Tell a story
"If your pictures aren’t good enough," war photographer Robert Capa used to say, "you aren’t close enough."
Of course it’s not essential for a great photo to tell a story, but some of the most memorable photos do. Think of our own family albums in which generations of family experiences are told in narratives which move from children’s parties to silver weddings – or less conventional events!
On a international scale some photo’s have helped define an era. Photos that changed the world is worth a look. Here we see (largely from an American perspective) significant moments from history.
You might ask what role a powerful photograph plays in making events historic – is it a chicken or an egg, a horse or a cart? If the events were not recorded in such a powerful way, would they be seen as so significant?
It is interesting that through the selection of images we can edit our own stories and the way we remember or past. Happy memories of times on the beach or the pride of a graduation ceremony can become defining images in our own story. With the growth in digital photography will our stories change or become less well defined in so far as we have the freedom to record every step of our journey?
So what makes a great a great piece of photo journalism?
I don’t know the answer, but perhaps you do? I can only say what I have observed from working with TV designers who have an amazing talent for injecting meaning into every detail of costume and set dressing. What is the setting? The location in which the photo is taken can place the action in time as well as place. The characters can be vividly portrayed by their body language, dress and relationship to the events and other people in the scene.
The power of a strong photo telling a story is not so much in what is portrayed but how clear the preceding and following action is. It is often in what is not shown that carries the most power. In that sense we participate as viewers.
Being on the spot at the right moment is, of course, essential (though somtimes not nice). But so is the relationship between the photographer and the event itself. Often we can understand as much about the person taking the photograph as we can the scene shown. For example, what can we say about the people able to take the photographs shown above? Are they really detached? should they get involved? Tough one.
Here’s a film from Nick Scott – Earth to Earth – for the Straight 8 competition (click thumbnail).
Straight 8 is a great idea in which the filmmakers shoot a film on a single cartridge of super 8mm film. They hand over their exposed but un-developed, un-edited film for processing. They also burn an original soundtrack onto cd. The first time they see their work is with a packed cinema audience, also seeing it for the first time. The projectionist will simply play the CD when he sees the first frame of the film. No written instructions to the projectionist allowed. Reminds me of Grace 9.
A great deal of creativity happens because the creators are constrained in some way or have to overcome obstacles. In many ways TV and film has removed such obstacles – I mean, given enough money you can do anything you can imagine in post production or with CGI, but in many cases the spectacle of such productions has replaced the creativity and ideas.
Kill Your Darlings
I had some interesting conversations over the new year about what makes a great photo.
Apart from the subjects themselves, I’m particularly interested in composition which I’ve resolved to learn more about. Implementing some of the classic rules of composition does produce some fantastic results. I’ll post more about these as I explore further. In general terms, though, it always pays to have an inbuilt set of criteria by which to be objective in assessing the quality of work – especially if you are doing it for a customer. Straight opinions often aren’t good enough in a business relationship.
David Bailey, in a talk I heard him give, said that he didn’t like to get emotionally involved. He turned down photographing Picasso because he felt he would be emotionally overpowered by the experience (though he said he regretted it)
As a TV Producer, approving work has always been a challenging business. It’s stressful when you are faced with a creative bod who has just put their heart and soul into designing a piece of work and you have to tell them it can’t be accepted. What do you say? Why? Emotionally great, objectively rubbish! So, in the next short while I’m going to develop some ideas on what makes a good piece of creative work.
For starters please have a look at the attached word doc. kill_your_darlings.doc This provides a check list by which to tick-box photos and a test for your gut reaction.
I’ve made the assumption that it’s a bad thing to have favorite techniques (darlings) and that these inhibit our ability to be objective. I don’t necessarily think suppressing emotion and passion is a good thing but it’s an interesting conversation to have.
PS Links to add to the mix
This is the nativity window at St.Mary’s church in Ealing. Photographing windows is very tricky – getting the detail right. I made two images of this, one under exposed by one and a half stops. Then using photo shop made up two layers to enable me to bring out the detail in the highlights.
The sound of fireworks over London to celebrate the start of 2007. Happy new year to you and best wishes.
Here’s a poem written by John Latham
‘How much sky is there
in the whole world?’
I could answer that:
give the atmospheric mass
number of its molecules
the global area
the rate at which it thins
outwards towards the sun.
But as I look into his eyes
huge, open to the sky,
reaching far beyond the sun
I shake my head
tell him I don’t know.
On Christmas day St. Mary’s in Ealing was the venue for live broadcast on BBC ONE. The preparation which went into it was huge and it made me realise how scrappy church worship can otherwise be. Of course spontaneous and relaxed worship is good (in my view) but a little preparation could be a good thing. more photos
Now here’s a catchup from the old blogspot.
Orignal post on Blogger 1 May 2004
An act of worship and a television programme have a lot in common. There is usually a central idea and a sequence of creative stuff that communicates that idea. A TV production is usually briefed to ensure that it sticks to the task in hand and all the elements support the central idea.
My experience of worship is that sometimes it is a ragbag of thoughts and distractions.
I’ve written a worship briefing template based on the one created for the team I work with at the BBC. It only requires one sentence (and so does not even have to be written down). The brief has three elements – who are we creating the worship for? How do we want them to respond? What is the single most important message?
So the template reads, get (worshipper) to (think, feel, believe or do) by telling them/showing them (the single most important thing). We have a rule that only one main message can be conveyed.
You may feel this is too controlling and managed (it is), but I would say that much of what we do in church is done without regard for the person worshipping. We rarely expect them to respond in any way and we clutter the event with a jumble of messages.
A walk on the beach is always a great place for inspiration. Yesterday we spent some time with Deborah’s family in Bournemouth and here’s the photo to prove it. Normally in the summer the place is covered in deck chairs, but with a cold wind and a low sun this is the best time of the year.
Orignal post on Blogger 10 April 2005
Watching a video presentation by Tom Sherman an artist based in Canada. He discussed the value given to a piece of work by the amount of time spent on it.
In a culture of convenience, he asked, perhaps it makes sense to produce art in the same amount of time it takes to consume it. Move as fast as you can to make your point.
However, he noticed, in this world of non-linear digital editing nothing was ever finished. Once a wood carver made his piece of art there was no turning back. For the digital artist there could be limitless revisions and improvements – nothing is ever finished.
I know from personal experience that the possibility of making alterations to work is a curse.
Sherman told a story about an art teacher who had a remarkable gift for getting great work out of young children. When asked what her secret was she said it was that she knew when to take the paintings away from the children. To work for too long on something was to spoil it.
Why move beyond the sketch?