Photographic Storytelling

in PowerHouseCreativeslast year (edited)

Photography as an art and as a science has been in existence for over 100 years now. I have an old "Brownie" camera that is from the 1890's - two centuries ago! And since that time people have taken photographs and left behind photographic evidence of their existence.

(Documentary photo. Title: Three Goofs)

In the early days of photography, with a few exceptions, the art was used primarily as a device of documentation: portraits of family and important people to document who they were and, primarily, as a means of replacing painted portraits. As the years and decades progressed, however, and as cameras became less expensive and, most importantly, more portable, people began using them for more than just documentary purposes. Ansel Adams, for instance, was one of the photography pioneers who saw photography as much as an art as it was a form of historical evidence.

Today the ability to create photographs is in the hands of most people who have a mobile phone. And the vast majority of these people do indeed take photographs with them. Some of them are good. A few are great. Most... are not.

(This is not a good photo, but it does provide historical evidence of a big blue thingy pooping out a little yellow thingy)

But it still begs the question of why. Why are we so fascinated with photography? What purpose does photography give us as a society and as a people?

In my mind there are three purposes for anyone to take a photograph:

  1. For documentary purposes. For proof. Person "A" met with Person "B". Person "C" signed this document. Person's "D", "E", and "F" were a family, and so on. Journalists live in this realm.
  2. To tell a story. This photo of Tank Man is, to me, the most amazing example of storytelling in a photo I have ever seen.
  3. To evoke an emotion response from the viewer: anger, exhilaration, arousal, glee, and all the other emotions.

Often photographs will fall into two or more of those categories. Tank Man definitely tells a story and elicits an emotion response. It's not even a great technical photo! It's just a great piece of work.

Good photographers can create photographs that slip into two of those categories. Great photographers can do all three. Personally, I'm lucky to hit one, and storytelling is the hardest of the goals for me to reach.

When @derangedvisions posted his Deranged Photography Contest of the week with the theme of Storytelling, my first thought was to bypass the week. Sure, the theme meshed perfectly with my view of photography, but it's difficult.

(This is a good photo, if only to me. It both evokes an emotional response (for me) as well as tells a story (to me). Will it hang on your wall? Probably not. If it were a famous person it might be different, but it's not.)

And then I felt that I absolutely should enter simply because it is difficult. Unfortunately for me I haven't been able to get out this week to engage in any serious out-of-the-house photography (I really am in the need of an out-of-house experience), but I felt that, surely, one of my photos in my archive would work.

So I dug. And dug. And dug. I wanted to find a photo that fit at least two of those categories, preferably 2 and 3. And I also wanted it to be one I hadn't posted before.

And then I think I found it:


(c) All images and photographs, unless otherwise specified, are created and owned by me.
(c) Victor Wiebe

(design by remyrequinart:


Yes and I would take the inverse as well if I may... Some great street photography doesnt always tell the story, it essentially asks a question. Why is the man so sad? Why is a woman standing on a car etc.

Or as in this shot, why is a couple wrapped up all alone on a chilly beach with a storm advancing...


IOW to me a good photo compels the viewer to do something, think, laugh, cry, wonder...Something..

 last year 

Yes, exactly! If art cannot draw out an emotional response, it's not art at all. It doesn't even need to be a positive response! Confusion and anger are legitimate responses as well.

I agree completely with your assessment on that photo of that couple. That's a really striking image.