Assignment 3 – David Campbell

What a great lecture! I had already started thinking about what to do for this assignment, but have to say that Campbell’s ideas on narratives and the impact of photography have given me more inspiration and ideas to go ahead.

Campbell starts by quoting Tod Papageorge: ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t reading enough’, which stresses the necessity to understand the issues and context of a subject before it is being recorded.

By researching the context of a certain subject you become aware of the context in which the narrative takes place, you locate ‘particular moments and places in relation to other moments and places’. In order to make a connection between time, the issue and the story, it is of utmost importance to ask fundamental questions of the context of the issues that the photographer is trying to portray.

Campbell makes a clear distinction between what happens and the event that is narrated about it afterwards. Because this narrative is always dependent on and understood through narration, one always has to question the nature of reality, truth and objectivity. Important parts of a event always come are always defined after it has happened by the narration of the event.

‘Narration is a set of practices of mediation that make events and issues appear to us, because it locates them into stories’  As documentary photographers, we are involved in constructing these stories, so it is of vital importance that we do proper research, since there will be massive differences in perspectives and clashes of information. It is impossible to produce a fully informed narrative, so we have to be aware of the choices that are made in who is giving the information, in which context does the issue or event take place and how will this be interpreted by the audience. Campbell quotes Hayden White: ‘When you have a particular narrative, applied to something, there are limits in how to tell it and you find out what those challenges are.’

Even though there is no such thing as an objective, complete narrative, it does carry power, because narratives ‘offer a sense of coherence and purpose, even though life itself doesn’t have that’. We are aware of the simplification of the issues that we address, the ability to reduce complicated matters into understandable, visual stories feeds our desire of comprehension and understanding.

So, fully aware of its limits, we have to make sure our narratives are put in a context that we understand, since the narrative is linked to other things in time and space, themes, assumptions etc. The inclusion and exclusion of these elements is obvious and has to be done as considerate as possible.

Campbell continues with a brief description of the classic narrative.

  1. Sense of time, linear or non-linear with recollections, time shifts
  2. It has characters who drive the story
  3. Arch, an event or issue
  4. Sense of space (referral, suggestions)
  5. Sense of drama
  6. Clausality
  7. Moments of personification

A narrative shows traces and the embodiment of the overarching event or issue in people, places, location and other aspects. The theme is not what you come across and see. In the narration you place the individual in its context.

Every narrative has a particular structure

  1. moments of revelation
  2. moments of conflict
  3. resolution or not

The key moves to highlight this structure is to introduce a location, a face, an individual story, context and challenge the way on how to deliver the story. Focus on what you really want to tell and know this beforehand!

From this Campbell touches the idea of the power of a photography and responsibility of the photographer. He claims that the use of images in stories have established its power, questioning the actual influence of the photograph on the event itself. Photographs don’t change the world. However, Campbell does mention the work of Bleasdale and Watriss and the way their work and work ethics did influence the subject matter.



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