In my last post, I shared some highlights from an all-day seminar (through the Latow Photography Guild) with world and humanitarian photographer David duChemin, on the topic of voice. Today, I’ll share with you what he had to say about story.
One of the workshops I offer (along with Sally Drew) is Once Upon a Time: Photographs have Stories to Tell. I truly believe that our photographs are one step ahead of our conscious minds. They hold clues to what we’re thinking and feeling, to what we truly love, to our voice.
Photographs also tell stories, using visual language rather than written language. This visual language is expressed through how we compose elements – light, lines, shapes, texture, patterns, etc. – and through symbols, metaphor, contrasts and perspective. Stories are expressed by the decisions we make about what we leave in and what we leave out.
In the seminar with duChemin, I appreciated his delineation between visual stories and visual poems.
Visual Stories – evoke meaning, hope, empathy, curiosity
These images tell a story similar to a written story. They have some or all of the elements of story – theme, setting, character, action, conflict, change, empathy, mystery.
Conflict (or tension) is the heart of story, In a visual story, conflict is visualized through contrast – of ideas (light and dark, men and women, work and play, etc.). It is expressed through relationships and other differences – tonal, colour, texture, lines, light, etc.
In the image above, the strongest contrast is between the surfers going one way and the non-surfers a different way. And then, there is the group standing along the shoreline. It tells a story about this day, that there is something happening.
Visual Poems – evoke mood or emotion
These images don’t necessarily tell a story. Instead, they are evocative. This is a different way to connect that is similar to music and poetry. They go straight to the heart.
Mood and emotion can be expressed visually in many ways – through light, colour, gesture, facial expression, mystery, etc. I’ve found that abstract photography is a form of visual poetry that bypasses story and goes straight to the emotion.
In the image above, the colour blue and the swirling waters draw me in to the mood of swirling, complicated emotions.
I find that my photographs tend to be visual poems rather than stories, as I’m attempting to tap into the emotion of the moment. Sometimes, a visual poem can be a story too. How the image is perceived, as a story or a poem, depends on what the photographer is trying to communicate.
If you’re interested in learning more about visual stories, I recommend this Craft & Vision e-book – The Visual Storyteller
by Oded Wagenstein and to read David duChemin’s post, Tell Me a Story
And, do consider joining me and Sally at some time for Once Upon a Time: Photographs have Stories to Tell. We’re just finishing our second session of this workshop with a stellar group. The experience has been powerful. Sign up for my email list (above right) for bimonthly inspiration and notification of the workshop schedule.