Category Archives: Narrative (part 2)

Case studies for narrative inspiration – Peter Mansell

Narrative Photography

We have been guided to look at the work of Peter Mansell, Dewald Botha and Jodie Taylor as examples of the use of narrative with photography. All these practitioners are/were OCA Level 3 students; something to aspire to.

Peter Mansell

Peter had a traffic accident aged 20 and as a result he has lived most of his life with paralysis. His work focuses on how his injury has affected his life. Mansell describes how he ‘became attracted to speaking visually about things that were important to me’ (Boothroyd, S. 2014, p63) and I can see this now as being integral to using photography as ‘a means of personal expression’ (ibid, page 64). The subject has to really matter to you. It is important to have something to say, or explore. Photography can be a form of expression.


I like the idea of Mansell’s ‘table of contents’ in his work ‘Paralysis’ and the titles ‘my health’ and ‘my kit’ etc. Below is a narrative entry in the photobook ‘Paralysis’ which comes under the ‘my community’ chapter to show  related ideas and thoughts in relation to Peter’s project. I can relate to this random record of ideas as a catalyst for initiating thought and consideration of the topics raised.

Image 1  by Peter Mansell


In preparation for assignment two (photographing the unseen) I have been considering potential topics and potential ways of including narrative. Currently I am considering masculinity (and the way that gender identity is culturally determined) as a possible subject for the assignment. I have very quickly drafted a narrative idea, in the same vein as Mansell’s, for inclusion in this project if I choose to go down this route. See link below.

Masculinity narrative (random words on a page)

I am still considering this as a narrative format for my assignment but whether I include it or not, I am inspired by Mansell, as this is something that I  would like to progress further.



List of illustrations

Image 1. (, 2017)




Boothroyd, S. (2014) Narrative: Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts (2017). Blurb Books | Blurb Books UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2017].




Duane Michals ‘This Photograph is my Proof’

Duane Michals ‘This Photograph is my Proof’ (2017)b

Duane Michals is an American photographer who incorporates text in his work to add additional meaning to his images. The text is often on top of, or close by, his photographs. and is frequently hand written.

The text underneath the image adds emotion. Without the text we see a happy(ish) couple but the text tells us that this happiness was in the past and that picture proves that they were happy once, if not now.

This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself!

The image alone is contradictory to the image with text. One is happy, the other sad, but both together give the viewer a fuller picture of the circumstances. Because broken relationships are part of most people’s lives at some point we can feel sorry that theirs didn’t last. There is a melancholy and regret about the wording that appeals to empathy and leaves the viewer thoughtful. 

However, my overriding response is regarding the setting of the image and that they don’t look that happy. Perhaps Michaels wanted to portray dramatic irony where the viewer sees a different situation to the ‘subject’. The man in the image says they were happy that afternoon but the viewer remains unconvinced.

Bibliography (2017) a. Duane Michals – Artists – DC Moore Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct. 2017]. (2017) b. Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals – Museum Exhibitions – DC Moore Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct. 2017]. (2017). Duane Michals, “This Photograph Is My Proof”. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct. 2017].

Stephanie D’Hubert – Presence of Absence

What Remains

Part two of Context and Narrative,  begins, in the course binder, with a photograph by OCA student Stephanie D’Hubert. It is titled ‘Three unsmoked cigars in a box’ from Stephanie’s ‘Presence of Absence’ series.

The link below is to a short video of Sharon Boothroyd talking about Stephanie’s work and how the assignment submission was presented as much more than images and accompanying text. Images and narrative are combined and produced as  a very well executed book titled ‘What Remains’. Stephanie has taken photographs from her family collection and used them together with narrative to create a dedication to her late mother.

Sharon says that Stephanie’s use of space and text is as important as her images. Often there is a lot of blank space and this contributes to a feeling of emptiness and stillness which is complimentary to the feelings of respect and absence. Sharon considers that Stephanie’s use of text to add more to the images and to guide the viewer is very well executed. Stephanie’s narrative that says ‘three rings, the shape of her fingers’ is an example. We immediately get a sense that these rings actually belonged to someone, that they were worn and cherished by a real person. I can relate to this as I also have my late mother’s rings and can imagine her alive and wearing them. Like I can with my own mother, Stephanie’s’ images and narrative enable a stranger to similarly engage with this lady’s physicality and individuality.

This work has helped me to understand narrative further and to notice the difference between anchor and relay. Regarding Stephanie’s inclusion of her mother’s student card photograph, an anchor would probably have said something like ‘mother’s student card, age 16’. The fact that Stephanie adds the following narrative:

There is also as student card. In which she claims to have green eyes

gives the viewer an additional piece of information allowing us to engage with her mother as an individual. I can also relate this to my literature days of learning about ‘showing’ not ‘telling’. The ‘narrator’ doesn’t just say ‘my mother had green eyes’ but instead she lets us image her mother saying that she had. Again, bringing her personality to life a little for someone who never knew her.

