Photography as Necessary Fiction … ?

Photography as Necessary Fiction

by Alex Subrizi

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 17.33.31

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‚Äôs widely accepted that photographs are themselves narratives: stories in and of themselves. Perhaps the narrative quality of cinema, photography‚Äôs ‚Äúsecond cousin‚ÄĚ, 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.

Interactive videos

I decided a while back that when doing photofilms I wanted to make ‘Moe’ a series, but I also think it’s key to have an opening 1/2 mins which establish what is an Otaku and acts as a pitch of the project. However I don’t want this video to become¬†separate¬†from the rest as I want it to be seen before each video. How can I get around this? by making an interactive video.

One of the most famous interactive videos is Deliver me to Hell, in which the viewer (you) decides the actions of a character to try and get them around safely without being killed by a zombie. You are given choices which take you to other videos and then play out the scenario.

With my Otaku videos it would be good to have an opening sequence, explaining the project and then have an option at the end. “Choose an Otaku” the viewer clicks on the image that looks most interesting to them and it takes them to their video, the same happens at the end of that video. And as I add more photofilms I gain more options.

There are interactive games for anything! Including minecraft and fashion.



Photofilms are becoming widely used to tell a story, the advantage of photo film is the image and visual are never physically linked so you aren’t in the mind set of having to have linked images and music, unlike video.

Here are very different examples of Photofilms from around the internet, and a brief analysis of each ones strengths and weaknesses in terms of narrative and storytelling.

This visually stunning romantic journey through Japan uses images so well, mini stop motion films all put together, it doesn’t need a voice over because the story being told is pretty straight forward, depicting facts rather than emotions.

This second video by¬†¬†is a more humourous approach, using music and soundscape to tell the story of a couples day, a distracted woman and her boyfriend who is desperately trying to reach her. I think this video overused the “Ken and Burns” effect, zooming all over the place, the photos from this video actually look really¬†beautiful¬† but we hardly ever see one in it’s entirety, we see bits. Even with stills there seems a need for them to be moving, it might be a personal choice but I prefer this to happen more¬†subtly.

This last video by ¬†is probably the most relevant to my project, a look into the life of a person who belongs to a minority. The use of text to narrative rather a voice over is important, I’ve noticed it a lot in photovideos, if an external voice it used it seems to snap the audience out of their immersion within the story.

1 in 13 million – The only native Japanese Imam in Tokyo from Uchujin on Vimeo.

Phonar Creative Workshop 4 : ‚ÄúSpoken narrative‚ÄĚ

This weeks task will really test myself as a story telling. I tend to be awful at telling stories which is why I rely on photography, I’m better at using my work to express a feeling or story rather then publicly talk about it.

In this task we have to “Record a personal story to share with the group.” no more than 2/3 minutes and it has to “consider your choice of story/subject, your audience and your verbal delivery ‚Äď in terms of your script, language, pace and intonation. No accompanying soundscape. No pictures. Just a story.”

The second part will be particularly¬†challenging¬†for me, but I’m looking forward to challenging myself and focusing my speaking skills.

In preparation for this we are listening to a previous talk held by Lisa Potts about her experience in 1996 in a Wolverhampton school.

It’s a gripping story about the event, and is interesting to hear about it from her mouth rather than from the newspapers. With traumatic events in particular it’s strange what people remember. For example Lisa Potts talks about her worrying about the paramedic cutting up her cardigan.

Time to get thinking about a personal story that I can guide towards a specific audience.

Foley Sounds: Matsuo Ohno & Ben Birtt

With the use of sound heavily predominant in Phonar I thought this would abe a good chance to talk about a film I saw at Zipangu Fest 2012 a month ago.

‘The Echo of Astro Boy’s footsteps’ –¬†Masanori Tominaga 2010

Whilst recording the sounds of a cabbage (don’t ask) as part of this weeks workshop we were also shown a short clip from a documentary about Disney & Pixar’s Wall-E. This video really showed me how important every¬†component¬†of sound is, especially when paired up with visual imagery, as the viewer we can be swayed either way by the tone, duration and there aspects of one sound. This is all happening¬†subconsciously.

This video reminded me of one I had seen at Zipangu Fest a month or so ago. The Echo of Astro Boy’s footsteps is an exploration of sound in anime and focuses on the life of one¬†individual¬†in particular,¬†Matsuo Ohno, the creator of the iconic Astro Boy’s footsteps. The thing that was different in Matsuo’s work is the use of feedback. When learning about sound design in last weeks workshop we were told that feedback is a no go, and never to use it. Matsuo Ohno’s work however prides itself on using unconventional techniques to create futuristic sound influenced by the idea of space. Which demonstrates how creative we should be when making sounds, they don’t have to directly reflect the sounds of a physical object to still portray a message.

Both Matsuo Ohno & Ben Burtt create something called Foley Sound. This is sound which is created rather than found. Using objects to create the perfect sound for the scene, it’s very controlled, and there is no sound to start with, the sound designer builds up layers of sound to directly position the audience and to play with their emotions and¬†perspective. As photographers we do this is a very similar way, we use light, colour, composition and context to place our audience, what’s interesting to explore is the combinations of both sound and images, which is what I will be doing as part of Phonar this week.

