Lets Get Started

This entire project will be a new learning curve for me, I have to create and understand visual narratives within photography, I have always thought about these elements through studying Media and Film however being able to put them into practice in the practice of photography is harder than initially thought. I find creating a narrative easier over a series of images, but what I really want to understand and become aware of is the visual narratives in singular images. It takes much more planning, thought and placement to create a narrative in a single image but the results can be amazingly powerful.

Before I even start thinking about creating my own narrative I have to research key photographers and artist which are masters in creating narrative within film and photography. With photography certain practitioners are so good at creating narrative which sits in time but can hold and flow a narrative like a 90 minute full feature film. Obviously this takes a lot of time, effort, money and skill.

The first bits of notes and research I want to take are simply about the different styles of narrative, how each one differs from the other and how they can have such a dynamic effect on the audience/viewer.

The first narrative structures I’ll look at are Linear and Non-linear narratives.

SO!!! Linear Narratives.

The easiest way for me to describe a linear narrative structure is to imagine a straight line, the straight line representing the narrative. For example, a linear structure would be a day to day documentary of somebodies life as it happens; a story which stays in the confines of time going forward or starting back to work forward, there are no jumps back and forth in time and this shows a narrative as it happens/happened from point A to point B. Starting at the beginning, working through the middle and coming finally to a conclusive end;  showing every detail through chronological order.

Non-Linear Narratives.

Non-linear narratives are the opposite of Linear narratives, these narratives can jump between any points of time, twisting the stories and creating dimension between important points of a narrative. For example the viewer could witness the end of a story before they see the beginning; scenes can jump in different time zones and create a complex narrative system for the viewer to follow.  There are many examples in film which can be studied and understood as non-linear narratives. A director famous for using non-linear narrative structures (as well as circular narratives) is Quentin Tarantino. Although non-linear narratives require much more engagement from the audience I feel that they have much more power and resemble the way that the human mind works more than linear structures.

In the 1990’s Quentin Tarantino created a huge rise in the use of non-linear narratives, his stories are complex, engaging and simply classic. He knows the industry, practitioners and structures incredibly well and this is why he can create such diverse narratives which create a truly unique and engaging experience. Personally I love his work and think that he is one of a kind director.

The first two films which Tarantino created which defined his use of non-linear narratives were the pictures ‘Reservoir Dogs’ & ‘Pulp Fiction’. Both of these films became cult classics and have been intensely studied since they have been made and thats no surprise and they are pure genius in my eyes.

Pulp Fiction reservoir-dogs-1992-dutch-r2-front-cover-65478


This clip from Jon Stewart’s chat show in America, shot in 1994 just after ‘Pulp Fiction’ was created, shows just how enthusiastic Tarantino is about his approach to making film and narratives. He takes everyday life, conversations and common actions in the lives of Hit-men, drug dealers and  gangsters who all carry their own unique narratives; ‘Pulp Fiction’ contains three main story lines which interweave as separate narratives to then come together to create a complex and suspenseful ending.

Later Tarantino gets asked if he could star in a film by any director who would it be? A truly challenging question for Tarantino but finally says “Sergio Leone” who directed such films as ‘The Good The Bad And The Ugly’; ‘A Fist Full Of Dollars’ and ‘Once Upon a Time In America’ which follows the non-linear narrative structure. It’s passion for his practice and peers that show through in Tarantino’s work, after all everything has been done some way or another and being able to notice that, work on it and understand it  then can you truly create something original.

I definitely understand the differences in Linear and non-linear narratives however I feel that achieving non-linear within photography is a long way from me yet, if it’s possible in the first place? This is definitely something I have to research more within my practice.

Circular Narratives

This type of narrative structure is the structure I should concentrate on most within this project, I have to create a series of images which work in this structure. In the simplest form a circular narrative means the story/plot will end at the point it began. So the first frame/frames will also be the last, the narrative will show the path up to the first and last frame. I have always been a fan of this structure within film making, I enjoy to watch a story unfold, to reveal the narratives building up to the climax; this gives a great sense of creativity and gets the audiences involved in the narrative.


Duane Michals

“Duane Michals has spent his career pushing against the confines of the single image”


Duane Michals is an American photographer who has a truly brilliant imagination when it comes to creating narratives through his photographs, his unique sequences challenge photography and the perceptions which people have with photography, also he makes an example of peoples ability to read an image or frame with some truly original outcomes. The first time I saw Duane Michals’ work I had never seen photography like this before, it’s so clever, refreshing, conceptual and often very abstract that I was taken in straight away. I think most photographers and artists would celebrate his work because it contains rich narratives, great framing/ composition and a real expressive way of making the viewer see the unexpected.

Michals is known for telling stories through his photographs and later on in his career even wrote on his prints to solidify the narratives he was telling, also his work told stories about more sensitive or less explored areas in photography and society throughout the 1960’s and 70’s.



