To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowPhoto

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.


Do Now

How do captions affect the way we “read” photographs? Consider what images convey when shown without captions. What is the effect of words without pictures? Which is more accurate or truthful: words or images?

Introduction

Consider recent news coverage of the Grand Jury’s decision in the Ferguson case. How does the pairing of pictures and captions in the media convey different points of view? How does the combination of images and words affect our understanding or interpretation of current events and the world around us? And how does the wording of different captions affect the way you perceive an image?

Artist John Baldessari has long been interested in combining words and photographs. In an interview with SFMOMA, Baldessari said, “It’s a myth that photography represents the truth. Photographers were manipulating imagery way, way back. If anybody believes a photograph’s telling the truth, they’re in the dark ages.” Take a look at the video below to hear more about Baldessari’s perspective on the relationship between words and images.

John Baldessari was born in 1931 in National City, California and lives and works in the Los Angeles area. His artwork, including projects such as artist books, videos, films, billboards, and public works, has been featured in more than 200 solo exhibitions and in over 1,000 group exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. His awards and honors include memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Americans for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, the BACA International 2008, and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, awarded by La Biennale di Venezia in 2009. Learn more about his work by accessing the resources below.

As an extension of this activity, copy or make up random captions. Ask a friend to match photos to your captions. Share one of the pairings with us via Twitter. This activity is adapted from preparatory materials for Baldessari’s Cal Arts Post Studio Art: Class Assignments (optional), 1970.

Resource

VIDEO: John Baldessari explains his “strange mind” (SFMOMA)
Artist John Baldessari discusses his interest in challenging conventional modes of visual communication. Beginning with his practice of eliminating visually relevant information from a composition, as seen in his paintings in which colorful dots have been strategically placed over human faces, he considers the ways his imagery and text-based paintings engender new ways of looking and engaging with art.


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowPhoto

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets. You can visit our video tutorials that showcase how to use several web-based production tools. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.


More Resources

LESSON PLAN: Open Studio Classroom Lesson by John Baldessari (SFMOMA)
John Baldessari presents several classroom art-making ideas.

MULTIMEDIA: John Baldessari Collection (SFMOMA)
Here is a list of interactive, video, and audio resources from SFMOMA about the work of John Baldessari.

VIDEO: Segment from John Baldessari’s “Systems” (ART 21)
Synthesizing photomontage, painting, and language, Baldessari’s deadpan visual juxtapositions equate images with words and illuminate, confound, and challenge meaning. He upends commonly held expectations of how images function, often by drawing the viewer’s attention to minor details, absences, or the spaces between things.


  • Lexi B

    I think that neither are very truthful. the reason is because words can be twisted and bended to make something seem better or worse. Same with images, the can be done the same way as words. Images can be created to be something good or bad. This is why i think that images and words are neither as truthful.

  • Mason Gilbertson

    Words and pictures can both be changed. We change the meaning of words everyday so I say neither of them is more equal.

    • Rosemarie Jones

      Yes photographs and words can be changed but, when you look at them both it’s what they are trying to say. Take a look at a photograph and not just a selfie. But a photo of the sea. What do you feel when you look at it? Can you hear the waves crashing upon the sand, or smell the salty air? A photograph has a meaning that humans cannot put into words. It’s a feeling that we all feel, and we all accept it. Words are the same way, they reach us in ways we don’t expect. Maybe not all photographs or words, but there are some who reach us all. #AJHSHardee

  • I think images are more trustworthy because words can be anything and give one story, but in pictures they give a different story. Pictures are closer to the truth than the words because you can change words.

  • Lindsey Dobbs

    I think that words and pictures can be changed so neither of them are very truthful.

  • Kenyeiz

    I think words are more truthful because a picture could be old or not the right picture overall I still wouldn’t trust neither.

  • Maryvel Contreras

    Both words and pictures can be altered to change the viewers/readers view on whats going around them and their views

  • samoriaa

    words and pictures can both lie. but I believe pictures are more trustworthy. words can change and so can pictures

  • Kankri V.

    A word can only ever be a word, with different levels of meaning. But words themselves can not be falsified and perverted, only new ones added. Words are some of the most beautiful things in the world and there are so many of them that they can represent anything in the world, with an expression for everything. Words are beautiful. Words are truth. Words are eloquent. Words are life. Words are love. Words are Shrek.

  • Moni Fadamiro

    I believe it depends on the situation a person is in. The words people say or write could be lies. Pictures can also be taken out of context. I think none of them are trustworthy.

  • Taylor C

    I think pictures are more truthful, hands down. Even though words are easier to understand, people express their personal opinions with words. People tell lies with words. Sure, opinions and lies can be expressed through paintings or propaganda, but actual pictures from a camera can’t lie. If something happens, it happens. The picture will tell facts, and no matter how someone tries to justify it, it’s true

  • Maya Flournoy

    I think captions have a bigger affect on the picture, than the picture itself. Many pictures, nowadays are edited and photo-shopped, so it’s hard to find out what’s really true. Captions create a new idea for a picture and add even more meaning to the art. Even though both pictures and words can be untrustworthy, I think the caption is more accurate.

