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Signing a photograph, why?

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As a student of photography, I’ve put myself in a position where I want to learn about the photographic practice. I’ll go to libraries, attend lectures, read publications and go online and mingle digitally with fellow enthusiasts on flickr or in online discussion forums. I’m in that position as a student where I’m supposed to question everything so that I am constantly trying to improve my photography to become a better photographer.

But there is one question which I’ve asked twice online now (this’ll be the third time) because I am genuinely curious to understand why people sign their photographs when displaying them. I haven’t asked my lecturers funnily enough but I will now once the new year starts.

My question is this… Why do photographers sign their photographs (so it relates to online photography you see)? I see it online nearly everywhere in discussion forums and frequently on flickr or some other photo sharing website. I’ve stopped and thought about it and wouldn’t do it myself. Can anybody convince me otherwise.

I see no point in it other than to pimp ones own identity online. It’s there as a bragging right surely?

Am I being unfair or shortsighted in my opinion?  Maybe but here’s why. How come I’ve never seen a professional photographer do it? Henri Cartier Bresson never did but we all know instantly that the image below is his.

Why didn’t he put his initials in the bottom right corner? He was our pioneer in photojournalism when it was still in its infancy, shouldn’t he have signed like any great artist?

As far as I can tell nobody from Magnum or VIIPhoto agency do it either unless its a deliberate watermark, stamped across their imagery so as nobody could crop the image and reuse it without attributing it first. Even then it is in the agencies name, not the photographers.

So if the professional, famous and genre defining photographers don’t do it.  Why do the amateurs or anybody who doesn’t fit into the molds I’ve mentioned in the last two sentences, why do I see so many photos online with a signature? The argument for the watermark is weak considering its placement in the image, always to the side, away so as to not distract from the image. But it does anyway and I can crop the image and make it my own.

Do you do it to get recognised so people remember your name?  Surely if the photograph was memorable in the first place people would remember the photographer who crafted it without the need to sign it? Can’t the photograph stand on its own merits and surely it is weakened by having your name there?

I’m asking the question and it would be enlightening to get an answer. Eight pages into google doesn’t give me one.

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Written by jonathanjk

August 13, 2008 at 19:29

One Response

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  1. Boiling it down, the fear of being stolen has to do with insecurity, or perhaps even arrogance. Insecurity: “Well, what if someone wants to steal the photo?” Arrogance: “My photos are worth stealing, so I’d better protect it.” Perhaps it’s just the natural vanity that we crave some sort of immediate recognition — “Man, that photograph is neat, who took it?”

    That said, it’s very difficult to see the world in a new and uniquely recognizable fashion, and more difficult to reproduce it consistently. I’ve heard before that in order to be commercially successful in photography, the most important skill is less an artistic eye than a talent for self-promotion. Hence the signatures.


    August 16, 2008 at 03:57

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