Week 2 Digital Media Prompt due Tue 2/5 by 5pm

Rubric Development and How To Evaluate Photonarratives

I’m a big believer of participant pedagogy—which is just a fancy way of saying that learner input is important! In preparation for the upcoming photographic essay assignment, please read the articles listed below. Based on your critical analysis of these articles, propose 2-3 specific characteristics that (in your opinion) should be considered when evaluating a photographic narrative.

Simply put, what specific characteristics help define a photographic narrative? And what tools might we consider using to evaluate these characteristics? Feel free to point to any scholarship presented in class by Dr Jelen, as well as other research that you have conducted.



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29 Responses to Week 2 Digital Media Prompt due Tue 2/5 by 5pm

  1. Elana says:

    I think the following characteristics really help define a photographic narrative:

    1. Connectedness- Not only does each individual photo need to tell a story if its own, but all the photographs in the photographic essay need to relate to one another in order to tell a collective, overarching story.

    2. Context- The photographs in the essay need to include context in order for the progression of the story to be clearly portrayed. This means that the viewer should be able to identify the location, time (night/day), etc.

    • dauneobrien3 says:

      I am interested in your suggestion to include ‘context’ in the development of our class rubric. Do you think the same set of rules apply to more abstract or broad narratives? For example, is it possible to tell the story of “friendship” using different locations, times of day/night, etc?

      • Elana says:

        Although unnecessary for the story-line, it is still possible to give context for abstract narratives. The context will just add extra “flavor” to the photos.

  2. Emily Schweich says:

    I’m the most amateur of photographers. I don’t have a camera with changeable lenses or a powerful zoom, and I know little about Photoshop. But ever since I got my first camera when I was eight years old, I’ve enjoyed capturing moments through photographs. For about five years when I was younger, I regularly entered my photographs in contests at the county fair.

    When I first started taking pictures, I had a regular film camera. With limited film and no opportunity to preview the picture before developing it, it was more important to carefully plan a shot. The research that I did in my pre-digital days to maximize the quality of my photographs (and thus maximize my winnings at the county fair) has given me some insight on photographic narratives and some qualities that make them effective.

    1. Leading lines help to draw the viewer’s attention to a certain subject and to keep them focused on the picture. In this photograph, (http://www.photips.com/images/examples/composition/leading-lines-bridge.jpg), the road draws the viewer’s attention under the bridge and out of the picture.
    2. The rule of thirds suggests that the frame be divided in thirds horizontally and vertically and the subject of the photograph placed at the intersection of two of these lines, as in this photograph: http://digital-photography-school.com/wp-content/images/200605022117.jpg. I don’t feel like this is a hard and fast rule that photographers need to follow, but centering a photograph is boring and predictable. Following the rule of thirds or even having an off-center subject maximizes the viewer’s interest in the photograph.
    3. The purpose of a photographic narrative is to tell a story, and candid pictures are often the most telling of all photos. Barthes mentioned in Camera Lucida that as soon as the subject of the photograph is told to pose, he or she quickly assumes a different persona, be it the person the subject thinks she or he is, the person the subject wants OTHERS to think she or he is, the person the PHOTOGRAPHER thinks the subject is, or the person the photographer wants to make use of to exhibit his or her art. In a way, posed pictures have been the norm throughout history, whether as formal family portraits, school pictures, or party shots slathered on Facebook. It’s refreshing to see a candid photograph and the true persona of the subject that shines through.

    • dauneobrien3 says:

      You raise several excellent suggestions that speak to the aesthetic quality of photographs. (I love that you have included links—thank you!) How might we think about this quality in the scheme of effective story-telling? And should this be included as part of our class rubric?

      • Emily Schweich says:

        I think that these photographic techniques are important in evaluating how the subject of a photograph is captured, which is an important aspect of photographic story-telling. Perhaps the rubric could evaluate how effectively the photographer draws the viewer in toward the subject.

  3. knkern94 says:

    When evaluating a photographic narrative, these two characteristics should be sought out:

    1) Communicative- Each photograph, all thought connected to others within the narrative, should be able to stand out on its own in purpose and story telling. The story line should be made extremely clear, otherwise confusion and misunderstanding could occur. Also, communication is important when spectators are reading through the narrative and feeling the story the author out together for them

    2) Precision- The final photographs being used in the narrative may not have been the original photograph taken. Cropping and editing, when used correctly and fairly, have become an important part of photography in our era. This goes back to helping telling the story because the smallest details of a photo that are actually most important can be made clear with editing. An author should be careful in editing though so that his story is once again not misconstrued on misinterpreted.

