a lesser photographer – storytelling (#280) 04-24-13

Wednesday again, and time to review someone else's work.

A lesser photographer is an interesting site, run by an interesting guy, C. J. Chilvers. See it HERE. 

In his words, what is a lesser photographer?  "A person who makes images and is more interested in increasing their creativity than their street cred with other photographers. The phrase refers to what those other photographers may think of you, until they see your results." In other words, simplicity in photography, without the emphasis on trendy gear or techniques.

In September 2011, Chilvers published his lesser photographer manifesto. See it HERE. 

It consists of 10 principles. They are simple, easy to read, and common sense. One of the principles is about storytelling and is therefore germane to the topic upon which I am spending some time. So relevant is it, that I am copying it below:

"Tell a Story

Why does every major photography award seem to go to the same few outlets: National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine and a handful of interchangeable lifestyle publications?

If you visit your local bookstore, you’ll find the magazine rack packed with photography how-to publications, featuring the best work of the most celebrated photographers on the planet. Why aren’t these publications recognized with awards and loved by hundreds of thousands of subscribers? They feature the best photography has to offer, yet they’re read by far fewer and usually as an impulse buy.

Online it’s the same. Countless blogs teach you technique and countless photographers blog about their work and show off their portfolios, but National Geographic and a handful of journalistic organizations still bring the most recognition. What do they know that the millions of contenders don’t?

Technically proficient photography is no longer enough to inspire. You must tell a story. And while you’re telling a story, don’t limit yourself to just images.

For years, photographers have been wisely imploring writers to learn to create compelling images to enhance their storytelling. The same argument must be made in reverse. Photographers must learn to write to enhance their storytelling, or find a writer to collaborate with. The two skills are inescapably linked now.

This is why it makes no sense for a photographer, with no professional mandate, to keep a portfolio section on their website. Viewers would be better served, and in turn photographers would be better served, by telling stories. Those stories are better served with great writing. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the worth of a great story is incalculable.

Videography is the combination of visual and audio storytelling, and given that many photographers are visual thinkers, a story may be best told to some audiences through video. National Geographic presents both types of audiences with impeccable storytelling, catered to their consumption styles. That’s why they win."

What is simpler than photographing strangers? Two people and one camera, that's all that it takes. I use a DSLR, but that is not a requirement. In fact, I'll probably change to a smaller camera. The files are digital so I do use Photoshop, but without fancy gimmicks: no head swapping, no HDR.

The manifesto does bring up a topic that haunts me. Which is more important, the implied story in a well photographed face, or the written account that accompanies it? I will spend some time on this.

I hope that you read the manifesto. Enjoy.