  • Brett

    I don’t think pictures or words can be trusted. Both could look or say something different from what it actually is. If you want to find out if something is true or not then you should see it for yourself and not look at a picture of it or read about it.

  • Libby Hume

    I think that people trust pictures more that words. You can tell someone a story that didn’t actually happen, and if it is realistic they will believe you. But that person can find out that you were not telling the truth. If you show someone a picture, they will believe you because they saw it with their own eyes. However, pictures and words can both be altered so I don’t know which one I trust more.

  • Kapuana Johnson

    The way all people do now a days is always look at the picture to find what kind of humor, or to look at the person and suggest what kind of personality he/she has. Words is just information that us the people give but, almost everyone else always think that is a joke. For Example: Remember the Ricola comercial? Picture it and instead of saying Ricola, replace it with Ebola. We all know that it can come from anywhere. But we still think it’s all fun and games.

  • William Zaluski

    As with all information — word or image — one must consider the source to know the truthfulness of a thing.

  • Brian Sosnowski

    Images or Words are varied on the assumption and views to is whether if its a photograph to show a feeling or how the creator feels about things like and example would be a man in an office doing his work but in chains, giving his workplace a demonic feel to it. that would show that the creator feels like work is a prison and that it feels like he or she is in hell doing their job. but in some occasions it is based on ones perspective on the specifics to something or someone. and with words it all depends on how one takes those words and how they think your approaching them. an example. “you smell.” knowingly people would take that as negative but what they don’t see is that its in a neutral stance. i did not say if the person smelled bad or good. i simply said they smell. for everything one does to another all depends on how each of us takes it.

  • E.G.

    Everyone think’s differently when they see images. They can be humorous,inspirational,creative and many more feelings. Pictures do show more than words it’s how you see the picture. I feel like taking the time to think about it and trying to see the creators point of view will make you see the bigger picture. Words and pictures display emotions.

  • draco zhao

    Captions can affect the way we interpret the photo. We all see photos in different ways and we all think differently about each photo. However, with captions, we can tell specifically what the photograph is about without having to question if what we think about the photo is true or not. I think words are more truthful than images because they can tell specifically what happens while images can leave questions in your mind.

  • dan.b

    #mrg415 #donowphoto @KQEDEdSpace captions on images are meant to mislead to make you think like the person that took the photo and assume that the photos caption is unbiased. Photos are the only truth. They never lie.

  • Andy Ouyang

    Captions can affect the way we interpret an image. If an image has no caption, people would look at it differently. It’s the same with words without pictures. I think images are more truthful because it shows that something is real. However words can be altered to what you want it to be.

  • Erica Liang

    Captions and images can both be manipulated accordingly, so neither one is more accurate or true than the other. The media is able to conceal any witheld information concerning any major news, so viewers cannot trust the captions we see on TV or the internet. They are also able to use software such as Photoshop to change footage and fool viewers into thinking that what they see is the truth.

  • Preston Chu

    Captions can greatly effect the way we interpret images. Without captions, we just use our own interpretations on what we think when captions can actually tell us what is actually going on or whatever the person wants you to know. At certain angles, images may not tell the correct story so a caption may not be needed. Sometimes a caption can also lie because they can so easily change your interpretations. Captions are able to contradict the actual meaning of the image.

  • May N.

    Images are more accurate because they show what happened at the time it happened, whereas words can be made up. On the other hand, words can change the way we see the picture, so in that way, images aren’t all that accurate either. Also, images are able to be edited with programs such as photoshop and the media also have a choice in which images they want to release to the public, so it all depends on what side you or your media outlet is on.

  • Ezra Quianzon

    A single photo can be interpreted in many ways, but there can only be a few correct interpretations of the photo. If you look at the photo without the caption, you will look at it one way. When you read the caption after, it may change the way you look at it. It is hard to figure out which is correct, but I believe the photo is more truthful since can be too many interpretations of it in a caption.

  • Ada Ouyang

    Captions can help give the idea of what the images are about if viewers don’t understand what the images are trying to perceive. On the other end, it can also limit the imagination of the viewers. With just words and no pictures, viewers can have more imagination and can create a more board range of images in their minds and can understand the words in different ways. I think words are more accurate and truthful because words actually mean what they mean, but images can sometimes twist the contents that are supposed to be shown if they are photographed in different angles, have different lightings, etc.

