David Campbell Seminar

Today we had a skype seminar with David Campbell as part of our Phonar class. Firstly David introduced us to a number of quotes about narrative photography such as “an event is not that that happens, it is that that can be documented.” by anthropologist Ellen Feldman. He proposed that we can report events from a chosen point of view as photographers, for example the issue of aids can be narrated from a religious point of view or a public health point of view. Also that we should be conscious of both traditional understandings of linear narrative (that have a beginning, middle and an end) and non-linear narratives (which could start with the conclusion then explain the story). Then questions sent in or tweeted by the group were answered by David to drive the session.

David was asked to reflect upon his own practice, and answer why he thought narration was becoming increasingly important.

David said to think of every photograph as a construction because someone makes it. The maker of the image is responsible for the process of construction in making the photograph what it is. Viewers have the desire for photographs that tell them something.

In answer to the question, why do we seek completeness within narrative (beginning, middle and end) David added that he thinks we have a tendency to go with linear narratives because we often wish life could be packaged like that.

Jonathan asked David if he thought new media enables a more quantum platform for storytelling.

David’s answer was that narrative always involves including some things and excluding others because there is too much to include altogether. So the new platforms can help you better edit (include / exclude) these in a quantum condition. They may enable the reader to manifest these in a way that is not linear. Around the linear narrative you can have offshoots from the main narrative linking to it. So yes new technology can help move away from fixed linear narrative.

Emma asked David how important to him audio was in storytelling.

David emphasized that audio is important because it quite literally allows your subject a voice. It enables you to turn an interview into a narrative. In order to make the most of an interview, you must research your interviewee. David referred to a quote to highlight the importance of research, “If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not reading enough”.

At this point we recalled our visit last year to listen to Simon Norfolk talk (at the Tate Modern) about photographical research, and that in this context research is a creative process.

Fran explained how Jon Levy had said that a narrative can be changed depending on who reads it, and asked David if he thought it was possible to make a narrative over-personal and loose meaning. To which David replied that images can be polyscenic or semiotic (meaning they contain multiple meanings and multiple symbols) so they can mean different things to different people. But this doesn’t mean every story has as many meanings as it does viewers. There will be common understandings. So therefore he doesn’t think it losses meaning, however it may take on many different meanings.

A question from the phonar twitter asked if David thinks we are concerned enough as readers, and highlights the term ‘compassion fatigue’.

David discussed how ‘compassion fatigue’ in social care actually means having too much compassion. If suggesting readers turn away from challenging photos then that may be the case, but David doesn’t believe that this is due to compassion fatigue. He reminded us of the graphic images shown in the media of Gadaffi’s death which seemed to him too much, but his turning away from these images was not a sign of no compassion, it was in itself a reaction.

Next Dean raised the question, where do you see the future of photography and newspapers print media going?

To which David expressed that although it is near impossible to predict the future of something as diverse as the term ‘photography’ we can consider some of its components. He said that the future of photojournalism would be dependent on context and surrounding the story in the right way. We must also understand newspapers as a mode of distribution and understand journalism as a mode of translation. Therefore news and media can continue to be channeled in a way that fits the demand of the viewer.

Another point of discussion raised via twitter was that traditional publishing outlets still have too much control (illustrated by the Wendy waitress example). David agreed that this control does exist but suggests that providing we are aware of it we can still make some choices about what platform to choose for our narratives. We must consider which format is best telling the story and reaching the right audience.

David also discussed that because narrative is central life, how much of our life we want to include in our narration is a personal decision. Therefore rather than a question of too much or too little narrative, it is a question of how much you tell. Narratives are not found objects, they are how you present these events or issues, how much you want to leave open to interpretation and how much you want to direct the context. He suggests that it is the ability to narrate as a photojournalist that distinguishes amateurs from professionals. Whilst in some cases amateur material is used in media (i.e. mobile phone film footage of Gadaffi’s death) it is the photojournalism that turns it into a story.

In summary David advised us all to be attentive of what is going on around us because even after our degree we will still be learning and developing as photographers. He said we shouldn’t use every new technological advance that comes along if we don’t want to but we should at least be aware of them.


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