Photography as Necessary Fiction … ?

Photography as Necessary Fiction

by Alex Subrizi

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 17.33.31

Before I begin to look at Alex Subrizi’s answer it is important to understand his background. Subrizi is a Photographer and writer, working in America, he’s had his work published in many international magazines and teaches worldwide too.

You can read the full answer here. I am just going to be picking out the relevant bits then discussing them.

it’s widely accepted that photographs are themselves narratives: stories in and of themselves. Perhaps the narrative quality of cinema, photography’s “second cousin”, helps to reinforce this view. But does a still photograph tell a story? Can any single image be an account of anything? If yes, I would argue it to be a terribly brief account. So brief that any number of different narratives could conceivably be said to flow into and out from that single image. What a photograph can instead do is support and reinforce a particular narrative, in the same way that any single image can.

It’s an interesting point that because photography is so instantaneous and desires no set physical time to see the story it therefore needs to reference other work to help establish the story. I am not sure if this is entirely right but it is relevant to my subject area. In fandom the same images, props, sounds are used over and over again, recreated. Like creative commons if you like. Everyone is using other peoples work to help reach the fan base they want. One classic example of this is in the series Spaced. Pegg’s love for all things sci-fi and geeky is continuously referenced, in this particular scene we see imagery taken from the Matrix and Scarface. It may not be Subrizi’s point exactly but I struggle to think of a photograph which intentionally does this to enhance the narrative and audience.

Some contemporary art photographers have even chosen to highlight the photograph’s neutrality with respect to narrative by deliberately photographing human subjects while they are speaking, as if to underscore the fact that although a story is being told right there in the picture, the medium of photography is powerless to transmit that story to us.

This point I completely don’t agree with. The photograph has as much power as the photographer can give it. In some cases a photo can be 100x more emotive than the story itself, it can even create stories out of nothing. I hate to think of photography as interrupting as this quote suggests. This is the sort of thing I aim to prove wrong through my final pieces. The image that springs to mind is the iconic portrait of Churchill. How anyone could see this image is powerless to transmit that story too us seems impossible to me.

Winston Churchill, 31 December 1941, Photograph by Yousuf Karsh, Ottawa, Canada

A cinematic work tells a story, moves horizontally across time, and puts most of its content, from soundtrack to lighting effects, in the service of its narrative’s forward movement. This movement seems natural to us, since we inhabit a world constantly in flux. A still image is something altogether different: a meditation on a single moment in thought or experience, something fixed and compact and exhibiting a quite unnatural urgency.

Again I struggle with this. Just because something moves horizontally across time doesn’t mean it tells the story any better than a single image. Yes I think very few photographers successfully create fiction stories as well as a film can, but allowing the spectator to reflect on a single moment has it’s benefits too. It allows you to analyse everything get deeper and question everything within the frame. I am also 100% for anything what comes naturally to us, even is this writer doesn’t seem to think so.

In contrast to the horizontal movement of cinema, the movement of still photography is vertical, unfolding while going nowhere.

I would replace the word ‘nowhere’ with ‘everywhere’. Unlike cinema photography IS open ended, and doesn’t force the spectator to go down one route, it allows for each person to take it somewhere new, breaking it away from the linear narrative we are so familiar with and use our imaginations. It seems I don’t agree with this writer as much as I thought I would. I feel quite protective now, as though yes sometimes a story is better told through moving image, but equally some stories are better told through photography.

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