— Kurt Lightfoot —: Blog https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog en-us Narrative & Interpretive Digital Images and Text (C) Kurt Lightfoot – all rights reserved (— Kurt Lightfoot —) Tue, 07 Dec 2021 21:43:00 GMT Tue, 07 Dec 2021 21:43:00 GMT Narrative By Any Other Name https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2021/4/narrative-by-any-other-name

_DSC0218-6_DSC0218-6This location, with its "Pier Into Nothingness" always blows my mind. "Fishing Into Nothingness", comes to mind. There's an element of faith, or hope, that there's something in all that dark nothingness. "And hope does not disappoint" Romans 5:5

This blog's title, "Narrative By Any Other Name",
refers to any of the synonyms for narrative;
e.g. story, meaning, message, tale, etc.
All of them conveyed by visual metaphor and symbolism
within our shared visual literacy.


This blog is about the primacy of narrative in contemporary photography.

Part of photography's freedom to express itself today comes from century-old innovations in other visual arts including expressionism and so on. So this blog post starts with that art history, links to this digital era, and is organized as follows:

  • Photography set painters free
  • Photography has always been an abstraction
  • Beyond photography's historic snapshot genre
  • Digital image processing [DIP]
  • The strength of its narrative
  • More posts about narrative
  • Painters set photographers free
  • Which path chose me?

Photography set painters free
In an art history sense, one can argue that photography's innate photorealism helped free painters from realism and let loose impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, and so on. [If you don't believe me, Google "photography freed painters" and take it up with them ;-) ]


Out Of — In ToOut Of — In To

Photography has always been an abstraction
Recently we've been enjoying the radical loosening of photography's self-limiting identity with photorealism. And there's art history on that too. I remember the thoughts [but not the name] of one photography critic who argued that all photography has always been an abstraction:
  • B&W is obviously an abstraction
  • But so is Kodachrome [ref. Paul Simon "Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away"]
  • Scale; we shove huge scenes onto little pieces of paper
  • 2-dimensional medium of a 3-dimensional world
  • Still, not moving
  • ....and so on
Beyond photography's historic snapshot genre
Today things are truly radical regarding photography's freedom. Combine all the above with the ubiquity of digital snapshots, auto-editing apps, and free internet publication, and you get a world of photography that has become a super-mash-up of stuff, including some artful accidents. This has gone way beyond photography's historic snapshot genre. 
Digital image processing [DIP]
With digital image processing [DIP], the degrees of abstraction have expanded exponentially. Today we could say that DIP has set photography totally free from the obligations of photorealism.  By "totally free" I mean free to be any place on a scale from idealized photorealism to full abstraction. And, of course, any mix; ref. Interpretive: mixing photorealism and abstraction.
Reaching Up To The LightReaching Up To The LightThe Universe In A Tree —

Trees — I'm in awe at how the bio-info encoded in their little seeds is so smart and powerful that it builds strong, elaborate, beautiful, alive structures from the dust of the Earth. And I like how the dust of the Earth was created in stars — what Carl Sagan called "Star Stuff". And then this tree made of Star Stuff lifts its leaves to a star, our Sun.

Stephen Hawking wrote The Universe In A Nutshell, but it's easier for me to imagine the universe in a tree.

"Reaching Up To The Light" was juried into its first show at the Front Porch Gallery.
• Click
here for the E-Invite.

And it was juried into the Oceanside Museum Of Art 2015 Art Auction.
• Click here for the E-Invite.

And it was invited into the Panache Invitational 2017.
• Click here for the E-Invite.

And it was juried into Bonanica at San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, 2018.
• Click here for the Invite.