  • Hanna Bentley

    The words they write and say could be lies

  • Therese LaLonde

    I encouraged this discussion with a group of 8th grade art students. We began with a reflection about the recent decisions made in the Ferguson case. Students fairly quickly came to the conclusion that photographs and text both influence our understanding of the world around us. They felt that media – particularly TV – can be biased. One student gave an example that related to the recent protests in Berkeley. She saw one photograph that was used on two different social media sites. The photo was of a broken window at a McDonald’s restaurant. The restaurant, along with several other shops were vandalized. One caption said, “restaurant vandalized by protestors”, while the other caption read, “protestors vandalized restaurant to steal milk for victims of tear gas spray.” Same photo, two different captions eliciting two very different emotions and responses. Yes, text can change our understanding and interpretation of current events and the world around us. We ended the discussion feeling that we need to seek out reliable and multiple news sources to gather accurate information.

    • Hi Therese, what a great moment in your class! It sounds like you also created a great opening for your students to share their experiences in a way which deepened the collective knowledge of your class. Thank you so much for sharing with us!

  • asialuvv

    images are very important as well as captions they explain alot and show the reader alot about what the image is about

  • Jessie Munson

    @KQEDedspace #DoNowPhoto Photos alone are the most telling but can still be presented to promote a bias. Captions reinforce bias and take away the observer’s ability to form their own conclusions (accurate or otherwise). Words have less ability to hide bias for those who can easily identify it. Words written to be read and digested have less ability to conceal bias than words that have been written to be spoken. Good speech has the properties of music lending itself to the forming of emotional connections to the listener. Much more bias can be translated through words in speech than in words written to be read. This time however, half of the burden of communicating is on the writer and the words themselves and the other half is on the speaker. Without an eloquent and skilled speaker spoken word has not near the potency of written words.

  • Crissy Costanza

    I think its equal. Both can be misinterpreted. As Therese said, the same photograph had two different scenarios. Which one is the truth? You don’t know. All you really know is that a window is broken at Mcdonalds. On the other hand, IF I HAD to choose one, I would pick the images because AT LEAST you can SEE whats actually going on.

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  • Rosemarie Jones

    I believe that a caption underneath a photograph can take away the meaning of the photo. Photo’s are our way of capturing the world, when we can’t put into words. Their are some scenery or feelings that we can’t describe but yet we can see or feel. Photographs speak for themselves in ways words can not. #AJHSHardee

  • McCabe’s Class

    I think words are more
    truthful because what is a picture going to do for someone? it doesn’t tell them much at all, it’s just a
    picture. All pictures cannot describe all things you are trying to explain want
    to tell someone. It’s better if you just tell him in a conversation not just a
    picture. Most people don’t get the stuff you are trying to explain in a picture
    most of the people has to be told in a conversation.

    Brandie

  • sophie

    #KQEDEdspace I think pictures are more accurate than words because in pictures you can see expressions, clearly words can do the same but they can easily be made up, pictures can also often be posed but I still think that pictures are mostly more accurate than words.#DoNowPhotos #AJHSHardee

  • Brittany

    I think that both words and images can be truthful, but I also believe that they can both be manipulating. I personally prefer images because you interpret it in your own way, where words are the authors insights. Sometimes the caption of a photo can ruin that picture for me because I feel like it represents ‘blank’ and then I find out that’s not what it means at all. Although, it is nice to read others writing and see that you are not alone with an addiction, fear, or thoughts. #AJHSHardee

  • Sydney

    Sydney Hardin
    I strongly believe that images are more truthful. Words are a lot better at explanations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are honest. Even as children, we are encouraged to find bigger and better words, usually making a story seem like it’s exaggerating. A picture shows us something, even if people interpret it differently, and we are left to discover what it actually means without being told by someone else. To me, pictures are sort of like proof. I’ve grown up in an era that “if it’s not on instagram, it didn’t happen.” I think that relates to thing question, because you can easily go to someone and tell them what you did last weekend, adding in a few lies. They won’t know that it isn’t completely honest, because they don’t have any way of proving it untrue. If you show them a photo of what you did, of course they are a lot more likely to believe you. That is why I think images are more truthful. #AJHSHardee #DoNowPhoto

  • Farida M

    I’m a very visual person, that’s why I would probably go with the option of pictures/images than words. Words can be meaningful at times, but they don’t express themselves as much as pictures do. Words can be a little bland while pictures portray the small details and can be expressed in many thousand ways. It depends on the artist’s choice. As many people/artists themselves say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This quote is very true and I really agree with it because pictures don’t only show symbols and shapes, they can display color and an image in a person’s mind. A picture makes a person think deeply and try to find a message to the image. As Rod Stewart sang, “Every picture tells a story.”

Author

SFMOMA Education

Founded in 1935, SFMOMA was the first museum on the West Coast devoted to modern and contemporary art. From the outset, the museum has championed the most innovative and challenging art of its time, and we continue to exhibit and collect work by both modern masters and younger, less-established artists. By embracing the challenge of the new and unexpected, we hope to encourage fresh ways of seeing, thinking, and engaging with the world.

Supporting teachers with the critical resources to integrate arts education into their classroom is a priority for SFMOMA. The Museum's School Initiatives Division aims to provide teachers with what they need to make art an important and integral part of learning for all students.

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