Week 9: Reflection

Continuing to explore narrative, I have started to read through some film theory as it has been recognized as being able to utilize narrative much more effectively than photography. The key points from the book are the need to identify the cause and effect of the narrative that I am aiming to portray. 

“A narrative does not consist of a random series of events, but a series of events related to one another in terms of cause and effect”

(Buckland, n.d.) ​*​

In film, the narrative is also categorized into three stages, as outlined by theorist Tzvetan Todorov (Buckland, n.d.) ​*​ :

  • A state of Equilibrium
  • The disruption of this equilibrium by an event
  • The successful attempt to restore the equilibrium 

Where the transition between the stages is referred to the narrative turning point and key events can change the direction of the narrative action.

(Buckland, n.d.)

There is also omniscient narration where the camera will be be removed completely and be controlled by someone outside of the narrative, in the case of film this is the director, however in photography this could well be the photographer.

In order to further this exploration, I think it would be important to identify whether this form of narrative is used within photography, and the photo project. I will continue my research by looking at a range of photography books. Further to this visual study, I feel it is vital to better understand the semiotic theory that underpins the narrative of a photographic narrative. To that end, I intend to read ‘Image, Music, Text’ (Barthes, 1990)​†​ and later ‘Mythologies’ (Barthes et al., 2009)​‡​ by Roland Barthes that look at this in more depth.

Narrative in art is defined as a sequence of related events, and historically where narrative is depicted in art, the reader of the image is to have assumed knowledge of the narrative present (Tate, 2019).​§​ I feel that a narrative in the literary sense does not always apply to a series of photographs, and also by sequencing images in a chronological fashion may reduce the impact of how some of them may be read. Aesthetic placement of the images may function well with photography, however may reduce the effect of the overall narrative by considering the images only for their technical and aesthetic qualities rather than the context that they provide, as discussed in the essay ‘Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning’ (Walker, 1997)​¶​ where this can have a huge impact on the way images are read together. In film, this is idea is supported by ‘The Kuleshov Effect’ explores by theorist Lev Kuleshov who analysed the effects of the juxtaposition of film shots and how they are put together (Fig. 1) will have an impact on how the reader will attach meaning and emotion (Elementsofcinema.com, 2019).​#​

Figure 1. Example of the Kuleshov Effect in sequencing (Elementsofcinema.com, 2019).

In order to create an effective narrative of my work, I will need to carefully consider the juxtaposition of my images in terms of the connotated coding that they represent when placed together. This will be more than merely the aesthetics and creating a pleasing juxtaposition and sequencing of events. The narrative in this case becomes an idea, or overall emotive presence of the work and how it is being presented to the reader.

Looking at Photobooks

Figure 2. Conspiracy Theorists Desk Reykjavik from 'Sugar Paper Theories' By Jack Latham (Latham, 2016).
Figure 2. Conspiracy Theorists Desk Reykjavik from ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ By Jack Latham (Latham, 2016).
Figure 3. ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ Exhibition tour at the Royal Photographic Society (Rawlinson, 2019).

At the recent Jack Latham talk and exhibition of his work ‘Sugar Paper Theories,’ (Latham, 2016)​**​ held at the Royal Photographic Society, Curator Dr Mark Rawlinson (Fig. 3) highlighted the difference between the images and placement of them in the exhibition from the book and how there is a tendency to read through a book in a linear way. The exhibitions role was to change the narrative of the work in order to keep you as the reader guessing and exploring the work in the search for ‘Clues’ (Rawlinson, 2019).​††​

Pieter Hugo – Kin
Figure 4. Different page sizes within the work ‘Kin’ by Pieter Hugo (Hugo, 2015).
Figure 5. Two pages from the book ‘Kin’ by Pieter Hugo (Hugo, 2015).

Hugo provides a deeply coded journey through his homeland in the book ‘Kin’ (Hugo, 2015)​‡‡​ all of the images are very emotive and challenge you to consider the colonial gaze through the use of nudes and classic portraits throughout this book. Hugo writes of South Africa being a complex and problematic country and his own exploration has created more questions than it answers. I believe that the juxtaposition of the images within the book really start to challenge you and underpin this notion. The use of different page sizes shows a kind of hierarchy to the placement of the portraits over other elements of Hugo’s work in the way they partially obscure the view of the image underneath (Fig. 4), forcing you to consider the first image before moving forward. This is a kind of juxtaposition that prioritises one image over another.

Hugo’s images in Kin do not form a chronological account of this story, but support my point of the overall meaning in the work.

Matt Henry – Short Stories
Figure 6. ‘Short Stories’ by Matt Henry (Henry, 2015)​§§​

A more overt use of narrative, even with the title relating to the way the reader is supposed to look at this work is Matt Henry’s ‘Short Stories’ (Fig. 6) which is a series of related tableaux images on the theme of Nixon era America. Each short set tells a short narrative as if a still from a movie, which is very much what Henry is aiming to present with his work of clear Americana. The relation of the narrative is clear in this book even through the use of smaller details and portraits of the work (Henry, 2015).

  1. ​*​
    Buckland, W. (n.d.). Film studies. John Murray Learning, p.32.
  2. ​†​
    Barthes, R. (1990). Image, music, text. London: Fontana.
  3. ​‡​
    Barthes, R., Lavers, A., Badmington, N. and Reynolds, S. (2009). Mythologies. London: Vintage books.
  4. ​§​
    Tate. (2019). Narrative – Art Term | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/n/narrative [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].
  5. ​¶​
    Walker, J. and Evans, J. (1997). Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning in The Camerawork essays: context and meaning in photography. London: Rivers Oram Press, pp.52 – 63.
  6. ​#​
    Elementsofcinema.com. (2019). The Kuleshov Experiment | Basics of Film Editing. [online] Available at: http://www.elementsofcinema.com/editing/kuleshov-effect.html [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].
  7. ​**​
    Latham, J., Gudjonsson, G. and Russell, R. (2016). Sugar paper theories. 2nd ed. London: Here Press.
  8. ​††​
    Sugar Paper Theories: Gallery Tour (2019) [Exhibition]. Royal Photographic Society, Bristol. 16 November, 2019.
  9. ​‡‡​
    Hugo, P. (2015). Kin. 1st ed. New York: Aperture.
  10. ​§§​
    Henry, M. (2015). Short stories. 1st ed. Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag.

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