Whereas, last week, a theme emerged naturally from the pool of photos from which I intended to post to Flickr, this week I made a conscious choice of theme, then selected images, which I felt, would illustrate various aspects of it. Disengagement was never going to be a topic that would bring pleasure to the eye or joy to the heart. So why did I choose it? I will try to explain that later. But first of all, let’s recap the photos because I really intended them to be seen as a series, not individually as posted on Flickr.
To ease into the theme, I chose a relatively light-hearted portrayal of an individual who has been separated from the group
I find it ironic that cities, where the largest numbers of people congregate, can, for some of them, be the loneliest of places.
Sometimes, it seems as though city people program themselves to be oblivious to strangers. Is this a defence mechanism? If so, what is the perceived threat?
Increasingly, people choose to escape the hostile anonymity of the city by “tuning in” to an alternative reality that they carry around with them in their iPODs.
But in some tragic cases, the individual feels that there is no alternative but to “tune out” completely; to become separated, isolated and alienated from society’s mainstream.
Questions of Style
It occurs to me that photographs comprise one or both of two fundamental elements: the pictorial and the narrative. The pictorial element deals with the visual qualities of the photograph: composition, lighting, colours or tones, depth of field, format (cropping and dimensions), perspective, point of view, etc. The photographer can choose to shoot the subject straight, faithfully recreating the image as it was actually seen; or interpret the subject to create an impression which goes beyond the reality, using techniques such as varying the contrast or saturation, blurring the image, reduction to greyscale, tinting (e.g. sepia), varying the “grain”, etc. – all designed to create a mood which appeals directly to deeper sensibilities.
The narrative element tells the story of the picture, implicitly or explicitly. Implicitly: where, in the absence of detail, we are left to invent the story for ourselves; explicitly, where the details of the story are presented clearly in the image itself. Sometimes, a single picture tells the whole story. On other occasions, the photographer will create a photographic essay comprising multiple images that combine to tell a broader story.
Whilst most pictures exhibit both pictorial and narrative elements, generally one predominates. There is no reason, however, why a predominantly narrative picture should not also have strong pictorial qualities. The question is one of balance. If the narrative is more important, the impact of the image will be lessened if the pictorial qualities are so strong that they distract the viewer.
Why choose “disengagement” as a theme?
Sunsets, flowers, pretty girls and kittens: they are all of the world but they are not all that is the world. As photographers, I believe that we have a collective obligation to confront the world in ALL its moods and manifestations.
My series this week was an experiment on two levels. Firstly, none of the images were pictorially strong. I feel that they were reasonably well composed and rendered clearly but there was no manipulation to create mood other than the reduction to greyscale. They each simply recorded a scene from real life. I made a conscious decision not to use creative devices because I wanted to convey the sense that the images were “real” in order to guage how viewers would react to a series that was predominately narrative, without pictorial distraction.
On the second level, I wanted to see how viewers would react to a series that was somewhat sober and confronting. As I said on the first posting, there would be no colour, no eye-candy and no humour. I expected a muted response and in many cases, that was the response I received. On the other hand, I was surprised to find the occasional enthusiastic response, so THAT was encouraging.
Clearly, Flickr is not the ideal forum for the photographic essay. With so many uploads each day, any photograph that is neither eye-catching, nor eye-pleasing will not be noticed by as many people; and pics that tell a complete story will be more successful than those that rely on others in a series to make sense, especially if the author posts them on separate days, as I did (my bad!). So, my conclusion from this experiment is: (a) the pictorial element is significantly more potent on Flickr than the narrative element; and (b) predominantly narrative pics, ideally, should be self-contained as far as their story is concerned. I am writing this before the Friday shot is posted (because I want to link this article to it on Flickr) but I don’t expect the last shot in the series to skew the results received so far.
If you want to read what people said about the individual images, click here and browse through the series.
I would like to leave this subject, then, with an alternative capture (not uploaded to Flickr) of the shot posted on Friday.
I would like to acknowledge a number of narrative photographers whose work I admire greatly and follow closely. First of all, mariekejoan and anni gbg, whose style is wonderfully realistic and sincere. In my theme this week, I tried to learn from them. Only they will know whether I succeeded or not. Secondly, fabuchan, who employs a creative approach in his unique pictorial style. He is the embodiment of the idea that a “picture is worth a thousand words” where he skillfully provides the framework and lets the viewer supply his or her own narrative.
Finally, I would like to sincerely thank everyone who participated in this experiment with me. Your comments are always informative and guide me wisely on my journey to become a better photographer. Hopefully, I will have something lighter to offer you next week.