  4. So, in looking at these articles, two things struck me the most. It wasn’t the perfection of the photographs or the technicality, as much as the discovery of stories and the imprint of the photographer.

    1. As David Campbell alluded to in describing the storming of the Bastille, the participants didn’t know that their actions would cause what came to be know as the French Revolution. But in making sense of all the events in retrospect, a third party can connect them all into something understandable and meaningful. A photographic essayist does the same thing with images. Neil Kramer talked about discovering stories through editing- maybe you thought you were taking a picture of a beautiful woman on a street and found a picture of a homeless man that tells a better story. It’s all about the discovery.

    2. The imprint of the photographer (or organizer, if they’re not using their own pictures) is evident in any photographic essay. Whether it is intended or not, a bit of the photographer’s story is told through the photographic essay, regardless of the subject. In Neil Kramer’s photographic essay, there is a story within a story. The first time I looked through it I thought a couple of girls took a trip to the beach and took pictures of their friends. But looking through his blog, there is a much deeper story, of two people getting a second chance at love, trying to make it work despite the distance between them. That gave his photos an entirely new meaning. They weren’t always perfect photos- they were blurry, she wasn’t wearing makeup, etc, but they were rich with emotion, as any photographic essay should.

  5. alangdon93 says:

    A photographic narrative should be no different, except in medium, than a textual narrative. A narrative, ‘an account of connected events,’ usually has an exposition, conflict, climax, and resolution. When evaluating a photo Narrative, the grader, should be able to answer the very questions the second article proposes the author answer.
    1. What is the issue?
    2. What will be the events/moments?
    3. If needed, who are the characters?
    4. What is the context?
    If the evaluator can answer these questions then the photographs will have been appropriately presented by the author to connect issue/conflict, the events leading up to the conflict, and a resolution.

    Most of my support comes from the second article because the first article gives advice for the photographer to create the story, but not how to evaluate the story or narrative.

  6. joezim1994 says:

    1. Story-both these blogs seem to agree that the story itself is imperative in a photographic narrative. Often people seem to think of images as stand-alone visuals, not things that communicate something beyond themselves, but the photographic narrative demonstrates the possibility for photography to, in effect, say something as it brings the stories of individual images together into one storyline.
    2. Theme-the fact that it is a narrative means that the photographs should convey a certain message together that they would not necessarily put forward by themselves. They should complement each other and connect to a centralized idea.
    3. Plot-should the photographs in a narrative, then, also showcase other elements of storytelling? Is there plot? Conflict? A climax in a series of photographs? This may be something that is more difficult to determine and may be different case by case, but it is still something that should perhaps be considered by one compiling a photo narrative or those studying one.

  7. When figuring out what should be in a narrative, I believe two things are the most important.

    1) Each picture should in itself, tell a story. According to the first article, the picture itself is the story, and by grouping various pictures together for a narrative, each picture must be interesting enough and strong enough to stand on its own. Without this individualistic aspect of the narrative, it leaves the whole feeling unsatisfied and incomplete.

    2) The other issue that is the most important is the theme/narrative of the piece. Bringing together various photographs in order to make a narrative requires the author to think specifically about the connections between the separate pieces. If a theme or narrative is not being fruitfully accomplished, it will leave the works and the piece unfulfilled and frankly uninteresting. A fully developed narrative between the different pieces of art is the goal, and without this aspect, the photographic essay would be lost.

