Keith de Lellis Gallery explores the relationship between text and image in its latest exhibition, Picture the Word. When photography incorporates the written word, which is the stronger element? Does the scene contradict or confirm the written message? Is the photographer's intent made clearer or obscured by the text? The viewer is invited to consider these questions as they explore the photographs on display in Picture the Word.
This exhibition features works by such greats as Weegee, Bill Brandt, and Simpson Kalisher, as well as anonymous press photographers and well-known photojournalists. Text is provided in the form of handmade protest signs, newspaper headlines, advertisements, graffiti, and more. Immediately, the viewer is drawn to these verbal clues, and allows the text to guide their visual navigation of the photograph.
Rod Slemmons, former director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, explained the various considerations the photographer must take into account in combining text and image: "First, the words have accepted, coded meanings and contexts that affect what we see in the adjacent images. Second, the words invoke mental images that might also conflict with what we see. Third, images have meanings and contexts that may alter our engagement with the adjacent words. Fourth, images can call up words in the mind of the viewer."
While most images feature found instances of type within a scene, a select few have been constructed or posed. In either case, the text shifts the viewers' perception of the photograph, and vice versa. Ed Clark photographs gangster Mickey Cohen, a man whose notoriety is made clear by countless newspapers, making up the backdrop for his portrait, with his name in every headline. Simpson Kalisher captures a pair of men in military uniforms from behind, the view of what holds their attention is obscured; the sign above them reads "Peep Show". What would we assume about these well-dressed men without the words featured in each image? With only the text, how would we picture the subjects of these photographs?
The images gathered in Picture the Word demonstrate the strengths and limitations of the written word and the photographic image, and how they can be used in tandem to convey a strong message.
This exhibition will be on view at the Keith de Lellis Gallery through June 23, 2017.