Hands on Heart: Faces of Pakistan by Benoit Sneessens
The most fundamental act of making a photograph is to place that frame into position so that it excludes. Yes, photography is gathering (think photons), but even more so it is excluding. We frame not only a slice of the visible, but we also "frame" a slice out of time, thereby excluding the moments before and the moments after. Photography is amazingly selective — both a strength and a weakness.
Benoit Sneessens expands this selectiveness of photography by adding a snippet of text to each of his photographs. In doing so, I think his project is immensely improved — not that his photographs are lacking. Quite the contrary, his images are wonderful portraits. The combination of image and text is an improvement over the images alone precisely because of the careful crafting of these text components — crafting that I suspect is as painstakingly written as his images are printed.
The problem with text that accompanies photographs is that it is often redundant, or worse, explanatory. Text that tries to make up for the flaws of a poor photograph can never succeed. Text that simply restates what we can see is superfluous. In order for the text to work successfully, it needs to expand the photograph beyond its selective slice of framing and time — but not too far. There is a sweet spot that Sneessens hits just right on every example in this portfolio. He expands the photograph without burdening it. He gives us enough to bring the photograph to life without burying it in an avalanche of words.
When text works, it is similar to having a glimpse at the photographer's contact sheet. We see the photographs from the moments before the image and the photographs from just after the image and we better understand why this image was selected. That experience is almost like seeing still frames from a movie reel. Text can work in a similar way, adding in our mind's eye the scene a few moments before and after the exposure we are viewing. It's in this sense that I say the text can bring an image to life. Reading Sneessens' text, I can see the girl's smile, her friends, the field in which she works, the time of day. His use of text is a terrific example of how to integrate image and words so the whole is larger than either of the components.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to members of LensWork Online.
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