  8. Ross Fasman says:

    1.) Personification
    2.) Context
    (Both inspired from article 2)
    A photographic narrative can draw it’s strength from the mutual reinforcement of both text and visual. To me, the greatest opportunity to move the viewer would be to include an individual because the personification of an individual can show both the affected face and why that face was affected, which is very powerful imagery. 1.) Personification – I would answer that there does have to be a face to embody a particular story in order for the effect to be moving. To me, nobody would donate to diabetes research if there was only medical jargon associated with its dangers; a 10 year old girl, blinded from complications, along with her adorable guide dog (which is powerful because she will never be able to know how adorable) is a very powerful image that works along with sharing her life’s narrative of living with Type 1 rather than to say simply she suffers from Diabetic Neuropathy. A human face is a powerful tool that transcends words and appeals to emotions rather than a more reason-based approach.
    2.) Context- I am obviously a major advocate of context. Situational photography is powerful because of the context which the photograph occurs. An example that I provided was George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch in the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium, 2 months after 9.11. Out of context, people might be quick to dismiss the photograph because of his historically low approval ratings and his subsequent controversial policies. However, within the lens of context, the image is powerful, expressing a President that is 1.) courageous (a very dangerous situation to be that publicly subjugated) 2.) comforting (a return to normalcy of the President participating in America’s past-time) and 3.) patriotic (FDNY jacket, American flag in background, baseball field, etc.) Thus, context is imperative and henceforth, the text used to explain the underlying story can make or break the photograph.
    3.) Purpose- I am against the idea that the photograph mustn’t be “staged” in order to have effect. Photographs can be framed in order to gain an understanding of what is trying to be accomplished and portrayed; in this case, I disagree with Mitchell. Having a sense of purpose can enhance rather than detract from the photograph.

  9. I find the question of what exactly defines a narrative, besides being relevant to our discussion of imagetext, also interesting relation to other types of media. I would argue that narrative is present in every type of artistic (or journalistic) expression, from dance to film to writing. There are, I believe, certain aspects of narrative expression that should be present in all media generally, certainly and especially in photography.
    1) Juxtaposition. This could also be called comparison and contrast. In photography, when there is a difference or similarity between two types of light, foreground and background positioning, or even the items/people in the photo, gets the audience’s interest. It also leads the observer of the photograph to begin considering the differences between the two elements, and the grey area (for lack of a better term) that exists between them. I have found many photographs or other types of media bewitching because of a perceived contrast or similarity between two elements.
    2. Structure, or “staging”. Where the people or objects are in the photograph is one of the most important aspects of said photograph. An object in the far background of an photograph may interest me much more than anything else in the photograph, which then leads me to wonder why said object is not the focus of the photo. Thus, the positioning of things within the photograph leads me to create a narrative in my own head. In my opinion, the staging of a photograph is equivalent to narrative structure.

  10. Based on these articles, it seems that the most important aspects of a photographic narrative are the story and the context.
    1. Both articles stressed that it is essential for a photograph to have some kind of story behind it in order for it to have significance. This story may have a plot intentionally laid out by the photographer, or it may have been accidentally captured, by chance. It is very similar to Barthes’ punctum of the photograph; the part of the image that gives it meaning, but which can be difficult to explain what or why. This means that they can be interpreted differently, not every viewer will see the same story in one photograph, or even a story at all. While often a general consensus may be reached on which photographs successfully evoke emotion, this element can be difficult to define as it is highly subjective.
    2. The importance of context was described more in the article by David Campbell. This encompasses where and when the photograph was taken as well as its subject, all of which is much more under the control of the photographer. This is also what may be manipulated to some extent through construction and editing. Such concrete facts help to cement the story, conveying the photographer’s sense of the story behind the image. One photograph’s context cannot be better or worse than another’s, however, it may work better with the story of the photograph, thus making it more meaningful.

  11. shjones says:

    1. Message- It is essential (although post-constructionists might disagree) that a photo must convey some sort of message for a narrative. Otherwise the entire idea of the photo narrative is invalidated. The message can be anything from an advertisement (buying so-and-so will make you happy) to a story (this little girl can’t find her parents). What is key is that it must say something to the spectator. This isn’t hard to do, seeing as how spectators almost always pull something when viewing a photo.
    2. Flexibility- Building on the idea of spectator interpretation, it is important that the photo can be interpreted differently by different people, even if by just the slightest degree. A homogenous interpretation of a photograph is indeed rare, but oftentimes, the more vibrant and powerful photos elicit wildly diverse responses. This flexibility is important because without it, the photograph will never have as large of an impact.

  12. I think the most important characteristics are:

    1. Flow/Connection: Since we are using at least 10 photographs to tell our narrative, the photographs need to be connected in some sort of way. It doesn’t have to be a linear narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, but all of the photographs should be connected in some way so that the narrative flows.

    2. Able to Stand Alone: This wasn’t really mentioned in the articles because they only talked about individual pictures telling a story, but in our narratives, each photograph should be able to stand alone and tell a miniature story that is part of the bigger picture.

