The Importance of Story


What do you think of when you see or hear the phrase ‘visual story-telling’? My mind immediately goes to the classic Life magazine photo-essays such as Eugene Smith’s ‘The Country Doctor‘, or the kind of article you might see in the National Geographic the Smithsonian magazine or my new favorite magazine Orion.

My reaction has also been that I don’t see the world this way, that I’m not trying to tell a story but look for things that resonate with me. That there’s no story here. In part that’s true but stories are all around us, whether we realize it or not. Any time there is a gap in our understanding we tell ourselves a story to explain it. Any time someone does something we like we tell ourselves a story. Any time someone does something that we don’t like we tell ourselves a story. The photographs that we choose to take do tell a story, whether that’s our intention or not. They tell people how we see the world.

The more we understand our own story the better placed we are to tell it to the world and the stronger this understanding the more likely that your work will be unique. My question for you then is ‘What’s your story?’

Telling Your Story

I’ve been reading Ann Lamott’s guide to writing called ‘Bird by Bird’ over the last few days.  It’s an enjoyable read and like Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ has much food for thought for photographers.

One section describes an approach to getting unstuck that involves writing a letter that describes part of your character’s history, or part of your history.  I wonder how many times you’ve tried telling your story or the story of some significant event through photography when you’ve been stuck.  I know that I never have but it seems like something that’s well worth doing.

Some great examples of the use of photography for storytelling can be found on a new website called ‘Rear Curtain’.  The team managing the Rear Curtain site is looking for submissions found out more here.