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Creation Stories

This Photographer Needs Your Help Titling His Crumpled Paper Balls

Tell photographer Thomas Brown what you see when you look at his portraits, and forever shape how others take in his work.

  • 01 /11 | Wake
  • 02 /11 | Silk Weaver
  • 03 /11 | Bride of Rain Dog
  • 04 /11 | A Dove Tail
  • 05 /11 | Java Street Sunset
  • 06 /11 | Gradient Future 1
  • 07 /11 | Pink Lady
  • 08 /11 | Maëlle.San Francisco.2016
  • 09 /11 | Veil of Great Disguises
  • 10 /11 | Between Imperfections
  • 11 /11 | Supernature

Prepare to take the greatest Rorschach test in recent memory.

Back in 2007, photographer Thomas Brown had an idea to make a paper ball look like a meteor. However, as he started showing his friends and colleagues his work, people were seeing everything but that—feathers, countries on a map, gemstones. It was open season on interpreting Brown’s portraits, and that’s where he got his inspiration for Volumes of Light A-G, a collection of 469 photos of disheveled paper that he’s allowing the masses to name.

"When I come to title pieces, I am very acutely aware that you can heavily influence the understanding and reading of an image," Brown says. "To be honest, I leave that ’til the last minute. I’m a pictures person rather than a words person. So opening up titles to other people is quite freeing for me, and it really does feel like I can engage people in their skills. Maybe they’re words people. Maybe they will add something to the reading of all of these images other than what I can bring to it."

Anyone with a brilliant name for Brown’s photos can go to volumeoflight.com and register their title, which will be included in the Volume of Light A-G book, out in September.

It’s a simple idea housing layers of complex discourse on the relationship between art and its titles: How much influence does a name have over an image? If you could rename your favorite painting or portrait, what would you christen it, and would it be as famous if you did?

A Dove Tail

"There’s one title, and I asked the guy, 'What is it you see here?' And he explained it to me that he saw a geisha running down some stairs with her kimono flying up behind her. As soon as he said that, that’s all I could see," Brown says. "The power of the text with the image is so strong, and how you can really get an idea into someone’s head like that. I did that to him with the crunched-up paper ball, and he did that back to me with his title. So we’ve come to this shared idea about something from an abstract starting point, which is absolutely fascinating."

Check out Brown’s work in the slide show above and name one of his portraits by June 30.

[Photos: Thomas Brown]

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