Before & After editing of this image can be seen in the Blog post here

The strength of its narrative
So, one has to invent his/her own way in this DIP era. One has to have a message other than the medium [yes, that's a shameless nod to Marshall McLuhan ;-) ]. Essentially it comes down to this: Any one of our photographs is no stronger than the strength of its narrative, or if you prefer, its story, tale, meaning, etc. From that point-of-view I encourage an approach to photography based on Shoot for Story — Edit for Perception.
Since you can't Photoshop your way out of having nothing to say [not as obvious to everyone as it sounds ;--)], it's best to start with a scene that has compelling meaning to your viewer.  Once you have that, then use your editing freedoms to make that meaning visually accessible by the viewer.
More posts about narrative
Painters set photographers free
Things have come full circle.  While at first photography set painters free to innovate impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, and so on, those freedoms are now available for DIP photographers to employ. But to what end?  Those freedoms are not an end in themselves.  The DIP photographer has to have something to say that's worth the viewer's attention. Thankfully, all of creation is full of metaphoric and symbolic meaning.  To support that assertion I'll borrow from Minor White and Vincent Van Gogh:

"One should not only photograph things
for what they are
but for what else they are."
Minor White

"...all reality is also at the same time symbolic."
Vincent Van Gogh

Which path chose me?
I'm influenced the most by the visual communications thread in my professional career.  The aesthetics and practical objectives of all graphics from drafting/mechanical design, to visualizing data, to technical visuals such as Scanning Electron Microscopy, to technical product marketing-communications and business-communications in all mediums; i.e. professional visual communications, visual literacy, with an objective/purpose. That emphasis on narrative stuck with me.

So, for my genre of photography, my branding
is narrative digital image processing based.

Narrative And Interpretive Digital Images


Pier Through The LightPier Through The Light

(— Kurt Lightfoot —) digital image processing narrative photography visual literacy https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2021/4/narrative-by-any-other-name Fri, 02 Apr 2021 03:07:01 GMT
Urban Coastal https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2019/4/urban-coastal

Urban Coastal
Subtle, Emotive, Visual Narratives


— Artist Statement —

When urban landscapes and coastal seascapes meet then a unique lifestyle ethos is the emergent result. Urban Coastal shares subtle, emotive, visual narratives about that ethos.

Urban Coastal is a modest body-of-work with nine black & white images organized as three triptychs; Unbanscape, Fog, Pier.

CLICK on any image to open its triptych and view images

Urbanscape Fog Pier

To The CoastTo The Coast

Fog FamilyFog Family

Leaving The PierLeaving The Pier

Leave A Light OnLeave A Light On Pier Into The Fog [Night]Pier Into The Fog [Night] Disciple And SageDisciple And Sage
His Under PassHis Under Pass Pier Into The Fog [Day]Pier Into The Fog [Day] End Of His PierEnd Of His Pier

— Artist Statement cont. —

To The CoastTo The Coast — Urbanscape —
The Urbanscape triptych is about the human-made world from inland to the coastal edge. The coastline draws people to it, but it also draws a sharp line between urbanscape and seascape. In Urbanscape the human drama dominates, and that drama incorporates some of the mystery and transcendence promised at seascape’s edge.
Fog FamilyFog Family — Fog —
Fog is both its own triptych and a shared visual metaphor in all three triptychs.  Fog lies over and through them all. Fog ties seascape and urbanscape together in a universal, subtle, emotive way.  Fog is both subtle and dominant. On one level it is hardly there at all, yet its feeling defines the scene before us. Sometimes we feel more clearly in the fog.
Leaving The PierLeaving The Pier — Pier —
In the Pier triptych, pier as physical architecture and metaphorical pathway transports its occupants out from the urbanscape  into and over the seascape. A pier connects and transcends, out and above.  A pier is a thing, a place, and a metaphor.  As metaphor it is inspiration to transcend the juxtaposed worlds of urbanscape and seascape, making the experience of transcendence the common thread. We are invited and encouraged to transcend the physical for something deeper.  On a pier we stroll, play, fish, and meditate.