    • rossfasman says:

      Dearest Claire,

      I can see how the flow/connection requirement works, however, I think an interesting idea to play with would be contrast. To me, sometimes contrast helps bring out an idea more poignantly than similarity. Sometimes, in respect to similarity and flow, things get lost or just passed over. But contrast can help spark interested and engagement so I wouldn’t particularly limit ourselves to flow and connectivity.

      Your Friend Forever,


      • Thank you Ross for your reply, and I respect your opinion. What I meant by connection and flow was that all of the photographs support the overall meaning of the story, just so that there are not random photographs in the narrative. I agree that each photograph should be unique and interesting in its own way, and it can certainly bring attention to other details.

        Most Sincerely and Gratuitously,

  13. I do not photograph much and to be honest, I prefer not to photograph things because I have a hard time capturing anything that really can express what I saw. So although I don’t know much about photography, I know what I like and perhaps that is where I am getting what I think needs to be included in a photo narrative.
    For one thing it needs to accurately capture a moment or moments in time. This can mean many things. The first instinct is for people to feel something when they see the photograph. The next thing would be for a person to take what they see and begin formulating a story of their own before all of the photos are even seen. This means that the photographs evoke thought and imagination. For me, I think that is very important in telling any story, but when you are not given the flexibility of words, only the unpredictability of photographs, it is even more necessary.
    I also think that the photographs need to be connected in some way. Just as like reading a novel, events must flow and work together to eventually formulate a plot. Although there is nothing wrong with a mish mosh of different photographic pieces, it would never be considered a photographic narrative because the definition of a narrative is basically a connected series of events such as a story.

    • dauneobrien3 says:

      “The first instinct is for people to feel something when they see the photograph”— Sarah, I think you have articulated a very important aspect of story-telling. If photographs don’t elicit a reaction, what purpose do we have in telling? We then might consider: Does it matter in the scheme of photographic narration that each viewer “feels” a different emotion while looking at the same photographs?

  14. Besides the presence of actual photographs, I believe a photographic narrative should contain two basic characteristics: Order and Subjectivity.
    Order refers to a central idea, story or goal the author of the narrative purposely wishes to achieve or express. Order requires that the narrative’s parts are relevant to the author and lead to a conclusion he or she deems appropriate. With a medium such as photography, an author cannot compile a random set of photographs or textual pieces that lead to a set of possible narrative interpretations due to their vagueness. Although an author can be as creative and abstract as he or she wants, his or her work cannot be abrasive to the point it’s unrecognizable by anyone.
    At the same time, a work also needs Subjectivity. Despite the author’s intentions, his or her work must be open to varying interpretations and understandings of its narrative. It is not the author’s job to force down the observer’s throats what they are to make out of his or her work. This is too strict and systematic. Although content can be explicit in its presentation and intent, it must allow for speculative room in its thematic implications to serve justice to its own photographic aspects. Thus a photographic narrative is a piece that has to balance structured Order with perceptive Subjectivity to successfully convey a narrative through photography.

  15. shulamitshroder says:

    A photographic narrative is a picture or series of pictures that tells a story. Not all pictures tell a story, though. A photographic narrative must force its viewers to think, to wonder what is going on and to imagine the lives of the people depicted. There can be two general methods of analyzing a photographic narrative – one that focuses on the similarities between this form of storytelling and more traditional, text-based ones and one that focuses on the visual, photographic side of the equation.
    If one considers a photographic narrative to be analogous to a written story, then the same plot elements generally present in a novel should also be visible in a photographic narrative. Thus, to analyze a photographic narrative, the focus can be on the exposition, rising action, conflict, climax, and resolution. This, though, puts the viewer even more at the photographer’s mercy, depending upon him or her to define the protagonist and conflict.
    The opposite way of analyzing a photographic narrative is to delve into each picture individually and to study the techniques and decisions made by the photographer as well as to take into consideration the significance of the studium and punctum. One can examine the type of lighting used and the placement of the subjects, for example, in order to determine what the photographer was trying to say and what was really going on in the scene portrayed. Similarly, the punctum can either add to or distract attention away from the point or story arc.

  16. esrayagoub says:

    Characteristics of a photographic narrative…

    1. Ambiguity: I think that a photographic narrative should be somewhat ambiguous. I don’t think it should have a straightforward beginning, middle and end. This allows the reader to create their own story in the given framework. (Although the pictures still need to be cohesive.)

    2. Technically, no photo is insignificant, but I think in a photographic narrative the author should work hard to make sure that each photo speaks to a wide audience, Each photo should be able to tell a story of it’s own.

