Lecture Notes (23.10.13)

In class we listened to David Campbell exploring the ideas relating to narrative, power and responsibility within photography.

Notes from class:

Falling Soldier By Robert Capa

We do not fully understand the impacts between images, our responsibility as author and the worlds’ interpretation of both of these things. If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you don’t read enough and Robert Capa also said, “If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough”. Understanding our subject is essential, offering context and directing us towards narrative, thus larger stories can be formed.

French Revolution

Narrative is more about the idea of event or story of the event, Allen Feldman said, “The event is not what happens. The event is that which can be narrated” This means a narrative constructs the very events it connects. For example, in Bastille 1789, people at the time didn’t understand that they were even participating in what was to be known as, ‘The French Revolution’. The idea of the French Revolution was that arising from storytellers, a product of historical and political narratives looking back at the event and connecting them in specific ways, thus forming an event known as ‘The French Revolution’. This example shows how our understanding of the world and events is only because of narratives and storytellers constructing such narratives.

Holocaust Survivors Israel

Another example would be the Holocaust. The Holocaust is a history of enduring torture and sorrow. Six million Jews and millions of others, including gypsies, homosexuals, children and both mentally and physically disabled people were annihilated by those working under the immoral Nazi regime, led by Adolf Hitler. The sickening amount of evidence, archives and photographs recorded by the Nazi’s, which showcase their terrible crimes against humanity are horrific. I feel humanity, as a whole will never fully come to grips to the entirety of this brutal calamity of global proportion. As a result its no surprise that people involved and participating in the event could not understand what was to be known as ‘The Holocaust’. People didn’t understand what actually happened until two centuries later only through storytellers who shared their narrative of the event.

Research is essential in constructing narrative. Narratives are a whole realm of mediations to transmit information and understanding to other people. A narrative is a process of story telling, thus controlling and constructing the narrative. As an author and storyteller one must know what can be kept or thrown away, thus forming an honest and valid account of the event. Constructing a narrative operates on a whole range of limits, one can combine the range and deviations and representations of the event, thus raising issues of validity and trustworthiness. We must understand the limits to certain stories and narratives, but sometimes these limits may transgress.  You cannot tell any story in any way.

Construction is necessary in narrative as one cannot reveal and include every detail of an event or story. This raises questions and concerns: do narratives fail, as they cannot reveal the entirety of a story? Can narratives be trusted? Is every story just interpretation? Will information become fluid and lost? Who can be trusted in narrating stories? Why do stories have to be incomplete and constructed?

In relation to the final question, the reasons narratives are left incomplete are because we simply cannot include every detail of a story, thus some information is not included. This offers a sense of completeness and coherence for the reader. Life is chaotic, and humans yearn for a beginning, middle and end, thus stories are constructed in this way. Narrative taps into our desire of understanding stories and events as coherent, comprehensive and complete accounts.  We want so much to have a grasp of events and stories, thus narrative offers a nugget of concise and complete information, which our brains can easily digest. This is why things are left out, as we simply cannot know everything.

There are traditional forms of narrative. Narrative stories will also likely have within them the following moments: 1) exposition 2) conflict 3) climax 4) resolution.

However, it is vital to stress that there are no templates or rules to follow which can be applied automatically in forming a narrative. Narratives can include and take into consideration the following:  1) Time-linear (beginning, middle, end) or non-linear  (flashbacks, memories, starting at the end looking back) 2) Space 3) Drama 4) Causality 5) Personification.

We have to connect to these formats. There are relationships between the individual and the story. We come across people in the situation, not the situation itself. For example, HIV, you come across the individuals with the disease, not the disease itself. People embody the issue, hence why many put a face on the issue, which is a particular narrative that is often used.

We all want to develop our own visual stories and these are some things one must ask myself: What is the story you really want to tell? What will it change, alter and affect afterward? What is an issue that motivates you? Who are they? How would you photograph it? What is the context?

By Nick Ut

In terms of responsibility it’s unrealistic to think that images can change the world. The image by Nick Ut of the Vietnamese girl running naked in the midst of conflict is often thought to have ended the War. Whilst it raised awareness and altered public opinion on the War it did by no means put an end to the conflict. Its unsustainable, idyllic and too far fetched to believe that images could change the world. Marcus Bleasdale who partnered with Human Rights is another example. His work evoked change by the subjects and themes he depicts are still ongoing. We need to be more realistic about what visuals are capable of. The more you can relate context the greater impact the images can achieve. It’s all about maximizing the images power.

We need to know a substantial amount of information and context; otherwise you would be left stranded in the image making.  Not everything that drives photography is visual so one must have the necessary research and understanding to bring the images into context and offer a valid narrative.

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