I continue to be intrigued by the ability of photography to show ‘a portrait without a face’ and I liked the work of Hayley Leonard (Nan’s Hands, 2004) that I considered last year in Expressing your vison. See my post here

I was interested to pursue this idea further and took images in a similar vein to capture my husband’s portrait without a face, here


Please see the link below to Sharon Boothroyd’s discussion of Stephanie D’Hubert work

Roland Barthes (Death of the Author, Studium, Punctum, Anchor and Relay)

Death of the Author

Barthes’ essay ‘Death of the Author’ in 1967 suggested that far from the author being in control of any text, a text’s interpretation relies on the reader. Effectively, the reader ‘rewrites the text with every reading'(Goring, Hawthorn and Mitchell, 2006) . Barthes’ quotation that ‘the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author’ makes this complex argument a little easier to understand (ibid). The essay suggested that a reader should be less passive and should have to work harder to interpret texts.

We generally think of an author (or a photographer) as creating something original; something new. However, Barthes is suggesting that every idea is sourced from somewhere else or from something else that the author has seen or experienced before. Any practitioner is aware of previous texts and every word that s/he writes has been written before. In photography, the whole World has been photographed already.

Barthes is saying that the author become irrelevant; it is not possible to know exactly what the author intended and it is the reader that decides what a text or image means.

Camera Lucida

While researching the concept of ‘Death of the Author’ I came across this additional work by Barthes. Regarding photography, Barthes, in his book ‘Camera Lucida’, introduces two concepts:


The studium is the broad sense of what the image is about (the where, when and what, of the image). The term relates to the overall interest the photograph has for a viewer and its attractiveness regarding lighting, subject matter, composition and so on. An image of a little girl in a pretty dress eating an ice cream may be a pleasant image to attract our attention.


The punctum is distinct point of interest that jumps out at the viewer. A photograph may be perfectly ‘good’ without a punctum but it is the small unexpected detail that makes the photograph more effective and interesting. The punctum may be different for different viewers as it can be personal to the viewer depending on what resonates with him or her the most. More usually though the punctum will be obvious, the spider on the hem of the little girl’s dress etc.

Barthes was ‘sensitive to the subtle nuances of photographic visual language’ (Short, 2011) and his concepts of studium and punctum have shown me how one small detail can transform an image from something that a viewer may ‘like’ in to one that he may ‘love’.

I have recently attended the Impressions Gallery, Bradford and saw a display of images celebrating the shared history of the UK with Pakistan. I saw the image below and as I had been recently studying studium and punctum I was aware of this in this particular image. It is always good to apply my learning to images that I see. Forgive the reflection of my hand in the image.

The inclusion of the boy’s face at the right hand side was an ‘extra’ detail that was unexpected. The image would have been successful without it but it made the image more interesting. I considered this to be the punctum of the image.


Rhetoric of the Image

Sharon Boothroyd in the OCA course notes says that ‘picture essays were often printed with heavy text accompaniments, placed there to enhance the story and give extra factual information about the pictures’ (Boothroyd, 2014, p55).

Smith used text in Country Doctor such as ‘Thomas Mitchell, who has gangreen in his foot, being operated on by Dr. Ceriani’ and Campbell used text in The Dad Project when she stated ‘sitting in the garden became an event, then a days activity, and eventually a strain that he endured only to comfort us. Or was it to comfort himself? I wondered endlessly, but really there was no difference’.

Both these narratives provide additional context. Smith provides brief additional factual details such as a patients age and the medical event. When we learn the details of Thomas Mitchell’s illness and can empathise with the seriousness of the operation he is about to endure and consider the skill of the doctor as a surgeon. Campbell’s narrative is lengthier and very personal and adds feeling and emotion to the image along with a sense of time passing.

Barthes’ in his essay Rhetoric of the Image’ identified two terms that describe different ways of using narrative with photographs.


Text used as an anchor, fixes the meaning of an image so that it cannot be misinterpreted. Examples could be titles or labels.


Text used as a relay is characteristic of a post modern approach and together with the image itself provides additional information that is not found in the image alone and can change the meaning of the photograph. The image and the text each bring something to the meaning.



Boothroyd, S. (2014) Introduction: Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts

Goring, P., Hawthorn, J. and Mitchell, D. (2006). Studying literature. London: Arnold.

Short, M. (2011). Context and Narrative (Basics Creative Photography). AVA Publishing.

Postmodern narrative

Modernism and postmodernism are difficult concepts and subjects in their own right, but with having a literature background I feel (almost) on home territory. Both movements rejected previous emphasis on external realism and instead concentrated on internal consciousness.

The modernists of the first half of the twentieth century rejected the idea of ‘Victorianism’. Virginia Woolf famously said, in 1910, that ‘human character changed’ (Sutherland, 2014, p188). There was an emphasis on irrationality, the unconscious and experimentation and a concentration on techniques, such as stream of consciousness, in an attempt at making sense of the changing World.

