Bill Brandt: description and story-telling

By | photography

“Throughout his career, Brandt used photographs to tell stories, and London in the Thirties is a collection of three stories.” The well-known photobook by Bill Brandt from which I cite, contains 96 photographs, showing in 3 chapters his pictures of a vanishing class society in what was later to become the “A day in the life of…” -style. His observations of both high and low class Londoners are individually strong images of iconic value, which in their combination tell the story of a society holding on to old values and traditions which are bound to change. The photographs describe, their juxtapositions tell a story…

quote: © Mark Haworth-Booth, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: introduction to Bill Brandt: London in the Thirties” (Pantheon Books, New York 1984)


By | street photography

I came across a Dutch site called fotovisie.net announcing a contest for March 2009. Subject “street photography” – interesting maybe… Participants were asked to take photographs showing something “allowing the viewer to make up his own story about” [there’s the story-telling again!]. They also made some suggestions, which I will translate here, because they’re so revealing:

– people queuing at the subway or a building;

– old man on a bench reading a paper [an old favorite];

– someone feeding birds in a park;

– passers-by in a crowded street;

– loner on a bridge seen from afar [if that doesn’t do it!];

– child playing next to a parked car;

– animal feeding on the street;

– legs and bag on the stairs [seems a new favorite; very story-telling obviously];

– old car with new building in the background.

Where do people get this kind of inspiration? Looking at Photo Year Book 1937 or something? It’s 2009 for heaven’s sake, give us a taste of what’s going on. Don’t make a want list when you take your camera to the streets, show what’s there and open up to what you do not know already!

Szarkowski misquoted on Capa

By | photography

“Every picture tells a story, don’t it”, Rod Stewart sings… Well…no, not if it’s a photograph. Garry Winogrand says there isn’t a photograph in the world that tells a story, and consequently he doesn’t have any storytelling responsability. He should know, he has taken a few in his lifetime. A photograph shows what something looks like…to a camera. Szarkowski agrees; the great MoMA scholar was a personal friend of Winogrand (it was him who first recognized the photographer’s importance, and in fact genius), and must have discussed this subject with him.

In “Photography: a Critical Introduction” (third edition) edited by Liz Wells there is an almost Freudian misquotation of the text written by John Szarkowski from “The Photographer’s Eye”: “The great war photographer Robert Capa expressed both the narrative property [sic] and the symbolic power of photography when he said “If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not close enough.”  This should have read “narrative poverty” since this is the point Szarkowski is making! To a lot of people it really remains very hard to believe there is no story in the photograph, and we don’t find the clear cut truth most of us seem to find so comforting. “Your photograph is like a little story” is still considered a compliment, since people assume that’s what you are striving for; and it’s not nice to ask, “what story…”

Winogrand: quotes from 2 tv interviews

By | street photography

“When things move I get interested, I know that much.”……….”I think that there isn’t a photograph in the world that has any narrative ability. Any of them. They do not tell stories, they show you what something looks like. To a camera.”……….”It’s the subject. I think I’m interested in how a lot of things look.”……….

……….Q: You shoot every day?          Winogrand: Yeah,sure.

Garry Winogrand  (tv interview by Bill Moyers, © 1982)


……….”the photograph isn’t what was photographed, it’s something else. It’s about transformation.”……….”there is a transformation [of the banal] , you see, when you just put four edges around it. That changes it. A new world is created.”……….

……….Q: Do you (….) think of yourself as an artist?          Winogrand: I probably am. I don’t think about it (……) But, if I have to think, yeah, I guess so.

Garry Winogrand  (tv interview by Barbaralee Diamonstein © 1981, quoted in the book “Visions and Images”, Rizzoli Int. Publ., Inc.)

(quotes edited and selected by Tom Stappers – for more: click red tags below this post)