Do you understand your own pictures?

Article Dedication

In honor of

Floyd Delafield Crosby & Alfred “Fred” Zinnemann


From the Rangefinder forum…

daveleo write:

Do You Understand Your Own Pictures ?

I don’t understand every still life picture that I make.
In fact, I’ve been trying for a few years now *not* to make another one until I understand why it is I do this.
But it’s hard, because that’s all I want to do, really – make intiguing pictures of things thrown together.
It’s fascinating. It’s boring. It adds up to a package that makes people wonder “What is this? Why is this “?

To be clear, here are two of mine that resonate in me for reasons I don’t know. When I made them, I simply assembled things as they appeared best to me.

So …… (what should be my question here?)….
Should we show pictures that even we don’t understand? When someone asks you “What is this?”, what’s an intelligent answer?


Well, I generally don’t shoot still life / studio / mental masturbation work. Since my specialty is street / doc photography, most of my work is pretty straightforward.

One photog said street photogs are people that can’t do good studio work. From my point of view, studio photogs are people that can’t do good street work. Each genre needs its own talents. Sure some photogs can do both, but the two talents generally don’t mix if your talking top end work.

Studio= anal, meticulous, time intensive, perfection.

Street = instantaneous, imperfect perfection.

If I have a project that requires a studio shot I can do a basic still life photo. The big difference is I hand hold my cam, shoot on the fly in the field or just do a very basic setup. So that is as anal as I like to get with studio work.

82 DSCF3328 v16 5 X 7 mr

 From De Wallen: Amsterdam’s Red Light District – section on sex tools.

When it comes to understanding my own photos?

Take this photo below…


Sad Buskers  NYC  Infrared flash photo (Candid)

My interpretation of this photo was a sad busker cause no one wanted to pay her for a photo of her bare boobies. Now, it could also be she was feeling sick from a stomachache.

From observing some of my subjects for only a few minutes or seconds, I don’t always know everything about a street photo. I’m not much into interviewing people. I seldom ever talk to my subjects, so I just do the best I can with any description from studying what I see that very moment. But, I could be wrong.

Generally my photos are pretty upfront, I like straight photography. I am just trying to document something, not much to understand. The photo could be naturalistic or freaked out a little in an artistic way, but it still maintains qualities of reality no matter how artistic I may try to get. Once the photo takes leave of reality, it is not good documentary photography. I draw the line when the photo is not an honest representation. (Such as composites.)

Even so, every once in a while I may deviate from my norm with some ‘mental masturbation’ work.  I had written to Araki to make me The Birth of Araki.  Araki didn’t respond, so fuck Araki… I made one for myself.

The Birth of Araki concept and post processing from found photographs by Daniel D. Teoli Jr. m

 The Birth of Araki which was done with found photos as a cutout composite

by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.


Take these  2 photos. I don’t understand them, I didn’t ask what was going on. They are mysteries and reflect that mystery to the viewer. The mystery component is part of what makes them good photos.

35Whoop-Whoop 71 Daniel D. Teoli Jr. mr 20Whoop-Whoop 81 Daniel D. Teoli Jr. mr

I guess I would have to answer the title question thusly…I understand most of my photos, but not all of them.


Women of the Beat Generation - Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Archival Collection (3)m

From Girls of the Beat Generation

A forthcoming 6 volume artist’s book series by social documentary photographer Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

A complete list of artist’s books by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.