What I know about photography… Photos do not tell stories.

Photos do not tell stories and photographers are not story tellers. Anyone that claims otherwise is a fuckwit.

The problem is that there are a lot of fuckwits around, especially on the internet (sometimes I hate the internet as much as I love it), claiming that photos tell stories or that photographers are story tellers. Just ask your favourite search engine to “tell a story through photos”.

When I asked my favourite search engine to “tell a story through photos” it returned links to articles with titles like “Telling Stories With Photos”, “Telling A Story With Pictures | Storytelling Through Photograpy”, “The Stories that Can be Told Through Photography”, “How to Tell a Story with Your Photographs”.

The results even turned up links to articles on the Kodak and Nikon web sites about telling stories with photos. I would have though that Kodak and Nikon would know better. But then again Kodak and Nikon are businesses and the idea that photos tell stories or that photographers are visual story tellers probably helps them sell more. Whatever.

I don’t know where the idea started but some people seem to love the idea that pictures tell stories then claim to be story tellers, or visual story tellers. Fuckwits.

Writers, journalists, novelists, kids story book authors tell stories. Movies and TV shows tell stories. Photographers make photos they don’t tell stories.

Photos don’t tell sties, not on their own. Photos have stories that go with the photo, i.e. the story behind the photo of how or why a photo was made. Take holiday or family photos, the photos on their own don’t tell you the story. The person or people who took the photo(s) know what the story is behind the photo and I’m sure they would love to tell you the story when they show you the photos.

Another example would be newspapers or magazines. Newspapers and magazines use photos to illustrate a story but the photo isn’t the story. The written word and the photo support each other. A journalist could write an article describing a photo or they could write an article about a story and use a photo to illustrate their story. A story with a supporting photo is more effective than a written description of a photo or a photo on it’s own.

When you look at a photo on it’s own, even a series of photos, you might be able to get an idea about what the story is from what the photo describes but you still don’t know what the actual story is. All you have is what the photo describes you can imagine a story, that may or may not be correct.

When you make a photo your not telling a story. You are selecting a small part of something bigger and putting a frame around it because you think is worthy of attention. You are saying hey look at this isn’t it interesting, I think this warrants your attention isn’t this cool? Stop and have a look.

One of my favourite photographers, Garry Winogrand, sums it up perfectly when he says that photographs “are mute they don’t have any narrative ability at all. You know what something looked like but you don’t know what’s happening… I don’t think there is any photograph in the world that has any narrative ability, any of them, they do not tell stories they show you what something looks like to a camera”. Garry is right when he says that, he is also right when he says “all a photograph ever does is describe light on surface that’s all there is”. All a photograph is is a 2D representation of 3D objects in space and time. All a photograph does is describe a particular moment in space and time.


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