Category Archives: Project : Telling a story

Using Pictures to tell a story: Postmodern Narrative

David Cambell in his lecture (1 & 2) to photographic students of the Jonathan Worth’s innovative class on photography and narrative at Coventry, outlines the elements of a photographic narrative as follows:

  • introducing the location
  • giving the story a ‘face’
  • letting people tell their own story
  • contextualizing those stories
  • following a dramatic form

For someone developing a visual story, the most important thing to ask is ‘what is the story you really want to tell?’ Answering that can mean working through these questions:

  • what is the issue?
  • what will be the events/moments?
  • if needed, who are the characters?
  • what is the context?

A narrative is about an event and

the event is something that can be narrated.

Research and reading is essential to construct the narrative. A story has to be told in a particular way, each narrative has limitations in the way it can be told. Somethings have to be included and some excluded. There has to be an angle which may be limited. So a narrative cannot include everything. It is up to the photographer to decide what is included.

He asks “What is the the issue”, “Who are the characters?” To establish this a lot of research needs to be done before you embark on the story in images. Then it must be decided if the story will be linear, with a beginning , middle and end.


When you’re creating your narrative (or essay, or story) bear these points in mind and consider how your viewer will ‘read’ your story, namely:
• Do the pictures have a consistent theme?
• What elements back up your central theme?
• What disrupts it?
• Are there good reasons for this disruption?
• Do the images have a visual consistency that holds them together as a recognisable set?

Postmodern Narrative

Having read both Zadie Smith and Italo Calvino, albeit some time ago, I was unaware that they had challenged the idea of a beginning, a middle and an end to a story. I was more aware of the style of Smith’s writing as being very modern and at times incomprehensible and chaotic. I assume now that this could be described as a sort of stream of consciousness.  I was not aware that, if I accept Roland Barthes’ theory in The Death of the Author (4), I, the reader, was being invited  to put myself into the story. That as soon as a fact is narrated, the voice (of the author) looses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins.

Barthes also tells us that. previously, the author existed before, during the writing of, and after his work was complete whereas the modern sculpture is born similtaneously with the text. He traces a field without origin, or least has no origin other than language itself. We the readers are asked, by these modern writers, to invest more of ourselves in the reading of modern texts. A typical modern book which demands this sort of involvement is City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (5). I am not sure I agree with Barthes theory that this created a more enriching experience for me whereas another less modern book The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (6) which involved a great deal of reader input, was an enriching experience for me. I would love to believe his theory that

The reader is the space in which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost

I am afraid many of the inscribed quotations of many writers are lost on me. However I do not believe that we have reached ‘the death of the death of the author’. I believe what we will see in the future is a widening of the pallet of material to accommodate all reader tastes, reading habits, reading media and intellectual capacities. I think that the use of modern technologies is opening up a whole new world of possibilities for authors to co-operate with other authors and media types to coalesce their ideas and techniques to produce completely novel works.



  1. Photography and narrative: What is involved in telling a story? – David Campbell. 2015. Photography and narrative: What is involved in telling a story? – David Campbell. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 December 2015].
  2. A sound cloud recording:
  3. Family Photography: Modern Storytelling with Kirsten Lewis. 2015. Family Photography: Modern Storytelling with Kirsten Lewis. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 December 2015].
  4. . 2015. . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 29 December 2015].
  5. Barry, K, 2011. City of Bohane. 1st ed. New York: Vintage Books.
  6. Kafka, F, 1915. The Metamomorphosis. 1st ed. Leipzig: Kurt Wolf.



P2: Project 1: Telling a story

I needed a definition of Photo Essay before I coudl begin so this is what I found:

an account of something told predominantly through photographs, with some accompanying text.

I Bryony Cambell’s “The Dad Project” has a lot of text and W. Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor  .has very little.

Hence I feel that Cambell’s work could be classified more as a photographic essay and Smith’s as a photo story. Cambell’s work is very integrated with the narrative or story around her father’s dying while Smith’s is as a detached observer of the doctor’s daily routine. Hers is a very personal story. She hesitated and procrastinated for many months before she was able to detach herself sufficiently to be able to photograph the day to day deterioration of her father’s health. In the beginning her images were softer and more ‘suggestive’ of her fathers illness while Smith was close to the subject of his images.

He shows the doctor performing amputations and other pretty intensive treatments. We see no actual treatment of the father in Cambell’s case. We see him being helped to walk in the hospital but we never see any of his treatments. Her work is like that of an observing ‘guardian angel’. She tries to leave her father’s dignity in tact. This is not to say that Smith’s images are undignified but rather they lack this deep empathy with their subjects. They are more about the doctor than the patients. In Cambell’s work it is all about the patient.

Cambell had the full support of her father in the making of this story. This is clear from the very moving  video. Saying Goodbye with my Camera and from the many images she made for this project. We have no idea if Dr Ceriani’s patients agreed to be photographed or not. The doctor himself was obviously a willing participant in the project. The resultant images tell their story. For me they are less moving, mpre c;inical but nonetheless beautiful. Cambell’s images are infused with a deep sense of love and loss.

Once Images are printed and archived there is no end to their story. Unless the archive somehow becomes obliterated the images will live on to continue the story they started to tell. Cambell’s story appears to have taken on a special continuum as people get comfort from it when suffering similar traumas in their lives. So although her fathers life story has ended the set of images have taken on a life of their own and will continue to be seen. This story will never have an ending. Smith’s images also continue to tell the story of a doctor’s life in Colorado in the late 1940s..



  1. 2015. . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26 December 2015].
  2.  W. Eugene Smith’s ‘Country Doctor’: Revisiting a Landmark Photo Essay. 2015. W. Eugene Smith’s ‘Country Doctor’: Revisiting a Landmark Photo Essay. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26 December 2015].
  3. Video: Saying goodbye with my camera | Life and style | The Guardian. 2015. Video: Saying goodbye with my camera | Life and style | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26 December 2015].