Saturday, October 3, 2009

October Monthly Special: Story

This is your life, but processed. Hammered into the mold of a good screenplay. Interpreted according to the model of a successful box-office hit. It is no surprise you've started seeing every day in terms of another plot point. Music becomes your soundtrack. Clothing becomes costume. Conversation, dialogue. Our technology for telling stories becomes our language for remembering our lives. Our framework for perceiving the world. (Chuck Palahniuk, Stranger than Fiction)
In spite of an all-time low in terms of "monthly special" participation this past month (Shanna should receive some kind of award, I think), I am continuing down a path suggested by the August (triptychs) and September (points of view) themes by looking at "story" in photography.

Too many years of graduate training in literature have only worsened my ambivalence toward the conventions of storytelling. By age 9, after countless Sunday School lessons in the genre of "Susie had an iron lung" and "Johnny got hit by a train," I learned to become wary of the devices meant to illicit an emotional response from an audience—devices that, when overused, condition some people to measure spirituality in the number of teardrops shed.

In 17th-century France, back in the heyday of Cartesian body-as-machine enthusiasm, pulpit orators tried to get their rhetoric down to a science. A well-placed metaphor here, just the right simile there, and your audience laughs or cries at your command. Fast forward a few hundred years and you find everyone from semioticians to ad agencies trying to figure out the recipes for different kinds of stories.

Look through some of your photos—or better yet, a scrapbook—and ask yourself what kind of stories they tell. Do the photos stand on their own? Are they part of a sequence? Does text play a role?

This month I want to encourage you to pay attention to the story in your photographs. Think about when story matters to you and when it does not. Look for patterns in your storytelling. Are there recipes? Should there be?

I plan to look at those questions and more this month, and I may even throw in a Photoshop tutorial, who knows? And if I'm really lucky, maybe I'll see some stories from you.