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Narrative By Any Other Name

April 01, 2021

_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.

 

Introduction
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