“As a photographer, I’ve worked against the natural constraints of the medium,” says Michals. “What I dislike about photography is that it just reports the facts. It describes.”

That statement Michals makes is very evident in his work to me, he is pushing what he and others know and trying to push photography so that there are deeper layers within a photo, not just seeing the obvious but being able to read and analyse.


This screen shot above is a article i was reading on the move, I like to read on the trains and public transport, I often find some of my best research doing this. So, the things that interest me in the article about is how acclaimed Duane Michals is, he has extensive rewards for his work. But the best part for me is the way he has gathered these awards using a ‘anti-traditional’ approach, he doesn’t believe in reality either, he feels that we cannot capture something thats really. I think its this rebellious attitude towards the rules and confines within the practice have been the catalyst for his abstract and intriguing work.  This was a really interesting read.

The work below are from Duane Michals’ book called ‘Sequences’ published in 1970.

Item One


Item one: The sequence above is typical of Michals, part of the reason why I think Michals work is so successful is because the images are modestly simple and that simplicity makes us view the frame as something we recognise. For example, in the first frame the glasses seem very large because the framing of the chair seems conventional in composition and that’s how ‘we’ recognise a chair. Then in the second frame we realise that the chair is actually small and the glasses are normal size, this is the first ‘trick’ (if you could call it a trick) that Michals plays.  The use of mirrors in his work are well orchestrated and planned in such a way that they become a tool for him to bounce between frames giving him the opportunity to carry on the narrative.  I think Michals’ work is enticing and I get a urge to emulate his style.

Item Two


Item Two: This sequence is nothing short of genius!! It’s amazing that Michals saw this in his mind, to create something so original and powerful that it genuinely makes you question what a photograph could mean OR where a photograph can be taken to convey a different environment. Nothing is as it seems. I think this is the most powerful circular narrative sequence in photography (that I have seen of course) and also think that this sequence possibly created a template for many years of emulation and self experiments by other photographers and artists. The composition of each frame blends into the next creating a flowing narrative which actually creates a real response in the viewer, in a way Michals’ work is like a mind game, I felt like my perception was being tricked and this was Michals intention. He is one step ahead of us and stating that we should open our minds to what is around the frame not just what fills the frame. He strengthens this trick of perception with the audiences by adding a title text at the top stating “Things Are Queer”.

Item Three


This image doesn’t contain a circular narrative but does have relationships with the concept, this sequence makes me question the relationship between these two men. Do they know each other? Are they following each other? intimidate each other? or is it as simple as they know each other but haven’t spoke or seen in years? many questions like this run through my mind. The last frame indicates to me that the glance of the two men is much stronger than a simple tilt of the head to check the other guy out, but he stands sideways in the alley, the last shot with only one character involved creates a lasting narrative that could indicate much more than just a glance. The way that this sequence is layed out is against our conventional western way of reading, we would expect a sequence to go from left to right however this sequence goes down left then down right and this is the first thing that hit me from following the sequence.

Duane Michals really does know his practice creating these sequences, they are little story boards which show us a glimpse into somebody else’s life; or to play with a viewers perception on what is actually in the frame while surrounding it in narrative.

I need to return to Michals throughout this project and try to understand his methods and thought processes to get a better outcome in my own work.


Watching these videos you really get a sense on Duane’s personality and the man behind the images, really interesting man who is very opinionated!!!!! The first link is a hour and twenty minute lecture by Michals and is more like a stand up comedy show, he has great mannerisms and views on the world which he is not afraid of addressing. I like his rather aggresive view on the practice of photography, he doesn’t believe it to be something taken literally and should not try and present reality but try to portray the emotions of the subjects creating a fantasy reality (The Boogie Man)


Tableau Vivant 

Tableau Vivant, deriving from the French language means ‘Living Picture’. Creating Images in this style takes a lot of preparation, a great deal of research and understanding or your subjects aesthetic, history and cultures. There are a number of key photographers who lie within this field of photography and some of the results are outstanding. To create a Tableau Vivant style image can take along time, there is a lot of elements to take into account and I think the easiest way of understanding this technique is to see it for yourself. So I’m going to research a couple of main photographers who specialize in this practice.

Gregory Crewdson


I see more of a director than photographer in Gregory Crewdson, his images are so orchestrated down to every single fine detail that they could be planned a year before and run on huge budgets that can hold up against the film industry. Crewdson’s work is a little to planned and choreographed for my personal work however I do respect the amount of quality, skill and absolute dedication that goes into his images. Crewdson is an absolute master of lighting and this is something I really need to analyse, although he probably doesn’t set the lights up physically or even pull the trigger he dictates where every tiny detail and shade of light will be within his images. His narratives have a dark and under-toning message within them, the work I will be looking at comes from his book  published in 2007 called ‘Beneath The Roses’


Gregory Crewdson:I never know what to call the subjects in my pictures because I’m uncomfortable with the word actor. I think maybe subjects might be more accurate—or maybe even more accurate is objects.

