Tag Archives: Narrative Photography

Henri Cartier-Bresson

French born, a pioneer of photojournalism and the narrative photograph. Cartier-Bresson believed that a photograph should be a capture of the event, not altered in any way with photographic lamps, or dark room effects. Cartier-Bresson camera of choice was a Leica, which he used to capture the raw life of street photography.

The images of people are his major subject matter candid spontaneous photographs, some photographs the people look to be aware of the camera and some where the subjects are totally unaware of the camera and photographer is present.

The photographs of people doing things that makes the viewer wonder what or why are they doing what they are doing.  The viewer can make their own story around the photographic images.

SPAIN. Valencia Province. Alicante. 1933.
SPAIN. Valencia Province. Alicante. 1933.


GB. London. Coronation of George VI. 12th May, 1937.
GB. London. Coronation of George VI. 12th May, 1937.


FRANCE. Marseille. 1932.
FRANCE. Marseille. 1932.

These photographs above raises questions:

What are the ladies doing, are they trying to do their nails or hair, and if so are they getting ready for a night out?  The houses in the background look slight run down, are the ladies from the houses, are they prostitutes?

The people holding the periscopes in the hope to see the King pass by.  The large number of people standing looking at the perisocpe has a familair look similar to the modern day selfie photographs that people take when something of significance happens.

why is the man liying down? Has he fallen asleep, is he drunk, was he attacked and knocked down.  His clothes are not as well tailored as the gentleman in the background.  Why is the well dressed man there?  There are many possible stories that the viewer can think are behind the photograph.

Web sites that contain his biography plus many examples of his work.






Narrative photographs and photographers

The works of these narrative photographers have in common is many photographs of people doing something.  They may be people doing something unusal in a common situation or people doing something everyday in unsual situation.  These situations may be struggling against other people at war, struggling to survive because of adverse conditions. Also people doing something unexpected in a place or situation such as playing in a war zone. The photographs show the look on individuals’ faces, or their body language tells clearly what they are thinking.

It is the human interest, human emotions that you as a viewer can recognise and connect with, the things they have done, doing or about to do that tells the story. The photographs are not ‘manufactured’ in the dark room or post processed with Photoshop to introduce something that was not there in the original frame.

The  subject matter is candid spontaneous photographs, usually the subjects are totally unaware of the camera or the  photographer is present.  In a few pictures the subject appear to be aware of the camera and looking straight down the lens, making eye contact with the viewer and photographer.


Sebastiao Salgado

Brazilian born in 1944.  He takes photographs of people struggling to survive or people in desperate situations as well as tranquil images of people going about their daily lives such as fishing.


WORKERS Serra Pelada State of Para Brazil 1986


Alto Xingu Indians, 2005


WORKERS Greater Burhan Oil Field Kuwait 1991

The stories of the photographs without the title, the viewer can make their own story what could be happening.

The top photograph looking down on a mine with loads of people working like ants.  It looks like a scene from a film.  What are they mining, are they under slavery, is there going to be a disaster, will the sides of the mine collapse on the workers.

The middle photograph is dreamy with the mist rising from the water.  Are they going home or starting out on the day?  Are they going fishing or traveling down the river on a journey of adventure.

The bottom photograph looks like people from another planet.  The clothes all covered soaked in oil the workers look like astronauts from a 1950s film.

Web sites where more inforation and biography of the photographer can be found.  Examples of his work are also on these web sites.





Enri Canaj

Finalist in the 2014 Visual Storytelling Awards 2014 http://www.enricanaj.com Canaj was born in Albania moved with his family to Greece in 1991. He studied photography at the Leica Academy in Athens. In 2007 he took part in a British Council project on migration.

Canaj has taken photographs recording the events around migration and refugees trying to escape war. The risks they take on sea crossing in small boats. The reception they receive when they arrive in Greece and the life they lead.


It was around 5 a.m. when the Greek Coast Guard identified a small boat floating towards Chios, a small island in the Aegean. There were 49 immigrants on board. © Enri Canaj









James Nachtwey

The photograph by James Nachtwey is a great example of the single narrative photograph or photojournalism. The viewer can see the drama playing out, the confusion, the look of desperation on the faces of the refugees on the train trying to stay together as families or friends. The look of dismay by the man turning away from the train, the partially seen face of a woman or girl being trapped within the crowd. The children being carried on the shoulders of parents looking bemused by what is happening around them.

