I often ask myself which comes first: the quote or the image? If you’ve been following my personal social media accounts for any length of time you know I enjoy pairing quotes with my images. But which comes first? Do the quotes find existing images or do the quotes inspire images?
Honestly I’m not sure why I even started using quotes. Was it something I read as a way to engage the audience? Is it a gimmick I learned from years of using Instagram? All I know is that it started way back in the dark ages of social media and I like it. In some ways using other peoples words on my images might seems like a copout; I should do original. Although our current G+ contest, “Caption This” has shown me that there are plenty of clever wordsmiths in our group and I’m not one of them
“I quote others only in order the better to express myself.” Michel de Montaigne
I’m not alone
While the fad of using quotes on social media posts has long faded, I still find myself drawn to finding interesting quotes to give my images a different slant. I’ve come to find that I’m not the only quoting maniac; it seems I’m in good company. Paul Holdengräber, Director of LIVE from the New York Public Library and a fabulous literary interviewer, often peppers his conversations with quotes. I’m a frequent listener of his podcast, A Phone Call from Paul, and he seems to have a quote for every situation.
Using quotes may seem pretentious, but for me, they connect me to my work and they connect me to writers and thinkers far more talented than I. There is something comforting knowing that some of the greatest philosophers of the ages have many of the same doubts, worries, and concerns that I do.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
― Leo Tolstoy
Are quotes simply a crutch?
I’ve often wondered if quotes are simply a crutch because I’m too lazy to write my own captions. I’m sure there are people who follow me who feel I should be using my own words. In fact I have friends who have encouraged me to create my own unique stories for my images. I’m sure if I got serious, I could write my own stories. Unfortunately there is always some other shiny bauble distracting me from the task at hand.
“Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised every day: The more you write, the easier it becomes.” Jane Green
I admire greatly the artists that are able to mine their own experiences or their creative writing skills to create words as unique as their images. Part of me wishes that I was the one creating amazing and challenging work. Until that happens I will cheer on those who have taken the plunge.
Switching it up
Which comes first? Currently the images come first and then I search for a suitable quote based on how I feel when I look at the image. But I wonder what would happen if I can flipped this equation on its head? What if I found a quote a created an image?
A book came into my life recently that might be the answer: Breathing On Your Own. It’s a book of quotes unlike any other I’ve encountered. It was compiled by collage artist and author Richard Kehl. What I like about this one is that they are organized by categories, some of them decidedly different. For example Confusion, Ambiguity, Invisibility, truth/lies and save from a fire are just a few of the categories. Also the subtitle gives another clue that this isn’t your typical quote book: Quotations for independent thinkers.
“The task is to break the hypnotic spell, so that we become undeaf, unblind and multilingual, thereby letting the world speak to us in new voices and write all its possible meanings in the new book of our existence.” Sidney Jourard
Maybe I can switch up my creative working style on its head? I wonder what would happen if I choose the quote first and then take a photo? Will my results be any different? Or maybe I’m simply trying to hard?
Like many of my cohorts on the blog I’ve had a hard time creating new work. I’ve not taken a photo in several weeks. The combination of the ‘pants on fire’ news cycle and a particularly heavy workload has sapped my creative energy. I spend more time thinking about taking photos than actually taking them. I’ve revisited the mind map I created earlier this year and I have lots of ideas bubbling around in the back of my head. I’m keeping a list of photo ideas that I’m hoping to implement next week when Brett and I will be touristing in the Pacific Northwest.
Which come first? Is it the quote or the image? Or does time and inspiration actually play a bigger part in creating work? Or does any of it even matter?
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Instead of worrying which comes first, the quote or the image, maybe I need to simply do the work. I’m grateful that next week I will have many hours and days to do that work alongside some of my closest friends and toy photography buddies at the #ORToyPhotoSafari.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
Do you like to create your own unique headings or use others words like I do?
Or do you like to leave space for the viewer to create their own story?
I actually really enjoy quotes. I’ve used them a lot when I can’t really think of anything good to say. I also find that writing a poem is sometimes the only thing that can describe an image how I want it portrayed and felt.
One of my all time favorite quotes is one I believe to be attributed to the ever famous Anonymous: “Stressed backwards spells desserts”
That being said enjoy the busy times and especially enjoy the OR Toy Safari – sounds like it’ll be a blast!
Looking forward to more shots and quotes.
Thanks for commenting Joseph. It sounds like you are a caption omnivore – whatever works!
What a great quote – I cant think of two words more suited to each other.
See you on the inter webs my friend!
I love quotes, and love them accompanying photos, for sure. The photo is fresh and new and the quote is sometimes a shared reference, which works like an anchor.
This is one of my all-time favorite encouraging quotes:
“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
It reminds I don’t have to aim for Great Success, I can just try, try again to “fail better”.
Fresca, that is a beautiful quote! Thank you for sharing it. I think failure is a part of learning and this quote captures that beautifully. Beckett is such a great writer! We should all aim to ‘fail better’. 😀
I like quotes but I also enjoy writing little stories to go with my photos. I guess my answer for my own work is that it all depends. When I see quotes with other people’s work I try to see how well the quote fits the work.
Oooo Interesting Mary. Have you ever seen a quote image fail miserably together? Sometimes I think I push the outside envelope or understanding or the quote is more about my inner emotions than the image. I wonder if that comes through? I also think your method is probably the best – it all depends. Thanks for the comment! 😀
Shelly, this is quite a thought provoking post, and quite welcome too, since with my photos I usually play it by ear, write down what comes to mind and never much reflect on it. What I think I like most is your idea of being part of something bigger – or greater even -, of being just a tiny voice in the large choir of writers, thinkers, scientists, and artists. A sense of being connected. Although I will never be as great as Nietzsche, or Heidegger, or Sartre, everything I’ve read feels like a card ready to be played…
Playing with culture(s) or tradition(s) can be fun. And it is never solitary because it always raises the question, ‘Will they see it, too?’ If not, “fail better” next time [one of my favourite lines too]!
Really interesting post, Shelly! I wish I was clever enough to have the quote come first. For me, if a photo works, it is more an emotional connection that (hopefully) conjures up a sense of an author or specific play/novel in my mind. And then sometimes the quote lands and it’s hard to think of it otherwise for me. But then, I’m a small thinker. 😉 Thanks for posting this and keeping us thinking. See you FRIDAY! xo