(Laughs) I’m just kidding. But what’s important to me is that there’s a necessary alienation between me and the subject. I don’t want to know them well. I don’t want to have any intimate contact with them. For all the talk of my pictures being narratives or that they’re about storytelling, there’s really very little actually happening in the pictures. One of the few things I always tell people in my pictures is that I want less—give me something less.

Since a photograph is frozen and mute, since there is no before and after, I don’t want there to be a conscious awareness of any kind of literal narrative. And that’s why I really try not to pump up motivation or plot or anything like that. I want to privilege the moment.

That way, the viewer is more likely to project their own narrative onto the picture. 

The statement Crewdson makes above (The American Reader) I find really interesting, the way he doesn’t want to convey a strong and immediate narrative in any of his images is very strange at first. However the more I thought about the more sense it actually makes, he is leaving the narration up to the viewer which is a powerful and impressive element to capture. His images are so full of substance that its hard not to imagine a narrative within them but I suppose that is his real talent coming through. Creating a canvas for the viewer’s imagination.


Firstly look at the title before any images, what does that say to me? Beneath the roses….. well we expect roses to be a beautiful flower which stands for love, affection, life, richness and beauty. But what’s beneath these beautiful flowers is not often a beautiful substance; roses flourish off dirt, decomposing materials and most of all feces. So is this title is bringing to light the under-toning narratives behind something beautiful? The ways of our lives perhaps? We may live in a society which portrays itself as a rosey and vibrant way to live, but what is beneath this? Is it all spawned from dirt and feces so that whatever that grows out of it is not truly beautiful or meaningful but has more of a deceiving and darker existence? Gregory Crewdson’s work definitely has this dark and sinister aesthetic to it, a ‘Tibleau Vivant’ style which creates a whole narrative of a full feature film within one frame. I have to understand the importance of his images, understand the way they are made and dedication it takes to create such pieces of work.

Item One


Item One: First of all I want to look at the over all theme Crewdson has in this series of images; they all show mysterious narratives within the lives of random people/characters in a singular, powerful and static image. All the images are taken in small towns and suburbs of America and I think this is to create a relationship to the viewer, after all we recognise scenes like this from our own lives and ordinary environments. The image above is of a typical house in America, all the stereotypical actions are happening; we have the husband/father on a arm chair in the middle of the room, the wife in the kitchen washing up the dishes but when I look closer and try to read a narrative within the image the more dark and sinister material comes out. First of all the lighting gives us a strong atmosphere, the kitchen is well lit as we can see the colours of the kitchen units, vibrant spots of colour on the work tops and even the colour of the woman’s clothes and skin is much more vibrant in the image however the foreground is dull in colour, a slight hazy effect with no natural light that screams depression. The big narrative that shouts out to me in this image is the portrayal of illness and decease, the gentlemen sat in his arm chair slumped firmly in his dressing gown with everything he needs to hand. We see the tone of the man’s skin is pale and lifeless, his face droops with a static stare at the television. He has bottles of tablets next to him to release his pain/illness as well as a radio, magazines and television remote giving me the impression that this man doesn’t move unless he has to. He even sleeps of the sofa where we can see the pillows stacked for his head and a blanket crumpled up along the sofa, or it’s a place of rest when his illness is at it’s worst. The lighting is so well orchestrated and planned that each third of the image has it’s own unique set of lighting; we have the dark areas around the sofa and food tray, the grey and grim lighting giving us a clue to the man’s health and life style and the brighter (but still sinister) kitchen where a wife finds solace from her commitments. A everyday scene with a serious and dark undertone which gives the viewer a narrative about the existence of these two people.

Item Two


Item Two:


http://www.gregorycrewdsonmovie.com/    –  Brief Encounters


The image above has a dramatic a very sinister undertone, there is something very uneasy for me with this image and I believe that this is definitely intentional. This is a prime example of how good Duane Michals is at controlling light and using it to portray a intense atmosphere. The little girl is the brightest subject in the room however she is still under a light which is eerie and very flat in colour, she is very uneasy character who portrays something very dark and cruel in my eyes. Its almost as if terrible things have happened to these people and the little girl is either looking for answers of the woman lying down but the woman refuses to answer, lying with her back facing the girl with her eyes wide open. Or that his little girl has experiences with something paranormal, the open eyed woman knows this but is scared to confront. Duane Michals narrative pursuits are meant for the viewer to create, he constructs detailed and methodical images which strike thoughts within our brains and almost force us to create a narrative within the frame, I believe when we are presented with images which contain such dramatic content we cannot help not to put a narrative within the image.


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