Storytelling in Photography: Part 1 of 4

For those of you that have heard of Ira Glass and have seen his videos and listened to his radio show “This American Life” know that he’s a very insightful person with a lot to offer. I’ve been the type of person to search for inspiration in all things and in all mediums and try to apply it to my own medium which is photography. A few years back, Ira Glass did a series of videos about story telling in broadcasting and it’s meant for people who are getting started in the broadcasting industry, but I found it profoundly inspirational for myself in relation to Photography. I wanted to share my thoughts with you about how I applied his theories of storytelling in broadcasting to Storytelling in Photography. You can find the videos on YouTube Here: Ira Glass on YouTube or click here to see on this page. I suggest you take a look and see if it was as inspirational for you as it was for me.

In the first part of the video, Ira Talks about the building blocks of a Story:

1. The anecdote or sequence of actions. It’s the story in its purest form. It’s literally the sequence of events one step at a time.

2. The moment of reflection. Why are you telling the story. Why should the person/viewer be listening/looking.

I was reflecting on these building blocks and how we could apply them to photography. I’ve always admired the narrative qualities in the works of Keith Carter, Duane Michals, and Josef Koudelka. They use some of the same techniques that Ira Glass talks about just in a much more subtle way.

Ira talks about raising questions in your stories as well as the need to have both the anecdotal side of the story as well as the moment of reflection working together in order for the whole piece to be larger than the sum of its parts. This is the way I see it as well for photography. Having a great individual images that tie into each other can be used to create a body of work, such as the works of Keith Carter, and Josef Koudelka, that tells a story about a particular place or time, and gives you the reason why that work is important. Presenting the work as a whole makes it more important then if you just saw individually great images. You could also be more specific and sequential such as Duane Michals which uses a series of images to tell a story about a specific subject. By presenting the images in sequence he strengthens the series itself. He also makes each of the images more important as you compare them to the others to try to find the story. I always wondered why I cold look at a Duane Michals book and not put it down for hours. I got caught up in his world and I found it fascinating to find little bits and pieces of a story that I may have missed in previous viewing, or depending on my mood or where my mind was, the sequences meant different things to me.

Many great wedding photographers and photo journalists use these techniques also. They may raise visual questions throughout an event and answer them visually. You may have heard of these techniques as “Tying” elements. It could be as subtle as a color that repeats itself throughout a wedding album or more complex such as a certain logo that appears in all your documentary images about a “down on their luck family”. Having “Tying” elements in your work can be a technique you use to raise your photography to the next level. Using these ideas will give your body of work more relevance if done properly. Also consider using this technique in your portfolio. Some of the strongest portfolios that I’ve seen use these techniques to showcase a body of work as a whole giving the portfolio a much stronger impact then just the individual images on their own. In my experience a softer hand when using these techniques works best to avoid being “campy” unless that’s what you’re going for.

What do you think of these techniques and how have you used them successfully in your own work? We’d love to see it, so please leave a comment below or contact us and give us links to your work. Lets share with the community how you’ve been successful or where you may need some help.

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Editor in Chief

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