Telling Stories

It was been a tough week as far as development of my project is concerned. Having had my second meeting with Laura at the start of the week, I received excellent guidance in addition to a raft of avenues to explore further.

At present I feel that my progress has stalled as I’m really struggling to see the direction of which my project is heading and I have a number of decisions to make. Those decisions are presently hindered by a number of factors and in trying to address them all at once I am currently drawing a blank. In response I felt the best course of action was to conduct some critical research and explore the broader avenue of story telling in order inform my future direction.

The major issues I currently face with my own work:

What story am I trying to tell?

What makes a powerful story?

How do I tell a powerful story?

In terms of the Seven Miles South project I recently became bogged down with the burden of representing diverse communities outside of my own. Worrying about how I might represent communities with authenticity which I know little about. Having frequented the area of Longsight, having an unsuccessful experience I needed to go back to basics. In my meeting, Laura suggested I needed an entry point and she suggested that bus stop portraits may be a good starting point. However I also felt that I needed to further an understanding of the fundamentals of what makes a good story in the hope that my gaze can reach a more concise direction.

I feel the need to explore the idea of a story, as I currently feel as if I could possibly have a hundred to tell, and in trying to resolve this, I find my thoughts in an ongoing battle about trying to decide of a particular line of enquiry. At the same time I also understand that with the appropriate approach, I will be able to synthesise multiple narratives in an overarching theme. The theme being the road. Richin suggests that photographs that provide a single answer intimates its own manipulation (Richin 2013). The relevance here being that my ideas surrounding the project continually revolve around the idea of a ‘road’, the various parts of that road, and representing communities who frequent that it with a sense of authenticity. In following this simplistic structure I feel that my approach is one dimensional as my ideas continually go back to bricks and concrete as opposed to human experience and emotion. (Barthes 1980) also purports suspicion about photographs with singular meaning when he suggests that  photograph whose meaning is too impressive is quickly deflected; we consume it aesthetically, not politically.’ Both Richin and Barthes comment very important pitfalls of ideas surrounding my project. Whether ‘singular meaning’ or ‘single ‘answers’ I am walking into the trap of the singular at present. The danger of this being as Barthes concludes, the audience draws conclusions in an aesthetic sense as opposed to the political.

Having reflected on the difficulties I’m currently facing, to plan a route forward is the more pressing matter and in order to do this I firstly need to identify the work I have made that I took most fulfilment from and in my case, I particularly enjoyed challenging themes of mental health among my peers. In challenging this theme I was able to make work that allows me to identify with my own struggles of insecurity and feeling inferior which amount to a lack of confidence that has lasted around two decades. Without writing an emotional story, the importance of this self identification is to establish and further understand my DNA as a photographer in addition to unlocking the emotions that that will enable me to tell a more powerful story. Pantall (2020) advocates that good stories advocate ‘The complexities and contradictions of life, the flaws and imperfections, the ability to recognise our own failures are what makes things interesting.’ Here Pantall offers insight into establishing a starting point to rethink my own motivations for this project. And the personal connection I have to the subject matter. (Pantall 2020) further states ‘that things need to be recognised but in a three-dimensional manner that recognises the emotional, the personal, the creative sides of life, and goes beyond the limited didactic voice’. Once again, applying Pantall’s ideas within my personal context my thoughts are to develop my idea to encompass the idea of a road with a theme of mental health in males. Further contextual research will be needed here but this currently represents progress. I had previously written about Zed Nelsons project ‘A Portrait of Hackney’ and upon further research of this work (Nelson 2019) comments in the BJP  “People didn’t form neatly into categories. Some of the villains turned out to be decent, hard-working people, and some of the heroes turned out to be quite narrow-minded,”. And it is here that Nelson’s comments align with Pantall in so far as identifying that powerful stories highlight the complexities of life, they aren’t straight forward, the are multi layered and diverse. I feel that I need not be afraid of this going forward and I need to embrace the stories from within my own community as opposed to chasing stories that are perhaps not my stories to tell.

Barthes, Roland (1980) Camera Lucida, London, Vintage.

Ritchin, F (2013) Bending the Frame, Photojournalism, Documentary and the Citizen. New York, Aperture.

Pantall, C (2020) Cultural Appropriation, Interpersonal Voyeurism, and Own Voices. Colin Pantall’s Blog. Available at Date Accessed [27th Feb 2021]

Warner, M (2019) Zed Nelson captures the debilitating effects of gentrification in Hackney. British Journal of Photography. Available at: Date Accessed [27th Feb 2021]

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