The post modernists, after the Second World War, thought that it was impossible to be original and that everything has been done time and again; I have heard a saying that there are only about five different stories in the World and every novel is just a variation of one of these. The post modern idea was to experiment with original ideas, mix things up a bit, enjoy the messiness and be more laid back.

The course binder refers to Virginia Woolf as being experimental in challenging the traditional linear approach to prose writing. Linear narratives have a chronological time frame, they start at the beginning and have a middle and then an end. Consider Bronte’s Jane Eyre and how the protagonist’s life is followed from Gateshead Hall to Lowood School to Thornfield Hall and to Moor House as the story progresses chronologically. A non linear text challenges this by perhaps starting in the middle and perhaps using flashbacks and flash forwards, more in keeping with how people think, flitting from one idea to the next.

Virginia Woolf challenged the idea of linear narrative and experimented with the stream of consciousness technique which mimics the jumble of a character’s thoughts just as they come to mind. Her writing is by no means easy; it is certainly a challenge and in some cases I have found it impossible. It is often difficult in her novels to determine which character is speaking or whether the character is speaking, thinking or dreaming. The plots are usually not very interesting really, in that not a lot happens, but we see ‘inside’ a characters mind, how they interpret an event, what they think and so on.

I admit that I have been beaten by some of Woolf’s novels but I am so interested in Virginia Woolf that before I started this course I blogged about her, her life and works and, if you are interested you can see my blog here. Adele’s blog on Virginia Woolf. There is something about Virginia Woolf that fascinates me, my interest in her is almost tangible and I particularly enjoy learning when the paths of photography and literature merge together.

The works that we have just studied on this course (Campbell’s The Dad Project and Smith’s Country Doctor are examples of linear narrative in that they tell a story chronologically. I will look next at Robert Frank’s The Americans, as an example of a photographer who approached his series in a non linear way.

I would like to take images in a stream of consciousness format but  it feels so far from my capabilities at the moment and actually, I don’t even know what I mean yet! It is just a feeling at the moment but one I hope to articulate somehow later in my studies.


Sutherland, J. (2014). A little history of literature. Yale University Press.


Briony Campbell – photo essay, The Dad Project

Briony Campbell’s series The Dad Project is photo essay documenting the final weeks of her father’s life. Below is a link to Campbell’s project:

The images document life for Briony and her Dad through a very difficult time and shows an intimacy that we only really see within our own families. The images present a very similar situation to one that me and my husband have just lived through, with my father in law, and show an aspect of life that cannot really be explained just in words. I could tell you how we slept at the hospital, tried to get him to eat jelly, I could describe his room in the care home and the crash mats at the side of the bed, but without images, it relies on someone to have had a similar experience to really empathise.

I also took a photograph of my father in law, about two weeks before he died. It is funny that I also wanted to capture a last image of him. I had an urgent feeling that I would be glad that I had taken it, especially for my husband’s sake.

For my analysis of this project and Smith’s Country Doctor please see this post where I compare the two projects.


Eugene Smith – photo essay, Country Doctor

Eugene Smith

Country Doctor 1948

Eugene Smith’s photo essay for LIFE magazine; Country Doctor, tells the story of the day to day life of a doctor (Dr Ernest Ceriani) in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA, over a period of about three weeks. See links below:

Country Doctor 1948

Smith’s photo essay shown in Life magazine

Eugene Smith’s at times almost unsettlingly intimate pictures illustrate in poignant detail the challenges faced by a modest, tireless rural physician – and gradually reveal the inner workings and the outer trappings of what is clearly a uniquely rewarding life. (, 2017)

There is something engaging about real life and other people’s lives. I suppose that is why our current celebrity culture is huge business. The same goes for other people’s homes, and photographs/television series that depict palatial homes, dirty homes, unusual homes etc. are all very interesting. We like to know how other people live and what their lives are like. Smith’s series, Country Doctor is no exception. We especially like to know about ‘different’ lives so doctors, royals, famous people, wealthy people, homeless people, are all intriguing as they are all different to our own. Where would Facebook be without our curiosity about other people’s lives?

“Country Doctor” was an instant classic when first published, establishing Smith as a master of the uniquely commanding young art form of the photo essay, and solidifying his stature as one of the most passionate and influential photojournalists of the 20th century. (, 2017)

Smith’s series shows the breadth of the work carried out by the country doctor and served to highlight the shortage of GPs working in such localities. For a fuller analysis of Smith’s series, see my post on the comparison of Smith’s Country Doctor with Campbell’s The Dad Project.

Bibliography (2017). W Eugene Smith ‘Country Doctor’ Life magazine-Kremmling Colorado- 1948- Slightly out of Focus. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Sep. 2017]. (2017). W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Portrait: ‘Country Doctor’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].