(— Kurt Lightfoot —) coastal fog interpretive narrative photography pier seascape urban urbanscape https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2019/4/urban-coastal Wed, 03 Apr 2019 05:20:59 GMT
Lone Bench and Other Metaphors https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2015/11/lone-bench-and-other-metaphors  

Lone BenchLone Bench


Metaphor Rich
Lone Bench
is a metaphor rich image I use in the workshop "Shoot For Story ~ Edit For Perception".  It is used to inspire the workshop participants to share their interpretation of the image, what feelings it creates, and how the visual elements work together to create a narrative.  It is used to feed a dialog about visual literacy.

I just had to have it
The first public display of Lone Bench was at Gallery 21 in Spanish Village, Balboa Park, San Diego.  It was the center image in a triptych.  The collector who purchased Lone Bench was asked by the gallery attendee about what motivated him to buy it.  He merely said, "I just had to have it."  I wish I knew more. What are the elements in the image that compelled him to purchase it?  I'll never know for sure, but I have my guess.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood - Robert Frost
When you come to a fork in the road, take it - Yogi Berra

Lone Bench is full of visual literacy clichés that we know and love; a bench, a hollowed-out log, diverging paths, mystically lit forest.  We know these visual clues and the feelings they are associated with.  They speak to us in a clear common language, and we like them. 

Workshop attendees describe the narratives they see in the image.  Viewers tell narratives based on which path they entered on, how long they sat on the bench, how the scene feels (usually warm, comforting, nostalgic, but sometimes ominous), and by which path they exit the scene and why that path over other choices.  We're really good at building personal narratives when we're given meaningful visual clues.

Below is the slide from the workshop that talks about the story elements.


Visual literacy clichés may not be such a bad thing.  I still enjoy gazing at Lone Bench

In the workshop, Lone Bench is also used to illustrate how editing can enhance how the visual metaphors flow together.  Here's a summary of the most radical edits: flipped left-to-right, de-cluttered, warmed, re-lit to influence eye flow and attention. 

Below is a quick slide show summarizing the major edits.

But editing has it limits.  If the original scene didn't contain the visual metaphors to begin with then editing could not add them.  And the same can be said for the library of visual metaphors we carry in our minds.  Without minds with a rich personal history that creates and stores visual meaning we can not have visual arts.  So, that collector who said "I just had to have it" has had a personal rich visual history that is warmly recalled by Lone Bench and other metaphors.





(— Kurt Lightfoot —) lone bench narrative photography visual literacy visual metaphor https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2015/11/lone-bench-and-other-metaphors Tue, 17 Nov 2015 17:22:19 GMT
Interpretive: mixing photorealism and abstraction https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/11/interpretive Chief Pontiac 3a 6945 afterChief Pontiac 3a 6945 after Mixing photorealism and abstraction, using only the scene's elements, is very exciting to me.  I can juxtapose the image to itself.  It allows me to express new interpretations of the scene's meaning.  It helps expand the meaning of a scene into something more significant than what is contained in a mere photorealism perception of the scene.

Literal & Metaphorical
Borrowing from Minor White, the scene can convey what it is and what else it is: what it is literally, and what it is metaphorically.  It can be what it is and its metaphor all in the same time and space.

Half-century old & the modern eye
In Pontiac Hood Ornament I'm using abstraction to convey the sense of modernness, motion, speed, action, and attractiveness.  I think that those characteristics are what a hood ornament was intended to convey by its designer (circa 1950).  I have to abstract-in a look that communicates those half-century old hood ornament design goals to a modern eye.  But I'm keeping enough photorealism so that the viewer knows its a real hood ornament.

Start the before & after slide show to see the changes:

Pontiac Hood Ornament is part of the gallery The Drama of Car Culture.
Click here to jump there.



Glow In The Park 1Glow In The Park 1 Glow In The Park triptych
Grass Hopper book project




(— Kurt Lightfoot —) car culture interpretive kurt lightfoot metaphor narrative photographer photography https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/11/interpretive Sat, 22 Nov 2014 17:05:18 GMT
Narratives With Isolation https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/11/narratives-with-isolation Isolation can feel entrapping or freeing.

