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Friday, 20 October 2017
Identifying the Story: Sequencing isn't narrative
image from the All Quiet film #3 - see it on bjp-online.com next week
In photobooks there are so many elements used in editing, sequencing and creating a narrative.
It's really difficult. For All Quiet on the Home Front, we went through the lot of them. Sequencing by chronology, geography, family, resemblance, art history, season, colour, form, tone, flora, expression, dress, climate, mood, symbolism, material, and so on.
The sequencing was a gradual process that was embedded into the editing with voice, mode, person, text, the basic best picture edit and much more besides.
You can sequence in a multitude of ways in other words. But none of that made a narrative. What made the narrative was actually identifying what the story was about. Do that and then you can create all the structures through which the story can flow - and that, structures plus story, creates the narrative.
Ania Nalecka does a thing in workshops where she asks in three words what your story is about. Other people do the same in writing workshops, or life skills or whatever. It's very simple but very effective. It's also very difficult. It's a common strategy but it works because it identifies what the story is really about? And if I really can't come up with those three words (or whatever) then it might be I don't have a story.
What it's really about is not the sequencing, because the sequencing doesn't make the narrative; it can detract from or add to the narrative but it doesn't make it. It's not the same, in the same way the frame of a picture doesn't make a picture.
So my wife Katherine asked me what the story was about and when I gave the wrong answer (and the wrong answer is anything above 3 words especially when it's heading to the 10,000 word mark - "but what is really essential is bla bla bla..." ) she told me. She told me first in three words, and then in more than three words.
It's the story of me going out into these environments with Isabel, it's my identification with these places, it's me forming a relationship in these places, and the sense of loss that I experienced as Isabel grew up.
It was obvious to her because she'd seen it on a daily basis, and it was obvious to her because it was in the photographs in a way it wasn't for me. But once it was obvious to her, it was obvious to me. It was like having a tutorial where you tell someone what is staring you, and everybody else, in the face.
And so that made the story. The other option had been a kind of stream of consciousness slightly detached version of events with the great pictures linking through sequencing that hopefully created a story in the eyes of the viewer. But with some ambiguity so it wasn't too obvious.
But every time we went back to that, we saw how weak it was in comparison. It had no depth or emotion, it ticked press any buttons, it didn't actually say very much. It wasn't a story, it was a sequence. And to go with it would be to mistake sequence for story, sequence for narrative,
stream-of-consciousness, or a flow of images, or a blocked out series. They are related but are not the same.
There's more of a commitment when you build elements (text, paper,symbolism, sequence...) that add to the story. That was the idea of All Quiet on the Home Front. It would be multi-layered and talk of something that went beyond the images.
The strange thing is that was what I intended and I fully expected it to work. And it does work. Because people are talking to me about the book in really personal ways about their father, about their childhood, about fatherhood, about motherhood, about bonding and not bonding with their children, about the places they played when they were children.
I was asked yesterday if this surprised me. And I said yes it did because even though on a cognitive level we thought this would work, on an emotional level it's something quite different when people respond to the book that direct way.
It takes the book out of our hands and into the world at large. It's terrifying really, I have book fear.
Anyway, you can buy the book here.
Pre-order prices end in two days so get your orders in here for the discounted price and (if you order the Subscriber's Edition) to get your name in the first edition.
And after that it's print preparation and we're getting closer to actually making the book, thank God!