Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why is captioning photos a baffling ordeal?

Some people wonder why I hardly caption my photos. Two and half years ago, I explained why organizing photos is a baffling ordeal. But I didn't explain very well why captioning is too, even more so. I decided to do a self-observation. I take one of my photos, and measure the time to caption it. Here are 2 examples:

Stalingrad now serves line 2, 5, and 7 of Paris Metro. The station opened as "Rue d'Aubervilliers" in 1903, and was renamed "Stalingrad" in 1946 because a nearby boulevard was renamed "Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad" in honor of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. Although the City of Stalingrad has been renamed "Volgograd" as one of the results of De-Stalinization, the Paris Metro station's name has remained the same.

It took me 23 minutes to caption. I spent my time on
  • Looking up the station's history
  • Looking up the mean of "place" in French
  • Making sure that "Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad" still exists in Paris
  • Deciding whether to translate "boulevard" into "大道" or "大街"
  • Making sure that Volgograd is a new name, not a reversion
  • Adding links
  • Translating (I insist that all my personal publication such as press release on my personal life, blog, photo website, and Facebook update must be bilingual in Chinese and English)
  • Reading the history of Uzbeg Khan because the Chinese Wikipedia says its capitcal was in modern day Volgograd. But the English Wikipedia doesn't say anything. It doesn't add any value to the caption above. But this is what can happen if I start doing it.

All three pictures to the right were taken in Macau. The reason for taking them is to capture the usage of traditional and simplified Chinese characters, and the decline of Portuguese. Although traditional Chinese is the official script, many commercial signs are written in simplified to attract tourists from Mainland. And this doesn't occur everywhere. Note that in the second picture, "hamburger" is written as "漢堡" with the traditional "漢". The same thing is written as "汉堡" with the simplified "汉" on the middle board. In the third picture, "McDonald's" is written with traditional characters "麥當勞" in the background, while "the Grand Canal Shoppes" is written with simplified characters "大运河购物中心" in the foreground. Portuguese is nowhere to be seen in these three pictures. Portuguese nowadays only appears on public facilities and official objects, for the most part. In addition, I found myself having to communicate in English with a waiter in a restaurant in a hotel. This made me ponder, why I had to speak a foreign language on Chinese land, and this foreign language isn't even one of the official languages of this special administrative region. Two things to ponder: 1. Nobody seems to care about the official language. 2. The invading force of a dominating language is undeniable. Right now Portuguese is not a language that needs to be preserved. What about official languages that used to be widely spoken, now almost extinct, and were added as one of the official languages for political or cultural preservation reasons?

It took me 32 minutes to caption the 3 photos above, as one story. Not much time was spent on finding data, but rather on forming my own thoughts.

Of course, I intentionally picked the photos that are story-rich as examples. Let's assume an average of 2 minutes per photo. It is not unusual that I take hundred of photos per trip. Now please multiply.