Photography as Necessary Fiction … ?

Photography as Necessary Fiction

by Alex Subrizi

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Before I begin to look at Alex Subrizi’s answer it is important to understand his background. Subrizi is a Photographer and writer, working in America, he’s had his work published in many international magazines and teaches worldwide too.

You can read the full answer here. I am just going to be picking out the relevant bits then discussing them.

it’s widely accepted that photographs are themselves narratives: stories in and of themselves. Perhaps the narrative quality of cinema, photography’s “second cousin”, helps to reinforce this view. But does a still photograph tell a story? Can any single image be an account of anything? If yes, I would argue it to be a terribly brief account. So brief that any number of different narratives could conceivably be said to flow into and out from that single image. What a photograph can instead do is support and reinforce a particular narrative, in the same way that any single image can.

It’s an interesting point that because photography is so instantaneous and desires no set physical time to see the story it therefore needs to reference other work to help establish the story. I am not sure if this is entirely right but it is relevant to my subject area. In fandom the same images, props, sounds are used over and over again, recreated. Like creative commons if you like. Everyone is using other peoples work to help reach the fan base they want. One classic example of this is in the series Spaced. Pegg’s love for all things sci-fi and geeky is continuously referenced, in this particular scene we see imagery taken from the Matrix and Scarface. It may not be Subrizi’s point exactly but I struggle to think of a photograph which intentionally does this to enhance the narrative and audience.

Some contemporary art photographers have even chosen to highlight the photograph’s neutrality with respect to narrative by deliberately photographing human subjects while they are speaking, as if to underscore the fact that although a story is being told right there in the picture, the medium of photography is powerless to transmit that story to us.

This point I completely don’t agree with. The photograph has as much power as the photographer can give it. In some cases a photo can be 100x more emotive than the story itself, it can even create stories out of nothing. I hate to think of photography as interrupting as this quote suggests. This is the sort of thing I aim to prove wrong through my final pieces. The image that springs to mind is the iconic portrait of Churchill. How anyone could see this image is powerless to transmit that story too us seems impossible to me.

Winston Churchill, 31 December 1941, Photograph by Yousuf Karsh, Ottawa, Canada

A cinematic work tells a story, moves horizontally across time, and puts most of its content, from soundtrack to lighting effects, in the service of its narrative’s forward movement. This movement seems natural to us, since we inhabit a world constantly in flux. A still image is something altogether different: a meditation on a single moment in thought or experience, something fixed and compact and exhibiting a quite unnatural urgency.

Again I struggle with this. Just because something moves horizontally across time doesn’t mean it tells the story any better than a single image. Yes I think very few photographers successfully create fiction stories as well as a film can, but allowing the spectator to reflect on a single moment has it’s benefits too. It allows you to analyse everything get deeper and question everything within the frame. I am also 100% for anything what comes naturally to us, even is this writer doesn’t seem to think so.

In contrast to the horizontal movement of cinema, the movement of still photography is vertical, unfolding while going nowhere.

I would replace the word ‘nowhere’ with ‘everywhere’. Unlike cinema photography IS open ended, and doesn’t force the spectator to go down one route, it allows for each person to take it somewhere new, breaking it away from the linear narrative we are so familiar with and use our imaginations. It seems I don’t agree with this writer as much as I thought I would. I feel quite protective now, as though yes sometimes a story is better told through moving image, but equally some stories are better told through photography.

Brad Fulton: Science Fiction

A graduate of USC Film, brad fulton is concerned with creating atmospheric and memorable images within a single frame. brad fulton’s concept of “single frame cinema” first began as a personal challenge numerous years ago in order to incorporate the emotional and atmospheric depth found in a cinematic masterpiece within the photographic frame lines of his leica camera. over the years this obsession has been responsible for creating countless images forever branded on the brain of modern culture by avenue of numerous advertisements, imaging campaigns, and most recently in KILL YOURSELF – a 180 page book of brad’s iconic images.

On searching fiction photography I came across Brad Fulton. Who openly expresses his want to tell a fictional story within one image. I was particularly drawn to his science-fiction series as his love and understanding of sci-fi comes through. I really want to learn more about them, and about how he tackles telling a story with one image. Creating an alternate reality through photography/

©Brad Fulton
©Brad Fulton
©Brad Fulton
©Brad Fulton

I am going to contact Brian via email and explain my intentions and ask for his advice.

Ready Player One: Photography, Alternate Reality and Fiction

Over the course of 4 days I read Ernie Clines New York bestseller novel ‘Ready Player One’. My original intent was to tweet everything I found interesting, but this became imposible, it would have taken me months to read if I tweeted every single thing. I also found myself reading 100 or so pages at a time too immersed into the book to remember to take notes. The theme I found most interesting within the book is the idea of identity, knowing someone so well in a virtual world without ever meeting them. Once Ernie Cline made the comparison that Dungeons and Dragons was the original virtual reality it made me think about the role of this book. Like the protagonist Wade I found myself connecting with people I didn’t know. In Wade’s case they were real people but their avatars might not have represented them, but in my case I felt I became quite intimate with characters who didn’t even exists, all I knew of them was my interpretation of Clines writing. In turn this made me think about how this reflects within photography, in creating something fiction we are creating an alternate reality, wether it be through the more accepted route of gaming and films or through writing and photography. In photography we see all these genres, documentary, fine art, conceptual but why isn’t there a fiction genre like there is in writing? I guess you could argue in some cases there is, Cindy Sherman creates a series of characters all with fictional identities but you would never call her work fiction photography or an alternate reality.

Image above ©Cindy Sherman

Photography seems to still have this relationship with reality that it can’t get away from. I would like to over my career help separate this tie. Once you’re established as a fiction producer then you can start to think about sub genres, sci-fi, fantasy, romance etc… By all means photography is about telling a story, but who’s to say that story has to be fact?

Food for thought while I think about what’s my product, leaving university trying to find a voice as a photographer. See my book notes below, I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of anything, games, anime, tv, sci-fi.

  1. On page 16 and hooked already @erniecline #readyplayerone #erniecline #rpg #oasis
  2. “I had access to the OASIS, which was like having an escape hatch into a better reality. The OASIS kept me sane.”#readyplayerone #erniecline
  3. “A Gunter rite of passage, like a Jedi building his first lightsaber.” Wade Watts on coding his first Atari game #readyplayerone #gunter
  4. “The lines of distinction between a persons real identity and that of their avatar began to blur.” #readyplayerone #quote #oasis #erniecline
  5. “In a way, these old role-playing games had been the first virtual reality simulations.” #dungeonsandsragons #dandd #readyplayerone #quote
  6. Just finished level one. Damn this is a good book. meant to be reading it bit by bit. But just read 150 pages in one go #readyplayerone
  7. “It didn’t matter who was in charge. Those people were rearranging deck chairs in the Titanic and everyone knew it.” #readyplayerone #quote
  8. 47 pages to go. Lets do this!!! #readyplayerone #finalbattle #oasis #rpg #scifi #erniecline