Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Telling Stories With Images

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

I enjoyed the responses to my last post and probably will post similar questions in the future. A great big thank-you to all who participated in the conversation. I appreciate the time taken to share your stories and each comment left me with something interesting to contemplate.

The story elements that evolved in my mind as that recent image emerged were rather dark. There was a sense of being lost in a forlorn and harsh environment—a cold, brutal wind stung my eyes. Even though there seemed to be vast open spaces around me, I was hemmed in by something I couldn't see. Everytime I felt I was about to gain control over events, I was faced with a dark and unexpected turn. The mountains were a challenge that I somehow had to reach, for the only hope lay on the other side.

I am intrigued by the connection between the elements in a picture and the properties of the story that emerges. For me, it isn't a clean and linear line. It is as if the image whispers stories to life and the stories then play on me as I process the image. I have come to think of that interplay as a kind of a dance. The intellect is in charge, then yields to the heart. I know precisely where I am going and how to get there.... Then, I lose my way and stumble about taking cues from what?  A dream, a memory?

When I stop molding an image—when I am ready to share it and say "This is it—for now", the result sometimes feels like something that is not really my own. There is no one or thing to blame, of course, but neither can I claim full credit—if, indeed, any is due. I led during parts of the process, but there were moments when it felt more like following. It was a process that took me to a discovery.

There is another aspect of images and communication that intrigues me. I have noticed that some people seem to think that if the image is made well enough it will say the same thing to all viewers. Wouldn't that turn the entire communication experience into a guessing game? "Guess what story I meant to convey with this image." That sounds like a really lame parlor game.

We all bring our unique life experience to every contemporary experience. We, each, arrive at any given moment with our particular baggage and that baggage will affect what we read into the story before us. Just as you and I would visit the same spot, but return home with different photographs, shown the same image we will read different stories featuring our particular characters and playing off our personal history.

The responses to my invitation for your stories gave me a good taste of what I was craving—some conversation about personal emotional responses to an image. What more could I have asked? The photo here was taken on that same stretch of highway as the last picture. This one calls to my mind very different stories, even though the setting is similar and the characters in the image certainly look similar. I hope this one suggests stories that speak to you.


  1. I didn't respond your last post because quite simply, I didn't know what to write so I have found this post very interesting. When I am editing an image, I just don't have the sorts of emotions that you do, certainly not ones that are in my consciousness. I just know that when a satisfactory conclusion emerges I am intensely pleased and rewarded. Yes I totally believe in different messages to different people, and that an image is somewhat of a window into it's creator's soul. It's just that my emotional journey during that process is not overt, at least to me.

  2. People respond differently to something they see and the response is influenced by a lot of things - personal experience, environment, education and other factors. Some marketing companies employ psychologists to try to predict consumer reaction to products. They call it a "science" but it's not really, much is common sense. Artists don't need to know about the responses of the public to produce great art (or any art). They are probably better off not knowing!
    The photo is lovely and I like the subtle overlay. Nice work.

  3. Colin - You have tapped into some thoughts included in an upcoming post. Only some of us find it easy to talk about feelings and, in general, women are more comfortable than men in that arena.

    Thank you for teaching me a valuable lesson. Next time, I will remember to encourage comments that don't include the sort of response I might give. Expectations are devious little traps.

    It seems clear to me that the full force of your being is invested in your work. Even though the emotions aren't "overt", they exert their power. Clearly, one doesn't have to articulate that connection.

    Thank you for you thoughts.

  4. Ken - I like your observation about the "science" of predicting audience response. The common failures of those "scientists" should be instructive for artists.

    The fact is, we put our work out there with not much more than hopes for what the response might be. And, if we are smart, we don't fret about something that we cannot control. Ultimately, all those elements you mentioned will influence the response at least as much as our craft.

    Thank you for contributing. I always look forward to hearing what you have to say about a topic.

  5. On predicting audience response...companies spend millions of dollars each year hiring the best marketing and advertising minds in the world trying to predict and in some cases influence how people react to their products or visual media advertising. If it's a science it's a "soft" science.

    Since our reactions to images are more about us personally and less about the "catalyst photo," the concept of the perfect photo meaning the same to everyone is absurd. We may all see the same thing in a photo, "Oh look, it's a rock on a white piece of paper," but how we react, interpret it's meaning, and feel about it is uniquely ours.

    Sometime sharing our responses to images/photos is very personal and not something easily done. It takes practice asking ourselves the right questions before we even start to understand the link between our responses and those images that cause us to respond.

    Anita, another fine image here. Good post...and now my brain is tired. :-)

  6. Earl - Thank you for another of your fine, thoughtful comments. I always appreciate hearing what you have to say. You made so many interesting points here, I am not surprised your brain was tired!

    I also appreciate your comment about the image.

  7. Images, stories, they are all our own, sprung from all we lived and experienced, every though we have ever had. Imaginaton too, where else could that come from. It's like our oral language. It's a rigid framework to help us communicate, at the same time rich enough to carry our personality, our inner thoughts. It's the same with images, they carry all that, if we want to.

    I have enjoyed reading your latest posts, very though provoking.

  8. Ove - It is interesting, isn't it that we have all those stories inside us? And , so many of them just waiting to be told. Endless possibilities.

    Thank you for your response. It pleases me and encourages me to know that you have found these posts thought provoking.

  9. A lot to think about in this post Anita, and I am not entirely sure my mind is completely awake enough to fully articulate it in a comment. :-) It is an interesting thing to ponder, the stories in a photo. I have always felt a photograph is only a small sliver of a story. Certainly you can go into great depth and detail for what is captured in the image, but there is usually so much more that isn't in the photograph left to be told. I suppose that is what makes compelling images, well, compelling. You are interested enough to ask questions and want to know more.

    I really like the landscape you captured here. I am sure dozens of stories are untold in this one small area. I will say I would probably like this particular one without texture for me personally. You have composed it so nicely, the flowing hills and round curves just seem to want to be that way without any extra grit. Then again, it is growing on me with the texture. So a bonus would be it works nicely both ways! :-)

  10. Mark - Thank you for contributing a great deal more to think about.I agree completely that the most compelling photographs tell just enough of the story to draw us in and seduce us into either supplying more information or asking for more.

    I am delighted by your mention that the texture eventually grew on you. I almost always struggle with that. These days I am chasing a way of expressing myself, attempting to suggest the stories that I want to tell and I find myself most often agonizing over what to whittle away when I come to rest. In this case, I vacillated a bit,. But, obviously, I decided, in the end, that the texture added a tone or atmosphere that I wanted in this piece. Thanks again for gently pushing me to think about this.


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