What is this need that we have which compels us to make sure our name is known, that we must be identified or associated with the object which bears our name? Is it that our culture is so busy, rushed and disconnected that we feel forgotten and isolated so our name is an attempt to prove we’re actually here? Or are we so unsure of our own unique viewpoint we must plaster our name across whatever we produce to be sure whoever sees it will know it’s ours? Do we think our “masterpiece” is so masterful that it will be stolen and used for massive profits without our knowing it? Or do we simply think our signature adds to the beauty of our creative output? I often consider these cosmic questions when I see a photo that bears a watermark that takes up a good portion of the picture.
Watermarks are quite common now. In many cases they appear to be placed on photos like sprinkles on a dish of ice cream, as if they add to the sweetness of the photographer’s success. Being a part of two photo communities I see them used by a number of photographers with a variety of skill levels and in a variety of sizes. Like graffiti is to the fellow with spray paint in hand, to a photographer they are a testament of ownership. This is my territory; this is my photo. But are they necessary? If I stand in front of a monochrome photo which depicts a vast landscape with a bold contrast between the areas of light and shadow falling across sweeping, majestic mountains in the distance and the twisted remains of a tree in the foreground there is no question who took this photo. Yet there is no watermark. If I’m looking through the pages of a magazine and a see a portrait of a popular actor gazing confidently at the camera in a minimalist setting with an attitude which exudes their personality, I know who took the photo. Yet there is no watermark. Their photos are not signed or stamped and yet everyone knows an Ansel Adams landscape and or a portrait shot by Annie Leibovitz. Their unique perspective is their watermark so no names are necessary.
Shouldn’t my photography speak in the same way? Although I may not be exhibiting in galleries in NYC or taking portraits of high profile clients, when someone looks at my pictures hanging on a wall I do believe they should be able to say, “I know who took that!” and I’m pleased to say it has happened a few times. I may be ruffling a few feathers here, but a signature stuck in a blank area of a picture or those cumbersome watermarks spread across an image ruin a picture for me. Dare I say that in some way a signature plastered on a picture is much like the graffiti of a person’s name plastered on a wall? Is it our need to be recognized that we are driven to insert our name into a picture? Do we really think in today’s high-tech photo-processing world that we are protecting our image from photo thieves when we override the picture with an elaborate rendition of our initials? For me they are spoilers and an indication that you’d rather I look at your name than the art you’ve produced. You may agree or disagree with me, but like the graffiti that inspired these musings, you will most certainly have an opinion about it!
I remember standing in front of a painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir in a museum once captivated by its color. It depicted a couple dancing and was almost larger than life-size yet the artist’s signature wasn’t even the length of my pinky finger. With such a large painting I’d expected the signature to be large as well. Renoir knew his style was distinct. His way of painting was unmistakably his. Shouldn’t my photographs be like that? Isn’t that what sets Adams and Leibovitz apart from the crowd? The mark they make is in the way they depict what they see, not in the way they sign their pieces. They draw attention to their subject and not their name. That is the kind of mark I want to leave on my photographs as well.
Ann H. LeFevre
June 28, 2018