Things begin to go awry when I have no point of view; no opinion, no specific observation, nothing to reveal. I spend most of my time trying to uncover the problem, though once established, the rest is hard work that is relatively relaxing. I’ve discovered that most of my restlessness lies in finding the story not telling it.
I’m used to seeing life happen through a viewfinder; it’s my job, and probably why I leave my camera at home when on vacation or spending time with friends. I want to feel it without the camera framing it for me. The camera can keep me from seeing if I’m not careful; as soon as I raise it to my eye, I’m a professional and my craft dominates.
This whole “telling the story” thing has stalked me. Photography, greeting cards, marketing, branding and advertising all tell stories. In my off hours, music, socializing, reading, listening – all involve stories. FaceBook is one big story made of short anecdotes from a select cast of characters.
I have a stream of self talk as I interact with anything. Looking at a photo or artwork creates a story in my head clarifying the memories it evokes, the emotions it churns or the actions I will take as a result of including this image in my life. Creating art is speaking the narrative.
A good photographer understands the craft of storytelling. I think making a successful photograph usually incorporates at least some of these:
Like in films, each element of the story, revealed all at once, will cause the viewer to move on faster than it took you to take the photo in the first place. Framing, composition, angle of view, selective focus all contribute to the pace with which the viewer understands the story your telling with the image; too fast and their gone, too slow, and they’re bored.
Power of unanswered questions:
Learn to love the questions – there is power in the unresolved chord. Sometimes the story is in the details of the moment but the question it leaves behind can be equally as compelling. The best movie you saw left you talking about it long after you left the theater. Same goes for a photographic image.
The image isn’t about what you’re feeling, it’s about what your viewer is feeling. Cognitive and emotional integration of surprise, satisfaction, beauty, horror – or whatever the story’s point – needs to be empathic to be engaging.
It’s the discipline of storytelling that helps us build more meaningful experiences for the viewer. Storytelling is deeply embedded in the way we understand things. Our world view helps us build expectations of our story’s plot, and the effectiveness of the spectacle can actually change the world view of others through a surprise resolution.
It all starts with a point of view. Scott Simon tells us how it’s done.