The story we tell....

Just look.

I return often to certain photos.

These photos tell no story, prove nothing, impart no new information or knowledge, create (or attempt to create) no emotional reaction in the viewer. Yet I can stare at them for a good bit of time, simply sharing a moment of consciousness with a complete stranger.

I don’t know where it came from, but more and more photographers talk about telling stories through their photos.

The implication is that a photo only has artistic (or consumptive) value if it proves something, imparts new insight or knowledge, or evokes an emotional reaction. If the viewer walks away with new knowledge, information, or understanding, the “story based” photo is a success. If not, well, the photographer is sent skulking back to their storyboard.

I tried photographing like that. It is hard, not because it requires greater skill (it doesn’t), but because it required me to shape the scene in front of me for the benefit of the viewer’s gaze.

There are dangers associated with the “story-telling” approach. Most clear is that it perpetuates white supremacy in photography by reinforcing the “white gaze” phenomena: white photographers consciously or sub-consciously shaping their images to meet the expectations (and therefore the inherent prejudices and stereotypes) of almost exclusively white editors, curators, and audiences.

And if something is repeated enough, it loses meaning. Anyone with time and enough money to buy a smartphone and internet access can share their photo stories on social media sites.

But how much of what you see on Instagram has any real meaning? I’d bet that 99 out of 100 photos in your Instagram feed are photographs attempting to recreate someone else’s style, photographs edited to tell you what to see, or hyper-saturated filtered selfies and landscapes.

How much photography just looks anymore?

I leave you with the thoughts of John Szarkowski, written in Spring 1967:

“The photographer who was responsible for the meaning of (their) own observation could … look first and shoot afterwards, showing that which (they) had already consciously edited.”

Below is a gallery of 15 images in which I looked first and shot second.

To the extent that any have captions now, which may now try to pull meaning from or read meaning into, the images were consciously edited before the image was taken.

Click on the first photo to see the complete photos in gallery format.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.