It has been bugging me for a while now: there is just something that is missing from photography. From my personal work to the majority of photographers out there. I’m talking about the photos on your feeds, be it personal to commercial. It has been bugging me and I finally found out what it is: what is missing from photography is stories.
A disclaimer, I’m not talking about photojournalism, or anything relating to the Pulitzer Prize. Those are photos with real stories that are important and need to be shared and told to the world. The photography I’m talking about is the personal, the creative, the artistic, the majority, the mainstream.
When you see a photograph that is of a chair in a room or a model in a pose I think to myself that’s aesthetically beautiful but aside from that, I don’t give a s**t. There is no personal aspect to the image, no story about why that chair is there or why the model is posing or sitting or whatever except to maybe sell it. A landscape is a landscape, I can see why people might find them boring to look at. But if it was a landscape of a forest that was cut down a year ago to make way for Palm oil farming, then it becomes an important story.
What I’m getting at is we are overwhelmed with imagery, saturated so much that we only connect and pay attention to the things that resonate with us. If you purchase a new car, phone, or camera I bet that all of a sudden you would notice that everyone around you has that object. It’s not that suddenly everyone got one, it’s that you started to notice them because you invested in that brand and it had become important to you. A few weeks ago you didn’t see them, but now that this item resonates with you, you take notice.
The same goes for mainstream photographs, I see a lot of imagery but none of it resonates with me on a personal level. The majority of it is just aesthetically pleasing, nice, pretty, beautiful, and because of that, the majority of imagery out there isn’t memorable. Where are all the stories that connect with our humanity?
My work is mostly void of people, I mainly take landscape and still life photographs. The meaning behind my work is about disconnecting from technology, switching off the phone and being in the moment, it’s about mindfulness, being Zen. Now, looking at my work you wouldn’t get that information or context by merely looking at it, it’s just aesthetically pleasing. I’m not perfect, my work is completely void of a message or story. My work is a good example of what not to do, I have much room for improvement and I desperately need to take my own medicine. So how does one include a story to an image?
To tell a story you could include a blurb, you could tell a story with a photo series or essay that has a narrative or story structure. Your image could have an article, music, sound or dialogue with it. I love reading blurbs in photo galleries giving me context behind the work or what the artist is striving for with their imagery. I love it when someone adds a story or description below their Instagram post. It gives the photo more power and humanity.
Think Humans of New York. If all you saw were the portraits, you would think that’s a nice photo and move on. But there is a whole lot of text below it that is related to the person in the portrait. Those stories are deeply personal and that is why so many people resonate with Brandon Stanton’s work. Because the photographs have a personal story attached to the imagery, they make us sympathize and relate to the subject.
If only more photographs had a story behind it. I’m not saying that taking photographs for the act of taking photographs is bad. I’m not saying that a nice landscape is meaningless or an editorial spread is worthless. I’m not saying that at all.
I’d just love to get a little more context to why the image was taken. If the images you capture are because they are aesthetically beautiful then you have succeeded in sharing that meaning and value. If your images are just for you then great take everything I said with a massive grain of salt. Personally, I’d love to know the story, meaning, and history or feeling behind your photograph. Express what you see or feel through your lens, make me feel through your imagery and message, share a story… your story.
About the author: A.B Watson is a New Zealand photographer based in Auckland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, head over to his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.