Assignment Three – Research, exploration and development

In preparation I am to listen to Professor David Campbell’s lecture on documentary and narrative.

The Brief

Produce a photo-story of 10 images that as a set, tells a story and conveys a narrative. This must be at local level, and in colour. It is NOT a ‘day in the life of …’ It does not have to be chronological unless the theme naturally is.

A theme must be presented with further developments, complications and a resolution or non-resolution that poses more questions. Work must be edited and sequenced accordingly.

There must be visual variety – different lenses, viewpoints and compositions – but there must be visual and conceptual consistency across the images.

Include a short explanatory text, in the region of 200-300 words, with the final images.

Delivery needs to be in the form of a pdf book dummy, this will show the images in a pre-arranged sequence.

The aim of this assignment is to further develop my visual communication skills and give a framework for improving my selection and editing skills. The emphasis is on conveying a story clearly and structuring my work effectively.

I need to start considering what my critical review will be on…

Then the usual reflect on what I have done…

Preparation exercise

David Campbell  mentioned the sound clip on his blog and I’m going to pinch some of his points…

A narrative is an account of connected events… however, [it] involves more than reflecting on how a series of events become connected… Events are not found objects waiting to be discovered. As Allen Feldman has stated “the event is not what happens. The event is that which can be narrated” (p. 14).

…In photography, narrative is related to the idea of context. No matter how complete or comprehensive a narrative appears it will always be the product of including some elements and excluding others… knowing what is best included or excluded requires an understanding of context…an understanding of context requires visual storytellers to be highly proficient researchers. As Stuart Freedman recently declared, we need “a return to a storytelling in photography as rigorous in thought and research as it is beautiful in construction and execution.”

Campbell also explains that narratives invariably have the following:

  • exposition
  • conflict
  • climax
  • resolution

and the key stages of:

  • introducing the location
  • giving the story a ‘face’
  • letting people tell their own story
  • contextualizing those stories
  • following a dramatic form

These points are not compulsory nor exhaustiveand can contain the following dimensions:

  • time
  • spatiality
  • dramaturgy (the ‘art of dramatic composition’)
  • causality
  • personification

One of the most important dimensions is that of personification – does there need to be a character who embodies the issue and gives the story a face? Or does potentially reducing everything to a series of portraits cut us off from the context and individualize what might otherwise be regarded as a collective or social issue? Is it the case, as Robert Hariman has argued, that sometimes “things speak louder than faces.”

This is similar to a point raised by Maria Short in Context and Narrative, (2011, p.42) when she asks the key questions on communication intention:

  • Do you actually need to photograph the subject itself: can you communicate your intention by referring to it, implying or photographing around it?
  • If photographing the subject itself, ask yourself how important is location, time of day, quality of light, equipment and materials in relation to the concept?
  • What do you need, or want, to show and share with your audience and how are you going to do that?

Campbell echoes this when he asks: ‘what is the story you really want to tell?’ Answering that can mean working through these questions:

  • what is the issue?
  • what will be the events/moments?
  • if needed, who are the characters?
  • what is the context?

The relationship between story, event and and issue requires knowledge of the context above all else. That demands research because not everything that drives photography is visual.




David Campbell

Short, M. (2011) Basics creative photography 02: Context and narrative. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.