As I mentioned in my last post, I am the featured artist of a group show at the Image City Photography Gallery. Thanks to all the gallery partners for their help in putting this thing together. Everyone is very friendly and encouraging and they are accomplished photographers themselves.

I decided to title the show “Nameless”. I wrote up an artist’s statement that explained the idea behind the title and thought I would reproduce it here.

As a bit of background you should know that each print has a little title card mounted next to it, but the titles are relatively non-descript like “Water #23” or “Wood #2”. The cards also list the location of each print, but not too specifically like “Yates County” or “Pennsylvania”.

“…to see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.” – Claude Monet

Humans are inveterate namers, categorizers, sorters. We are uncomfortable with any thing that is different – anything that we cannot name and shove into the box where those things go. Things that we cannot slap a label on slow us down, confuse us, frighten us.

We identify the people we meet by the color of their skin or what they do for a living or where they live. We think that we know them by the labels that we apply and the groups we lump them into. How unfortunate.

We like our nature to come complete with labels too. Time and again I go looking for waterfalls and I find them with little wooden name plates screwed to the rocks nearby. Why? What difference does a name make when I am there looking at it? It is water, the stuff of life. It flows and splashes, it roars and babbles, it wears down the rocks, it freezes my bones, it smells clean and fresh, it sparkles in the sunlight – it doesn’t need a name.

We walk through a wood and see a leaf on the ground. We know leaves. Next! Here is a tree. It is like all the other trees. Next! Once we put a name to something, we dismiss it and move on. We stop seeing the thing and just see the label.
blue box
“By these labels we recognize everything but no longer see anything. We know the labels on all the bottles, but never taste the wine.” – Fredrick Franck, The Zen of Seeing.

And so we come to art and photographs. Here is where we should allow ourselves to be free. We should be free to experience new ideas and see new visions. Isn’t that what art is? Instead even here we want labels. We want the artist to put a title on every piece in order to tell us what we should see and what we should think. We fear “getting it wrong”.

Labels and titles and names are difficult to shake off. I preferred to display my photos with no titles at all or at least just with arbitrary numbers; hence the “Nameless” thing. However, the logistics of putting on a gallery show like this one required some sort of labeling for each piece.

As you look at the photos, please do not look at the title tags – they won’t help in seeing the images. Look at the textures, the colors, the shapes. Don’t be surprised if the part of the image that you find most interesting is not the main subject or that it is different from what someone else likes – I do it all the time

“We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there, we have been conditioned to expect….but, as photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.” – Aaron Siskind



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14 Responses to “Nameless”

  1. suburbanlife Says:

    Superb artist statement about looking, seeing, naming. best of luck with your exhibition. G

    • forestrat Says:

      Thanks again, suburbanlife.

      The opening of the show was last Friday and this coming Friday is going to be a “First Friday”. It’s a deal here in Rochester (also being done in other cities) where galleries are open all at the same time and transportation is provided between the venues and there are special events and what not. I’m going to hang out at the photo gallery and see who I see.


  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    I, too, have difficulty with the naming part of Art – especially with the artists statements.
    It is what it is. Why do I have to explain it to a viewer? In any case, the viewer comes with their own experiences and it either resonates for them or it doesn’t. I almost want to cry when I see people leaning over a museum tag reading a novelette before they actually glance at the painting then move on.
    I like what you had to say. Are these the photos you had on exhibit, or did you choose water ones?

    • forestrat Says:


      Sometimes things need labels, but I think it is less often than we think.

      The gallery show is all water and leaves and such. I am building up a collection of man-made objects like these and the old barn and stuff. so maybe I’ll use them in the future.


  3. flandrumhill Says:

    Forgetting ‘the name of the thing’ is especially important in the drawing process. Though I’ve been aware of this while drawing, I don’t think I’ve yet to consider this while photographing (yet).

    It’s so easy to draw what we *think* we see. Even young children do this when they draw a blue strip across the top of the page to indicate the sky, leaving a white space in between the blue and the green of the grass.

    Thanks for sharing your artist’s statement.

    • forestrat Says:


      Quite often it seems that as adults we need to unlearn some things and become more like children. Like the song says “We don’t need no education; We don’t need no thought control.”


  4. Val Says:

    This is a fabulous post!

    Thank you for sharing your take on labels. I have serious issues with labels …and, though I’ve written about it a few times before, I never could have expressed it as well as you did here.

    Thank you.

  5. forestrat Says:

    Thanks, Val. I took a quick peek at your blog and Forest Wisdom’s. I’ll have to get back there for a closer look soon.


  6. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    You nail it well about the map not being the territory… The labels obscure the mystery. Great images! Thanks for letting us see your work.


  7. Art - A conversation With Rattus in Silvam | Cutthroat Stalker Says:

    […] started to respond to his latest post, “Nameless,” and my comment got really long. So instead of hijacking his site, I thought I’d post […]

  8. cutthroat stalker Says:

    Hi Mark! I know I’m coming to this a bit late, but that’s pretty much the story of my life–always a little slow.

    Congratulations on wearing the label “Featured Artist” at the show ;-) . I hope it went well.

    I started to write some thoughts about “labels,” but it got really long-winded. So I made a post about it on my website if you want to squander some time seeing what I said.

  9. rlketcham Says:

    Cutthroat stalker directed me to this post as I had just written about the same issue. In the 70s I did a show for my sculpture that was PR and the show brochure was written up along the same lines only I didn’t do any explaination at all the list was 1-15 as; sculpture, another one, another one….
    The idea of context being verbal for a visual art is one of the things I continually struggle with. If I need to add words to make a photo work I feel I have failed. Although with any art there will always be those that need to hear something about the situation or artist to ‘get it’ or add importance to the work.
    Great post and nice to know I am not alone in thinking about these things and that someone is much more eloquent at sorting this out than I am.

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