“I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.” James Nachtwey, photojournalist – quote from his website.

James Nachtwey is an American born photographer, he is a contract photographer for the magazine Time.





Ramallah, West Bank, 2000 – Palestinians fighting the Israeli army.

Web sites that includes a biography and examples of his work.



James Nachtwey – The Improviser


Robert Capa

Hungarian born. Capa’s is most remembered for his photographs from the Spanish Civil War conflict, including his most famous image, Death of a Loyalist Soldier (1936), were heralded almost immediately for their stunning impact; Picture Post termed him “the greatest war photographer in the world”. His photographs show the events happening.

SPAIN. Córdoba front. Early September, 1936. Death of a loyalist militiaman.
SPAIN. Córdoba front. Early September, 1936. Death of a loyalist militiaman.


SPAIN. Bilbao. May 1937. Crowds running for shelter as the air-raid alarm sounds.

The people all looking up to see what is coming in from the sky.  Without the title of the photograph the viewer can imagine many posible things that the people on the street could be looking at.







Tim Hetherington


British born photojournalist, was attracted to photograph wars and disputes. He was killed in Libya covering the increase in violience and civil unrest that was occuring.

LIBYA. April, 2011. On the road out of Adjdabyia, Libyans come and inspect the smoldering remains of vehicles after a NATO airstrike.


LIBYA. April, 2011.  Rebel fighter with an RPG.
LIBYA. April, 2011. Rebel fighter with an RPG.







Evaluation of Final Piece – Flick Book


How did I create the series of pictures?

I created all of my pictures using a digital SLR camera. The photographs were taken in RAW format, I used the available light, not flash, ISO-400, exposure 1/60 second, F-Stops varied between f/5.6 – f/3.5, the focal length varied quite a lot depending how close or far away I was from the subject. The RAW format gave me the opportunity to edit the pictures using Photoshop. Once I opened the pictures in Photoshop I changed the brightness and contrast of the pictures so that they all had similar lighting levels, this was adjusted individually by my judgement.   This made the pictures stand out in the photograph.

What worked well?

I believe this has worked well this is because I have concentrated on the construction of one item in the exhibition, the series of photographs tell the story of how it was created. The large number of photographs I took shows the development of the art installation and when viewed in the flick book, the pages can be flicked through quickly to show speeded up how the manikin was built, dressed and the application of paint made. The viewer can decide what the message of the art installation is about in just the same way as if they had viewed the manikin at the exhibition.

There is additional movement created because I have taken some of the shots from different positions and viewpoints. The flick book provides a documentary of the display plus where it fitted in the wider exhibition.

I also believe this final piece has worked well because I have managed to create a new and different way to display my work. This makes the pictures more interactive to look at making you more involved in the pictures as an observer.

How can I improve the picture?

I can improve my final piece by making sure that the glue doesn’t get on the front of the pictures or squeeze out of the side so that pages do not unintentionally get stuck together. I can also improve my final piece by making sure that the photographs on each page is straight and aligned with the previous and next pages in the book. I would use next time a slightly larger book so that it is easier to flick through the images.

Did I have to change any of my original ideas?

This was one of my original ideas that I stuck with. I did not change any of my original ideas for my final piece, this is because I was happy with the end results and the pictures I ended up with. I also believe that my original idea was effective and it interacted with the viewer.

Did it fit in with the original theme?

I believe the final piece provides a documentary of the exhibition as a story of the End of Year show. I also had to experiment thinking of several ideas that I could develop and decide once I had reviewed all my photographs which set of images and presentation format would best represent the show.

Narrative Image Making in Photography

Narrative photography is the use of photographs to create a record, or a documentary that tells a story or conveys a message. It can be a single image or a series of images. The narrative photograph is one that differentiates itself from a general photograph of an urban street scene, a portrait or a landscape. Photographs that capture a significant event and convey the essence, character or emotion of the event.

Photojournalism is probably the most well-known form of narrative or documentary photography that uses photographs to capture an event and convey the significance or story of an event. It might be a political rally, images of hardships or disasters, suffering or poverty. Joyous events, festivals, special occasions or shows. People from exotic places near or faraway showing emotions and relationships.

