I’ve written before about making the familiar unfamiliar with a view to creating a more original image or a different take on something. An important element of making an image more interesting than a mere capture can be to reveal a story or intrigue within it. In a world awash with random snaps and selfies it can be a challenge to find images that hold our attention.
Now, no one is suggesting that every shot you take has to tell a story. Of course not. But after shooting a subject or place for a while looking for that something extra can add a new dimension to your perspective and provide additional interest for the viewer. I’m not talking about necessarily documenting an event or situation, although such scenarios do encourage images that tell a story. It can simply be a moment in time anywhere.
A still capture of a single moment may not always be worth a thousand words, or even ten, but perhaps it can attempt to evoke a reaction or a question about the subject(s) within it. It can be funny or sad or generate wonder about what could happen or has happened, or perhaps what is about to happen. What’s the story behind the subject (animal, vegetable, mineral or person)? What are they thinking? Why are they there? How does it reflect on their mood or their environment?
This idea is particularly, although by no means exclusively, relevant to so called street photography, where much of what I’ve seen seems to be those random snaps of nothing definitive. Now, this is purely a subjective opinion. I’m not an art critic or a street photography expert, and perhaps I don’t have a deep enough insight to find the meaning of the Universe in a shot of someone crossing the road. So much street photography posted online seems to lack features, subjects or even a point. I’m not saying that’s wrong; everyone interprets the world in their own way, of course. I simply prefer to capture and reveal a particular moment. I’m not always successful.
It only requires a certain amount of patience and a willingness to look for such a moment (and sometimes luck!). It does not have to be a profound revelation or uniquely bizarre or heart-stoppingly terrifying. It can be a moment that just stops time and lets the viewer use their imagination to fill in the blanks. It can be found in any subject, from people to wildlife.
How we shoot and process the image can obviously affect how that story is told or that moment is defined. In much the same way that punctuation, paragraphs and sentence structure can help to hone a written point, lighting, framing and composition become the narrative tools for our photograph. Using lines or foreground elements to lead the eye or lighting to create mood, or, as Lola pointed out in her recent article, using judicious framing can all enhance the moment. Even placement of the horizon line or a vertical tilt can alter the meaning or perception.
Graphic illustrators (read: comic book artists) will tell you that to convey dynamism in each frame on the page they will draw the action as just about to happen or having just happened. One can apply the same principles to photography. A photograph is a still image, after all, and can give the viewer a sense of just passed or impending drama.
Perhaps, like a comic strip panel, the image may invite a caption, obvious or not, which enhances its story. The image below, taken in Colorado last year of a familiar face, invited a great caption from Bob Vishneski.
Locations can be used to tell a story too, either explicitly or as a backdrop. Rather than just being fascinated with the buildings or the landscape, wait for something to happen or a scene to present itself in order to give that place some extra context.
I imagine wedding photographers have the skill and experience to be able to tell and find such moments instinctively. They almost always have to find and convey the excitement and emotion of a special day and depict the microcosm of small events, the chapters if you will, that make up the main story.
There are clearly limitless ways to convey a story or a mood in an image. I have merely brushed against a small toenail here in the overall body of ideas. But when you next go out with your camera, slow down. Don’t simply snap at something because its there. Believe me, you won’t have been the first nor will you be the last. Have the patience to become a witness to a moment that interests you and you may reveal a little something extra. And in doing so you may invite the viewer to stop and look for just a moment longer.
Nice view point and thoughts, thank you. Very nice shots too. I particularly like the Mandela & handbag. But who’s that strange bloke? ;) I really admire persistent street & social observational photographers. I know sometimes it’s luck (as with all photography) but a lot is of course patience and thought. I think Betty’s right in a way, sometimes snappers not getting the point. A good shot is about observation combined with connected thinking’, an angle if you like. Albeit, sometimes we get lucky.. It’s like Man Ray’s found objects, which many people don’t understand but they ‘get’ Warhol’s! Sometime colour pop is a quick solution LOL Is photography art or just a snapshot of life.blah blah.. discuss!
Keith, thank you for your comments and for taking the time to look at the article (evidently one of only a few!). I think your question at the end can be asked in this way: is photography there to capture or reveal? Undoubtedly both but the point of this piece, of course, was to encourage more of the latter :)
Thanks again :)
Really intoxicating series…and no pun intended !!!
I am a street photographer myself and couldn’t agree more when you say, “…much of what I’ve seen seems to be those random snaps of nothing definitive”. In fact you have been rather polite in your observation.
Street photography sites in the internet are full of photographs of people crossing streets, or walking down alleys, bridges… or just shots of a mingling crowd of people, which in my opinion are pure record/ snap shots, passed off as ‘Street photography’. This is an alarming trend since the fine art of capturing the ‘decisive moment’ or at least when “that moment is defined”, as mentioned in your article and practiced by great Masters like Bresson, Kertesz, Eisenstaedt and more recently Raghu Rai & Steve Mccurry has become a rapidly vanishing commodity because of the onslaught photographs produced by all sorts of digital contraption and masquerading as Street Photography.
Thank you Samir! Glad I’m not the only one to make such observations :)
I have said the same thing on more than one occasion – it was not well received.
I repeat, much so called street photography is nothing but random snaps of nothing in particular.
Great ideas, well illustrated, and insightful captioning. As Spenser also recently mentioned in his post about using film, slowing down may lead to a more satisfying result. Even though digital encourages taking many images quickly,, waiting a bit may be quite advantageous as your post here well demonstrates.
Thanks Jim. And yes I too endorse Spencer’s idea about film encouraging one to slow down and think about the shot more carefully.