Narrative And Context

‘Gate’, Lofoten, Norway
Fujifilm X-Pro1, Fujinon XF18-55mm f/2.8-f/4 R LM OIS @ 55mm, 1/280 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 200
Unfiltered, Handheld.
Adobe Lightroom: Adobe Profile.

“At a fundamental level, every photograph is a representation of just one or two entities: ‘things’ or ‘events’.”

Narrative And Context

My photograph was made from the roadside in Lofoten during a particularly overcast visit. The lake was frozen and covered in snow, homogenising the detail in the middle-ground and poor visibility had thrown the background mountains into haze; emphasising the presence of this gate with most of it’s accompanying fence missing. I intentionally excluded any evidence that this was actually part of someone’s garden from the composition, in the hope of inviting the viewer to create their own narrative.

The famous old adage “every picture tells a story” is worth remembering when we’re constructing landscape photographs. At a fundamental level, every photograph is a representation of just one or two entities: ‘things’ or ‘events’. In reality of course, the ‘event’ we see in a photograph is a subjective visual representation of a real world moment captured by the photographer. Our perception of that representation as the viewer is what fabricates the event for us.

Whenever a shutter clicks, reality becomes distorted, the inclusion or exclusion of various compositional elements and the way relationships between them are emphasised or subdued, contrives to remould reality. The way a photographer frames their composition can elevate an image from purely visually pleasing to reveal a richer layer of engagement for the viewer, by creating two very powerful constructs: namely narrative and context. Each of these elements guides the other, together they allow the creation of a story by the viewer and people adore stories.

Still photographs distill space and time by capturing frozen moments, effectively eliminating the passage of time, and reducing spatial dimensions by creating flat representations of our three dimensional world. Paradoxically, some of the most potent ways of creating compelling imagery involve use of various photographic techniques to mitigate this freezing and flattening. Using long exposures to blur dynamic elements, or compositional arrangements to reintroduce a sense of depth are powerful techniques. An interesting quality of ‘story’ or ‘narrative’ is that it suggests a sequence of events with the passage of time: a story generally has a beginning, a middle and an end. So use of narrative in a photograph can also reintroduce a sense of time.

The power of narrative in photography has swayed governments, saved environments, and changed history. Narrative is what creates and necessitates responsibility for photojournalists and news photographers; but in fine-art  photography, the only responsibility we have is to the photograph itself, we are completely free to manufacture a specific context and narrative, to mould the emotional feel of our image, and that, is liberating.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.