Great Photos: 2

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!

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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.


Published by Mark

Mark Waddington is a former BBC broadcaster and producer. He now works for the Diocese of Leeds as Urban Mission Officer. If you would like to get in touch email mark.waddington@leeds.anglican.org

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