• Justin Key

More Than a Title

Updated: Apr 26

“Funny how a melody sounds like a memory” 


That line sums up the song “Springsteen” by Eric Church. The song is about the memory of a midsummer's night Bruce Springsteen concert. The lyrics tell the story of a teenage romance that's reignited by the melodies heard on that July Saturday night. While the pair have become distant, they are forever bonded by the music of "The Boss". The lyrics lay out the scene, describe the events of the night and the emotions felt as the protagonist reminisces on a memory triggered by a song.


That's the power of music. Songs evoke emotions and have the power to take us back to a moment immortalized in a melody. When a couple gets married they select a song to be their first dance and that song forms a link back to the day they said: "I do". We turn to music to make us happy, to get us pumped up, to get us through tough times, and to work through anger. Music is constructed by memories and emotions which makes it so easy for us to incorporate songs into our lives.


Good art can evoke emotions similar to music. A work of art is like a track from a musician. It's formed around a thought, molded with emotion and finalized with passion. The viewer or listener then receives the piece and relates it to their life. If there's a connection, the work evokes an emotion and has succeeded in its purpose.


It's hard to convey emotion through landscape photography. I can look at any of my photos and return to that place. Like putting on virtual reality glasses, I'm back in that location, I can picture the surroundings, remember the journey that led to that image and the events that followed. I can remember how it felt to be there. The viewer, however, wasn’t driving with the windows down without a care in the world, they didn’t feel the pain of losing someone, they weren’t holding the hand of their forever companion, or taking a step closer to a lifelong dream. So how do you change that?


Have you ever been outside when a song came on that made the sun shine a little brighter, the air a little warmer, the world turn a little slower? Is there a song you heard live at a concert that takes you back to that moment when that song was the only thing that mattered? What about a moment of sadness when a song comes on and rips the tears from your eyes and evokes those emotions every time you hear it afterward?


I use music to tell my story in my photographs. Each photograph on my website has been titled carefully after a song that embodies my experience. The selection goes far beyond the title, in most cases, the title has very little to do with the photograph at all. It could be the specific instruments that help set the scene, the melody that matches the emotions, the lyrics that help tell the story, or a combination of them all. 


It can take a while to find the right song for a photograph. I have photos waiting to hit the gallery for over a year because I haven’t found a song that fits. When I find a song that comes close I’ll listen to it a few times with my eyes closed and picture the moment. As the song plays I’ll try to recall the experience and if it fails to develop then the song isn’t right. If I close my eyes and the memory plays like a movie in my head that’s when I know it’s a match.


Through composition I'm trying to capture the essence of my experience in a place. Through the titles, I am trying to tell the story. The images should make you want to go, while the titles give you a sense of what it felt like to be there. If you look at one of my images while listening to its corresponding song, I hope it evokes similar emotions to my experience and helps you understand what may have led to me taking that picture.

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© Justin Key Photography