#Phonar Session 4 – David Campbell ‘Narrative, Power & Responsibility’ Reflection.

In David Campbell’s talk he targets the issues of narrative which comes from literature and other forms of story telling in photography. He explores the relationship between the image and the world, whilst it becomes a form of justification. What can the image do in terms of change? Todd Papageorge quoted Robert Capa “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” but changed it to suggest “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not reading enough”. Campbell talks of how narrative is an idea of story to the idea of an event or issue – there will be a connection that we have to provide between event and story. Anthrapologist Alan Feldman said “the event is not what happens, the event is that which can be narrated”. Campbell reflects on this by explaining you don’t encounter events in the world by themselves already being formed, something has to be understood through the process of narration either by participants or observers. He discusses how people didn’t understand themselves to be in something until they were narrated in a certain way such as the French Revolution. A narrative operates on many different levels, an accumulation of evidence and making judgements. Although there is a restriction as to what can be told in certain ways, and it is not possible to tell any story in any particular way. Campbell quotes Haden White, “every narrative however seemingly full is constructed on the basis of a set of events which might have been included but were left out” and explains through the process of construction has to consider angle and perspective as it is impossible to create a narrative that can include every feature of an event. He talks of how story telling has always been extremely powerful by offering a sense of coherence and purpose, making sense of life. We desire stories that give us a beginning, middle and end despite the fact it may not replicate the truth. Whatever the form of narrative it is an account of connected events in which we make the connection. Campbell highlights the importance of understanding dimensions and context to make it more powerful and significant, as well as considering the relationship between individuals and context – “putting a face on the issue”. It’s not about the structures but the story you really want to tell. What motivates you to go and take those pictures? Campbell encourages us to question the power of the image and the work it does, referring to the iconic image by Nick Ut of the Vietnam war which was believed to lead to the end of it when factually it didn’t – although, it helped change the public opinion that lead to the war. However the intention of the photograph wasn’t to end the war creating an expectation of what a visual is going to do. He suggests there is too much hype about the sorts of changes which photography but the more you relate work to particular contexts, the greater impact it can have.

This talk was so informative with so many key points to take in and put into one paragraph therefore I would definitely recommend listening. There was a lot of information to digest but it really enhanced my own understanding of narrative and how to view it in different ways. Firstly, it was interesting to see how Todd Papageorge said “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not reading enough”. Campbell expressed the necessity of understand issues and context before making the picture. The element of reading suggests the idea of researching which I know is so important for my own practice. Does researching and learning about something before photographing it, gives us more permission to do so? If we understand it, we are able to express it in the right way as well as explaining it better. If we don’t understand the issues and context before hand, we can portray something incorrectly and the wrong message can be shared. By not reading, that doesn’t necessarily mean that are pictures are no good but by doing so we can expand our knowledge and ideas further. It has been considered many times that knowledge equals power and I feel this situation reflects that.

Another point which was made that I really liked was the idea that the power of narrative is imaginary and offers an understanding of completeness that we know is unattainable but we desire it. Story telling helps us make sense of life, and whilst we are aware that we never get told every little aspect of the truth we still choose to believe and accept it. I love the concept of the fact we desire that completeness. Does it make us more comfortable and accepting of a story? Even in a simple situation when a friend is telling you something, I’m intregued to know the full story even though I may not be told it all – does this reflect that desire of completeness? Campbell spoke of suggesting that narrative fails because it cannot be full and include every aspect of the story. The important process of construction allows any story teller to include and exclude what they want and with this we lose that sense of completeness that we desire. By losing that, does that mean that it doesn’t class as narrative? For some, I believe he desire for completeness is too strong to worry whether or not narrative fails. However when we come onto important topics such as news stories, this becomes more of an issue. Campbell suggests whether it would be possible to think about different forms of journalism that would offer better accounts of context as well as using social media to make that context available. This made me think of the talk between Fred Ritchin & Stephen Mayes where they spoke of social media bringing people together and hope for it to do more. Facebook has received so much criticism for so many things but can also be used in a such positive way by sharing important messages and information. If this is the direction that things are heading for sharing information and the way people are beginning to favour, is this a good way to make context available?

As I thought about the concept of understanding context in order to create a narrative, it made me think back to the #phonar prep-task where we told the story of our journey to school. I had an idea that I wanted to portray of how our feet are what take us on a journey, therefore I photographed them in different places to show getting ready and my journey to school. However I felt that it hadn’t worked too well because I felt the idea had to be explained to the viewer for them to understand what I was trying to convey therefore reflecting this concept. It has made me appreciate the important of context as well as how important is it to read and research.

David Campbell’s talk can be heard here.


~ by victoriasimkissphotography on October 22, 2014.

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