Exploration: Telling a story

Telling a story

I have been thinking a lot about what ingredients you need to have to tell and effective story since submitting A3 (a story about a Substance Misuse recovery group). One piece of feedback from my tutor stuck in my mind (she had also looked at a few images in A5 too) – ‘Have less in the frame’ and ‘choose what you have carefully’ – at least that is my remembrance of the Skype call. She pointed me to the work ‘444 Squadron’ and other work by Les Monaghan.

Les Monaghan: RAF Halton


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On this page there are a series of images of a ‘Passing out parade.’ What is striking, and it applies to most of the many series on his blog, is that the essence of that is happening is presented in parts (signs) that make a whole. This is probably deliberative and not accidental. It is also visual and not textual; much of my work exploring other people or groups starts with relationships and story which provide ideas about settings and images but exploring the setting with the camera can also be helpful to find visual clues that may not be obvious in talking to people.

Les Monaghan: 444 Squadron


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In this series the signs are still there but I am more attracted to the people images which are ambiguous in nature. Does the officer in the penultimate frame perplexed (and with what?) and what frame is being discussed in the final frame? It is the isolation of the essence of what is being communicated that I like. I think one of the problems with the images I have done for A5 is that there is too much clutter in the frame that the message is diluted. I think it is a matter of selection at the time and perhaps with cropping but the latter could lose pixels and quality.

There is also a sense of closeness to the people in the frame. Until recently I have been using a wide-angled lens (24mm) inside rooms to capture the person in context. Apart from the problems of keeping lines straight when editing images it creates distance from the people in the frame. I have started to use a 50mm lens when working with people and I think that will help to frame and edit what is in the image.

Richard Billingham: Ray’s a laugh

I have a copy of this wonderful book which I have reviewed it in another blog (Billingham, 2014). What stands out for me in how this story of an alcoholic father is created is that it is not forced upon the me/the viewer/the reader. We start with the view from the high-rise to a housing estate (which is the only external shot) to anchor the book then move to the interior of tired rooms and people and pets. They soon become claustrophobic. Along the way we see Ray’s fall and the blood on the wall, but by that time in the book it is not surprising, shocking yes, but within a narrative framework. We also see moments of humour and pathos. There are no words in the book because they are not needed, but what is needed is the many pictures which build up and add to the story. Like Monaghan’s images the subject fills the frame so that extraneous subject matter is absent; this is helped by the blank falls.

The other thing about this book is that makes me sad and a little weepy. I have visited many home like this as doctor working with dependant drinkers, got to know some of them quite well, and seen some of them disintegrate and die. I have also seen blood on the walls from injecting drug and alcohol users and the price their families pay, especially children, expressed in therapy groups.

Keith Arnatt: a story in the landscape?

Do the same principles of selection and simplicity also apply in story telling in landscape photography?

I have a copy  of a book of landscape and other photographs by Keith Arnatt (Arnatt,2007). The series that I remember is ‘A.O.N.B (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) 1982-1984, where he contrast the virtual concept of AONB with the less flattering reality of the landscape as trampled on by people. His black and white images have only one or two points of focus on the frame, such as two bins near a farm gate, three bins by a roadside or a misty hill with two cars in the foreground. There is a lack of clutter in the frame which makes the contrast between beauty and utilitarian.


Billingham, R. (2014). ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ 1996 New York (Originally published by Scalo, Zurich 1996), Errato.

Arnatt, K. (2007). I’m a real photographer: Keith Arnett, Photographs 1974-2002. The Photographers Gallery, Chris Boot Ltd.