Narratives With Isolation uses visual metaphors and symbols to create in the viewer's perception and emotions an experience that includes isolation.  But isolation is not the whole story — hence narratives with isolation, not narratives about isolation.

Isolation per se is not good or bad.  We need more visual information to know how to feel about what the isolation means, and we need to know about our personal reactions to the isolation metaphors.  Examples:

  • Isolated benches or picnic tables can seem lonely, desolate and depressing unless you're there for privacy, meditation, or spending time with those you came with.
  • Vultures on a naked, dead tree provide fewer narrative choices for the viewer.
  • Paths can recall choices, transitions, and even transcendence.
  • Spiritual experiences and awakenings are associated with isolation.
Lone BenchLone Bench Lone Picnic Table 2Lone Picnic Table 2
Roost #3Roost #3 Roost 1Roost 1
End Of His PierEnd Of His Pier Pathway To BluffPathway To Bluff
Pathway Out 2Pathway Out 2 Abandoned RanchAbandoned Ranch

The color pallet – basically black and tones of browns – creates an isolation from our vibrant, colorful existence.  In some narratives it comes across as warm, friendly sepia tones with positive associations and emotions, maybe like a restored old photo.  In other narratives it comes across as desolate and apocalyptic, maybe like an eerie smoke filled sky from a massive wildfire threatening homes and lives.

Synonyms for isolation; solitude, seclusiveness, desolation, detachment, privacy.

This blog post discusses images from a gallery located here.

(— Kurt Lightfoot —) interpretive kurt lightfoot metaphor narrative photographer photography https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/11/narratives-with-isolation Wed, 05 Nov 2014 18:51:51 GMT
Dahlias ~ What The Bee Sees https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/7/dahlias-what_the_bee_sees The goal of this project is to interpret dahlias with a compelling, expressive visual message.

My motivation to interpret the dahlias expressively came from wanting to answer this question: How powerful does the dahlia look to an insect in a dahlia-insect ecology? Then translating the answer into human perception.  My conclusion was that the dahlias would express very compelling, demanding, controlling, highly-motivating messages to insects — far more compelling than our mere human experience of their beauty. 

To express that "far more compelling" sense I selected editing choices that I felt took the look and feel of the flower in the appropriate expressive direction. To translate from flower-insect messaging to human understanding, I felt the need to convey a surrealistic abstraction that took the dahlia from sweet-and-friendly to attention-commanding.

Dahlia 2 ~ What The Bee SeesDahlia 2 ~ What The Bee Sees
Dahlia 2 ~ What The Bee Sees

Dahlia 1Dahlia 1

Dahlia 1

Dahlia 3Dahlia 3

Dahlia 3

For me, Dahlia 2 ~ What The Bee Sees best expresses my goals for this project. It expresses the power at the center of the flower and includes enough surrounding imagery to remind us that it's in an ecological system.  Plus it has an actual bee — reminding us that it's their world and we're just visiting.  So it has the most complete narrative.

Dahlia 1 has the strongest sense of the power of the center of the flower. When the dahlias triptych has been juried into a show, Dahlia 1 is the most popular of the three.

Dahlia 3 shares more information about the surrounding environment.  It has the strongest sense of space, and the emergence of the power of the flower from the surrounding space.


Use the control bar below to stop/start the slideshow


The dahlias were originally photographed at the request of the Director at Mission San Luis Rey. The project started as straight documentary photographs to be used by collateral designers to communicate activities and resources at the Mission.

This blog post discusses images from a gallery located here.

