When Music Ruins the Picture Show

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’ve decided the time has come for me to make some kind of statement about it. You may not like what I have to say. I have had enough of slide shows accompanied by music. In fact, I’m pretty sick of them. The turning point came a couple of weeks ago, when I went to see a presentation by three very talented photojournalists. I’m not going to name names: The point here is that these photographers were doing what every photographer seems to do now.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’ve decided the time has come for me to make some kind of statement about it. You may not like what I have to say.

I have had enough of slide shows accompanied by music. In fact, I’m pretty sick of them.

The turning point came a couple of weeks ago, when I went to see a presentation by three very talented photojournalists. I’m not going to name names: The point here is that these photographers were doing what every photographer seems to do now. Each began his show by very briefly uttering a hello to the audience, then letting the computer take over. First came the fancy title, accompanied by music. With photojournalists it’s invariably world music—a sure sign of the international and cultural dimensions of the work. (Fashion images usually are set to rock.)

I am not arguing that the pictures and music can’t compliment each other. I’m just saying that musical slide shows have become very clichéd. Everyone does it nowadays. Why? Because software programs like Apple’s Keynote make it very easy to produce slick presentations.

More and more often they’re too slick, depriving audiences the real information that would make the featured images meaningful. At the slide show I mentioned earlier, the pictures unspooled without any caption information being provided, either on screen or by the photographers. (Audience members had to ask the photographer afterward what the images showed.) These were wonderful, important pictures essentially being treated like wallpaper. Instead of filling in the gaps, the accompanying music felt like an apology of sorts, as if the photographers understood that imagery just couldn’t hack it all alone.

Here’s my advice to anyone who wants their photo presentations to stand out: Leave out the music and simply show your images. Let silence work for you: In the absence of Irish harps, digereedoos, and atonal chants, audiences will really gaze at your work. (Especially if you show them one image at a time and offer interesting background information.) –David Schonauer

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