Can a single image transmit a narrative? “Aphotograph is only a minute fragment of an experience, but quite a precise,detailed, and telling fragment. And although it might only provide littleclues, the photographer is telling us that they are very important clues.”- AaronSchuman A stillsingle image is a collection of clues andtriggers carefully placed to convey a message or narrative.
In everyday life, we are constantly decoding and translatingclues that we then perceive as a story. This is intentional when it comes tophotography due to the fact that photographersonly have a single frame image to project meaning and emotion onto the viewer.A film has the ability to tell a narrative through many frames but a singleimage only has one so the photographermust possess the ability to consciously leavea trail of triggers that our subconscious can then translate into time. By thisI mean, the events that led up to the imageand the events that will take place after. This then gives us a sense of timeand perspective which is a crucial element to a narrative. We, humans, are curious beings so having to create a narrative fromnothing but a few clues is more rewarding and being shown the narrative. In this photograph of the Bangladeshfactory collapse captured by Taslima Akhter,we can piece together in our heads what has happened in the image.
It is clearthat there has been a disaster and the building the people were in has collapsedon top of a couple, killing them in the process. Although this is just one imagewe can still see imagine what has happened in the events leading up to collapse.The photographer wanted to capture the emotion that she must have felt at thatmoment so to project this emotion onto the viewer she would need to take a fewfactors into account. The use of depth of field in this image is simplebut strong as having the cloth out of focus closer to the camera and the subjectin the background with the rubble in focus it give the perspective of how the two people are deep inside the debris fromthe building.
If there was no depth of field and the whole image was in focus itwould not have the same effect because the depth of field is like a triggerwhich in a way gives us the feeling of the depth that the people submerged in.The choice of composition plays a strong partin telling the story of an image. This is because the photographer chooses whatwe see and what we don’t. This could either make or break the emotionalconnection of the image. An example of this is if the subjects in the image wereclose to the lens of the camera and we as the viewer couldn’t see the extent ofthe debris then it would be harder to image what has actually happened in theimage. I believe that Taslima Akhter used the rule of the thirds to good effect, tome it sends a strong message.
When I see an image that has been captured withthe intention to tell a story I instantly see it as a freeze frame of a bigger picturethat I can play in my head. Taslima Akhter’s photograph gives the image of emergencyservices searching the rubble for bodies and survivors. Although this is not inthe frame and may be happening behind thecamera we are able to imagine this because the way the image has been captured.
Another example of a photograph whichtold a story to the world is by Vietnamese photographer Nick Ut. This image, capturedin 1972 was one that shook the world. It brought the reality of the war in Vietnamto the rest of the world and it did this through a single image narrative.The photographwas given the name napalm girl which has a child whose name is Phan Thi KimPhuc, running away from the devastation and horrors of the Vietnamese war. Thisimage is one of the most memorable and meaningful images ever captured becauseit put the spotlight on what was happening overseas where many people in the likesof America did not know the extent of the war. What’sstrong about the image is the fear coming from the fleeing children and the soldierswho pass no remarks to the children as they herd them down the war-torn road. This gives a lot of emotion as the two subjects contrast one another.
Thisis what Nick Ut tried to capture and he did this well. The photographreally takes control of the human sensorium in a way which lets us view whathappened a few seconds before the image was captured and a few seconds after. Inmy mind I can play this image like a video because of the way the action hasbeen captured – soldiers and children froze while running/walking, smoke in thebackground consuming the sky, screams and cries from the children by theexpressions on their faces. All these come together to give us more than just asingle image. Obviously the main subject of this image is the child running awayfrom the napalm unclothed to prevent being further burnt than she already is.
“So codes –drawn from within and outside of photography – enable photographs to tellstories, rather than simply to record or chronicle what lies before a camera inthe instant of clicking the shutter.” (Bell, 2002, p9).When looking at Nick Uts image we have look what is beneath theimage, the signs and codes which we subconsciously decipher. The signifiers inthe image play a big part, these being the likes of the children crying, thesmoke and the soldier’s guns all signify pain, fear and terror in an area wherethe inhabitants aren’t hostile.
This is what plays on the viewers emotions andgives the narrative of innocent people being terrorised by a war they have nopart in.