(— Kurt Lightfoot —) interpretive Kurt Lightfoot metaphor narrative photographer photography visual literacy https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/7/dahlias-what_the_bee_sees Sat, 26 Jul 2014 16:18:02 GMT
Sky Deity https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/7/sky-deity Sky Deity 6Sky Deity 6

Sky Deity is based on the concept of nature creating and providing humans with metaphoric images of a deity – in this case a transcendent deity that shows itself in the sky.  I'm imagining how a pagan, polytheistic human mind, meditating on this scene, could experience it as spiritually significant and transcendent.

Sky Deity 1Sky Deity 1 This project started as a documentary assignment.  The City of Escondido assigned me to capture images of Grape Day Park and its adjacent institutions including City Hall.  This image is one of the images they selected for their purposes. Sky Deity 3Sky Deity 3

To appreciate the scene as transcendent, I try to assume the mindset of an ancient pagan tuned into the mysticism of the natural creation.  I image the cloud's structure as a deity and the trees as worshiping the deity.

The symbolic clues that led me to using this scene as a pagan mysticism image include the serendipitous structure of the clouds in the center and the trees leaning in towards that structure. 

It's as if the trees are recognizing the cloud formation as theistically significant.  It's as if all of creation is aware of itself in a self-celebrating, self-worshiping way.

This blog post discusses images from the gallery located here.

(— Kurt Lightfoot —) interpretive Kurt Lightfoot metaphor narrative photographer photography https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/7/sky-deity Sat, 12 Jul 2014 20:15:24 GMT
Workshop: "Shoot For Story ~ Edit For Perception" (sm) https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/7/shoot-for-story-edit-for-perception Detail 8th FlagDetail 8th Flag

Workshop Description

The power of your photography begins with the visual symbolism of the story you are telling.  Editing in Photoshop conveys your story to the viewer.

This interactive workshop traces the "story-perception" process using examples of classical and contemporary photos, events, portraits, pets, landscapes and car culture. 

Dahlia 1Dahlia 1

Shoot For Story

In the "Shoot For Story" half of the workshop we interpret a wide variety of photographs.  Image sources include classic, commercial, editorial, and contemporary art photographers.  We dig into each image and determine what works – or does not work – in each photograph.  We expand on the concept of visual literacy to understand how the subjective elements in the image are conveying a story, and how compelling and interesting the story is to the viewer.

Attendees participate in the interpretation process — this creates a dynamic, fun workshop.  Attendees can just attend and passively experience the interpretations, or jump in at any time.  This process greatly expands our appreciation for how symbolic elements in an image ignite the imagination of the viewer.

Cruisin' Grand 6819Cruisin' Grand 6819

Edit For Perception

In the "Edit For Perception" half of the workshop we discover how to use the nature of human perception to guide our editing choices in Lightroom and Photoshop.  We cover some of the skills-based "how" of photo editing, but we focus more on the "why."  We look at the as-photographed image and ask how the image can be re-visualized through editing to convey a more compelling and clear visual message.

  Editing: Before & After Examples
Use control bars to stop/start the slideshows
Reaching Up
To The Light
Day Of The Dead Super Rides
Shop Shot

Collaborative project by Kurt Lightfoot, Will Gibson,
and shop owner Jordan Quintal.

Lone Bench Dahlia 1

"Dahlia 1" is part of a triptych discussed in a blog post.
Click here to jump there

Sky Diety

The concept for "Sky Diety" is discussed in a blog post.
Click here to jump there



The workshop is available only as a donation to non-profit groups: photo clubs, art guilds, social clubs, schools, religious organizations.

Please contact me for details.

Kurt Bonanza Front 2 cropped 170 sqKurt Bonanza Front 2 cropped 170 sq

Facilitator, Kurt Lightfoot

Click HERE for more information about my background and approach to narrative and interpretive digital images.


(— Kurt Lightfoot —) interpretive Kurt Lightfoot metaphor narrative photographer photography visual literacy https://www.kurtlightfoot.com/blog/2014/7/shoot-for-story-edit-for-perception Wed, 09 Jul 2014 18:21:23 GMT