Documentary photography came into use during the American depression of the 1930s and images of the dust bowl, farmers in desperate poverty and urban decay and slums.

A big challenge of the narrative photograph that tells a story is that the photograph is a snapshot of time. Stories evolve and run over time with a beginning middle and end. The narrative photograph therefore has to try and convey as much as possible the story over a passage of time, what has happened, what is happening and what will or likely to happen in the future.

The narrative photograph has been taken in to publishing and storytelling in comics. The traditional comic stories that had line drawings or cartoons, some have been replaced with photo stories. This example is from a 1980’s comic called ‘Girl’. The photo story is the story acted out and photographed, the story is enhanced with speech bubbles to move the story along and explain the pictures.

photostory01Image 1 Girl comic, Photo Story. Don’t Blame Jenny!

The single narrative photograph has elements that can set the scene or put the story in some context is the background environment. In the example by Henri Cartier-Bresson, photograph of a man trying to cross a large puddle without getting wet, which is the main subject of the story.

FRANCE. Paris. Place de l'Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. 1932.
FRANCE. Paris. Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. 1932.

Image 2 FRANCE. 1932. Paris. Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint Lazare.

There are two possible backstories or reasons why the water is there that could be identified.

Story one: The puddle and ‘grey’ day atmosphere the viewer could assume that there might have been heavy rain that caused the flooding, but the rain has stopped because there are no ripples caused by rain drops in the puddle.

Story two: There is some building or excavation work being undertaken and as a result a water pipe has caused the flooding. The indicators in the photograph for this possibility are the piles of sand or earth in the foreground, the piles of rubble in the background, there is man standing in work clothes near a wheelbarrow. There is a ladder laying down in the middle of the water.

The key subject of the story is the man jumping across the puddle in an attempt to stay dry, the man is not carrying an umbrella that is up adds to the story that it is not actively raining. The puddle is very large the man has leapt on to a ladder to prevent from getting his feet wet, and has been photographed in mid-air attempting to jump clear of the water. Capturing the mid-air jump gives movement to the picture. From the height and flight-path of his jump he is doomed to fail. The man is above the water and the length of stride, the viewer is left in anticipation expecting the next thing to happen is the man is going to get wet landing in the puddle.


What makes a Narrative photograph

The narrative photographs have in common is many people. It is the human interest, the things they have done, doing or about to do that tells the story.

Ideas about Presentation, style and formats

After I had taken my photographs I would decide which collection of images, ideas and format of presenting the photographs would work best.

Display on a board

Ideas for final piece the layout on board.

a) using Velcro tabs to attach the photographs to the board. The viewer can then interact with the photographs, detach, change the sequence of events to tell their own story.

The down side of this idea is that after the viewer has finished, the board will not be reset to the original state. The photographs will become damaged, bent, marked or lost by people handling them.

b) attach the photographs to mounting board so that they can be easily viewed. The layout in sequence so that they can be read like a book from left to right, and work down the page. Attaching a second set of photographs prints in a wallet to the board, the viewer can pick up and handle the prints, lay them down on a table, the photographs are something physical, tactile that they can touch.

The down side of this idea is that the photographs in the wallet will become damaged, bent, marked or even lost by people handling them.  The display on a board takes up a large space and is not easily transportable.

Flip book

Create a flip book that sequenced the events during the setting up of the exhibition. This would show someone setting up their work over a series of time showing the different stages involved in the process, from setting up and creating their work to the finished product in the gallery      The photographs in the book can be flicked through quickly to create a moving image of the setting up of the exhibition, or the viewer can take their time to study more closely the photograph. It gives the viewer more choice and some fun when looking at the collection of images. I thought that this would be a good idea because it shows an interesting way to display my work making the observer more engaged and interactive with the work. This also helps to show the development behind getting the work ready for the gallery from start to finish.


Image 6 de:Technische Sammlungen der Stadt Dresden Source Wkipedia

The down side of this is that photographs may get bent or damaged when flicked through, but it is less likely that the photographs will be lost.


Concertina Book

The photographs displayed in a concertina book. Possibly to show the timeline or views and images as the exhibition is built. I created my concertina book with photographic elements of the exhibition.ConcertinaBook