly chasing around the planet. With ravens.
PS, this photograph is going to be included in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian exhibition “Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and William Wilson” later this year.
Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2014, All Rights Reserved.