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Telling a Story Part 1

A photo is a two dimensional record frozen in time, so it can be a challenge to capture one that delivers much of a narrative. But this is what we often want to do and Aodan’s talk explored  various options for telling a bigger story by using multiple images presented in various ways.

A selection of images can be shown together on a single surface as a diptych (pronounced to rhyme with dipstick, dipstick!), triptych, polytych or collage, a collage being characterised by significant irregularity of the arrangement.

What pictures you choose and how you arrange them will vary depending on who it’s for and what you are trying to say. It might simply be that you want to project a mood by juxtaposing images that complement or contrast with each other. Or you may want them to tell a story by putting together different aspects of an event or location, or the same subject from different perspectives, or the progression or growth of a subject over time.

Because a camera captures an image in a similar way to the human eye it uses single point perspective. The real world isn’t like that (objects don’t actually get smaller the further away they are, for example) and artists like Picasso and David Hockney explored ways of expressing multipoint perspective on a flat surface. (I am a bit surprised that more photographers haven’t explored this issue considering how effective photo-merging software is nowadays.)

Aodan illustrated this with artwork by David Hockney who assembled collages of Polaroid prints to striking effect. Most famously ‘Pearblossom Highway’. By taking pictures as he walked about the scene and pasting them together, he produced a multipoint perspective image giving a sense that you are ‘in’ the scene rather than standing looking at it.











Another example from Hockney  is ‘Christopher Isherwood talking to Bob Holman’. This collage shows the progress of a dialogue between the participants, introducing a time dimension to the picture.












An example of the ‘polytych’ is what the Royal Photographic Society demands from candidates aspiring to gain one of their Distinctions (LRPS, ARPS or FRPS). Applicants are required to present a fixed number of prints (10, 15 or 20, respectively) as a panel carefully mounted and presented for judging in a tastefully calculated arrangement. Good luck with that one!


Then Aodan moved on to the photoessay. More photojournalism this, and a genre first surfacing in a German publication in 1920. The idea was picked up by Life magazine in 1936 and Time magazine in 1937, and later the Sunday Times magazine and other newspapers. In the photoessay, the main story-telling is carried by the pictures and any explanatory text was secondary.

Aodan encouraged us to give it a try ourselves as producing a bound photoessay using online services like Photobox is now relatively straightforward and can be very satisfying and rewarding.

The first issue of Life magazine in 1936 carried a photoessay on the construction of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana with the photographs taken on assignment by Margaret Bourke-White. Her brief was to come back with photos of the massive construction taking shape, but instead, the vast majority of them were of the workers themselves, how they worked and their way of life in the neighbouring town of New Deal. Aodan showed us 34 of the photos she brought back. Only 17 of these were used in the magazine and we spent an entertaining latter part of the evening trying to guess which images were accepted for publication by the picture editor, and which were not and why.

To see the images again follow this link: http://time.com/3764198/lifes-first-ever-cover-story-building-the-fort-peck-dam-1936/

Thanks Aodan for a very entertaining evening priming us all with ideas for Part 2,  a ‘Show and Tell’ evening on 10th April next year.