  17. maxinesrich says:

    For a photo to have a punctum on a wide-scale, it must have a narrative. The narrative is the story behind the photo; it is what gives intrigues the viewer. Without a narrative, a person would not be drawn into the photograph, just as a novel with a weak plot does not hold our attention. In order to create a successful narrative, I see the following characteristics as being important in a photograph.

    1. Vulnerability: This is what pricks the voyeur inside everyone. Without vulnerability in the photograph, a viewer can’t “enter” it; we cannot step into the subject’s life and peak around. Humans are curious creatures; we want to know “why” behind every event. The vulnerability in a photograph is a hint into explaining why something is. If the emotions are faked, there is no reason to be intrigued by the story. This was discussed in the Instagram article, as the blogger mentions the homeless man’s story is more enticing than that of the beautiful woman–he is perceived as more vulnerable, more raw. For me, this can be seen in the subject’s face, specifically, his or her eyes. If I can see the eyes, I can get a sense of the soul lying inside them. If I cannot, I wonder why I cannot see his or her eyes, and what this says about the subject’s situation.

    2. Personification: I particularly liked this characteristic as proposed in the second article. Simply put, humans are the viewers, and we are alive. If the subject(s) of the photo, animate or inanimate, do not come alive for us, there is no punctum., and there is certainly no story, as an object with absolutely no animation is completely static. I am not quite sure as to how this would be measured, but I feel that it may tie into the vulnerability concept I discussed above.

  18. megmck12 says:

    I have an upper respiratory infection and am currently on a cough syrup with codeine, so unfortunately I have no idea how coherent this post will be. I have lots of fantastic ideas about the criteria of narrative photography, but I’m unsure if they will be able to wiggle their way through this bronchitis-induced fog. Well here goes.

    1) These articles struck me by their focus on the subtleties of photography. The story of a photography lies in the subtle components–the smile of the girl off to the side of the main subject, or the balloon floating away from the giant ferris wheel taking up all of the photographic space. The subtleties can even be part of the subject itself; the placement of an object that makes you think it was dropped rather than placed.

    2) This leads in nicely to the second characteristic of a photographic narrative: it has to be able to define the event of the photograph, even if that photo is of a seemingly still object. The narrative needs to be able to capture a sense of active-ness. Not activity itself, necessarily, but an sense of activity, of the living moment the photo captured. Take the “hamburger on a plate”, for instance. A picture of a hamburger is common. But a picture of a hamburger with a glass in the corner, blurred and shaky so that the hands of the person across from the photographer snuck into the shot makes the spectator think of the date the photographer is on, and the nervous and giddy emotions that shook her hands as she took the shot.

  19. A photographic essay should contain many characteristics in order to get the viewers’ attention as well as their understanding. The point of a photographic narrative is to tell the audience and story of what the photographic piece is telling; the narrative of the voice for the thing that cannot physically speak. Some of their characteristics include:

    Multi-dimensional: A photographic narrative needs to have depth. In any photograph there are multiple features and elements that can be told in the narrative. As the article by David Campbell explains, in order to write a narrative, one must do a good amount of research to really accurately capture the story within the photograph(s). By doing research, the narrative will ultimately have multi-dimensions, be enticing, and real/realistic. If a narrative had one dimension, it would be less like a narrative and more like a simple statement of observance.

    Good Structural framework: The photographic narrative must also have some sort of framework around the writing. There needs to be syntax involve when thinking about how to organize the thoughts of what are included in the photo and how the context will be said in the narrative. As both articles said, there needs to be some “cropping” or “inclusion/exclusion.” The narrative needs to be smart in the way that it includes what it relevant and what is important to the photo. This would require a lot of thinking and brainstorming when writing a narrative because one would not want too much fat in their narrative but also one would not want their narrative to be to be too skinny. Therefore, the structural framework needs to be just precise enough to tell the viewer what needs to be said about the photo(s).

    Tools or strategies that might be considered when evaluating these characteristics would be to read a narrative multiple time to get the full idea of what the author was saying and think about (if any) the extra elements that were added that may have seemed redundant. One can also do their own research on the photo(s) to see if the narrative left any important facts out or if it is even accurate. The reader can also ask themselves this question in the end, “Did I just read a story with depth or did I just read a list of observations?” When thinking about this, it is possible to get a better idea of the elements a narrative.

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