Depicting a journey

The key to depicting a journey is not through the strength of 1 image, but a series of images. Here are some examples of what I mean.

Nan Goldin

‘Gilles and Gotscho’

I use this series a lot in my research projects, but thats because it’s impact has never worn off. When depicting a journey Nan Goldin has such an intimate relationship with not only the people but her photos that they immerse you in the Journey she is experiencing, even if she isn’t in the photos.

As individual images they are still powerful, but as a series they grip the audience in a different way. Much like a book make you wants to turn the next page, Goldins work makes you want to see more. We become involved in the journey of these two men and feel emotional attached to them

This is an example of an emotional journey, for the purposes of my project I am now going to look at a series of physical journey images.

Paul Graham

‘A1 – The great north road’

We looked at this series in photo book club last year. It’s a series of images taken between 1981 and 1982 of people and places on the A1. Paul Graham the photographer spent a lot of his childhood travelling up and down the A1 so this project is very personal to him. The A1 is considered to be the back bone of the UK, connecting the north and the south. They places along the A1 however aren’t taken notice of, they are¬†temporary¬†stop off points for truck drivers and¬†families.

As a series it makes me stop and think about all these places I have driven past and never taken a moment to stop and reflect. And although the series was made before I was born, I know I have been to places like this recently. Making these photos timeless, they depict a place which never expands, it is always there just doing it’s job, which in todays¬†society¬†is quite refreshing a comforting to see.

A story with no text

Although it isn’t photography, I can’t help but keep on thinking about the work of artist John Romita Jr when thinking about narrative. I first came across his work through watching Kick-Ass and as I looked deeper into his art I heard about an issue of Hulk which he drew, but all the words were written at the back of the comic rather then inside each frame like they usually are. It was voted best Issue of the month by Marvel because with John Romita’s work you don’t need text balloons, his images tell the story with no words.

Thats what we try to do as photographers, we can choose to have supporting text but unless it’s part of the image it can get lost on the internet. In either an image or a series of images we tell stories without using words.

Phonar Task 0 – Pre Task

Tell the story of your journey to school

So this is our first Phonar task, and the first photography task I have been set in a long time, so I’m going to cut no corners, I have been waiting all summer to sink my teeth into a task.

Like all assignments I want to start by breaking down the¬†sentence, so I don’t skip any essential aspects and start spiralling off into something completely different as I have done in the past.

Tell the story – One thing I am really bad at in my work is telling stories, I tend to focus on aesthetics and come up with the concept later which is a really bad way to work. Phonar is about narrative within photography so this is the key element i need to focus on, especially because it’s my weak point.

Journey to school – This is the part that confuses me the most, is it a mental journey or a physical journey? I know that the decision is down to my interpretation and my ideas, so maybe I will come back to this section once I have researched how to Tell a story through photographs.


Another day of trying to establish PHOTOSENSE as it’s own brand and we have all written at least one post on each of the senses we are exploring, sight, sound and touch. We have already gained one wordpress follower too, and our twitter is ever growing. We are going to treat the blog as a hub for all the information we gather, a collective research blog which will later be edited down and re-presented as a radio show/ a series of shows. Have a look at the new blog posts from today which explore a wide variety of topics.

Another feature we added was the category selection at the top, allowing readers to choose their area of interest.


Issue 3 is Due for release in December 2012, for the mean time take a look at the cover & don’t forget to submit your work by 20th october.

Image by Beethy –¬†

Here’s a list of features and comps you can apply too…


“Photography Influenced by Art”

Art has influenced photography since its birth,
and although some people regard them as two
completely different mediums, we don’t. That’s why we
want to see your work that is influenced by art, or that
uses the techniques of a specific art movement.

“Toy Camera”

It is our belief that it doesn’t matter how much money
you have or how much your equipment cost you,
a talented photographer can produce interesting and
thought provoking images with even the cheapest of
cameras. So this is our challenge to you, using your toy
camera produce an image/aseries of images which prove
money can’t buy talent.

For anyone who isn’t sure toy cameras are simple
inexpensive film cameras, such as Holga or Lomo.



We love a good narrative at #PHOTOGRAPHY, for the
issue 3 competition we want you to take a line from your
favourite book and interpret it in an image/short series of
images. Submit your finished image to us along with the
quote it was based on and we’ll choose a winner 20th
October ūüôā

Just a thought

I’ve always wondered why I prefer to take cosplay photos rather than cosplay myself. I am an observer, that’s why. I would rather be a spectator, watching someone transform their physical appearance and their personality, than do it myself. Like a bird watcher, i step back and embrace whats happening around me, without disturbing or manipulating the situation My transformation comes from immersing myself in someone else’s story. I am an observer…

I Never use my own images to escape my own reality, I use my subjects story and escape into their fantasy.