Lecture series for 152MC

Nashville and narrative:

The main aspect of this lecture was to look at these points:

  • Why narrative matters
  • What music of the American south can teach us
  • Geo and socio-location
  • Narrative structures, tools and techniques
  • Narrative and the photo book

Why narrative matters:

  • We have to be interested this module
  • We will generally add a narrative to everyday life and memories
  • Heider and Simmel, 1944 experiment, we give narratives to things that don’t necessarily have them, we like the structure and like to know what is going on
  • Narratives help us remember
  • We like to have the opportunity or option to finish/create our own narrative
  • Narratives keep us engaged
  • No real reason we are so interested, almost crave it, why are we so interested in stories and narratives?
  • It brings people together
  • Want to be with the story teller, someone who is engaging- Sexual selection- Darwin
  • Listening to stories is a way of testing our brains and keeping them active- Cognitive play- Brain Boyd, we are wondering what we would do, imagining the characters etc.
  • Collective experience
  • Psychology of the narrative- as children
  • Surrounded by narrative in life- music, adverts, memories, books, photography etc.
  • Ads- want you to get interested in the ad before they advertise the company, makes you remember
  • Stories suggest something is fictional- not always true, we all tell stories

What music of the American South can teach us:

  • Country, bluegrass, folk, Appalachian folk, Cajun, Country blues, honky-tonk etc.

Geo and socio-location:

  • Popularity, social standings, leisure’s, news, wages, fashion, working conditions, expectations, landscapes, normalities, morals, attitudes, industry, immigration, influence, politics, styles, relationships


  • Passive as we read songs, songs tell us how to feel as you are listening
  • They are quite literal- not much room for interpretation
  • Within the photobook the audience isn’t as narrative- control, time, active mind, can take as long as you want to read this book
  • Photobook more interpretations can be done
  • A bigger role is given to the audience
  • War and peace- Jonathan Gotschal says- not literally told that the captain is sad, you read between the lines

We also read the lyrics to 4 songs: Tammy Wynette- Stand by Your Man (1968), Martina McBride- Independence Day (1993) Tim McGraw- Don’t Take the Girl (1994) and Louvin Brothers- Knoxville Girl (1956: previous recordings)

All of these songs:

  • Set the scene in the first line or verse
  • All young, establishing people
  • You can make your own narrative from the beginning- may be an interesting project/thought
  • Haven’t reached the main interest point at the beginning
  • Are normal lives, and what interests the audience at that period of time
  • 2nd part of the songs- whats going to happen- no longer normal, something is changing
  • 3rd part- action, characters trying to restore normality
  • Ending- end of the timeline and clearly an end point, distant from the rest of the song and dismissive, acceptance of what has happened
  • They all seem to loop, everyday is normal again at the end
  • Passive as we read
  • The movement of the songs tell us how to feel, especially when you are listening to them

Comparison with the Photobook:

  • A photobook isn’t as passive: control, time, active mind
  • Songs= literal, there isn’t as much room for interpretation whereas there is plenty in a photobook, it can even be revisited
  • A photobook plays a bigger role to the audience and may have a stronger underlying message

Tzveton Todorov:

  • Equilibrium (normality)
  • A disruption to the equilibrium
  • A recognition of this disruption
  • An attempt to restore the equilibrium
  • A restored/ new equilibrium (normally a new normality at the end)
  • This is applied to films, music books and more.

War and peace:

Jonathon Gotschal says how do you know that Captain Denisov is sad? You don’t and it is never mentioned in the book but you read between the lines and almost create your own narrative for it. Books etc. don’t need to be literal and this applied to photobooks. The narrative that you create or use within a photobook doesn’t have to be a literally step by step story, it is in our nature to read between the lines and make up and add little bits for it to make sense.

Techniques that are used within the songs:

  • Repetition of one line, word or phrase- this could emphasise a thing or place of importance
  • Links to current state of the US for example high domestic violence in 30s/40s, woman importance in a relationship- song subject matter
  • Reflecting the place within the music and other songs too
  • Feelings are reflected within the songs and lyrics
  • Simple narratives- telling you whats happening, not too confusing
  • Recalling events
  • Not massive jumps
  • Chronological order
  • Comparisons of two songs allows comparisons of the subject matter, how things have changed over a time period, different messages are portrayed and attitudes have changed
  • The lyrics within a song reflect the attitudes
  • Looped structure, end related back to the start- open to interpretation

What have I learnt from this lecture?

From this lecture I have learnt a lot about narratives, not only in songs but relating it to photobooks as well. You don’t need to stick to ways of working that have already been seen, was that we think make sense. It is our narrative and we can tell it the way we want to, it doesn’t have to be strong to carry itself and there isn’t one method to create a narrative within any book, to just photobooks. As the audience we fill in any gaps that have been left, either with our own interpretation or the intended narrative, the reader will generally make their own story and have their own interpretation and that is ok. We are giving ownership to the reader, this makes it more personal.


  • Separation of something into atoms and smaller particles- scientifically
  • Photography- the splitting of media
  • For example- buying separate tracks rather than an album- shuffle, making your own playlists= atomisation of the media
  • Something is crafted as an album but can they be and are split by different people- not always the person who has made it, does this give some rights to the audience?
  • Things started as a body of work- split up into separate parts that can be purchased
  • Photo book- reviews, Google image searches, buying prints, images taken out of context- split up into finer particles
  • Try and see the body of work as a whole if researching things
  • Breaking up a big blog post or news website and putting it in smaller parts, open to misinterpretation
  • Hyper text, enables you to embed objects into other places
  • HYPERTEXT- the enabler
  • Changes the way we are able to make and read narratives
  • Don’t just concentrate on photography

How are we affected as makers?

Are we empowered as makers? Are we getting closer to the role of curators?

  • People pick and chose what they see
  • We are empowered choosing what to show but maybe not we intended
  • Allows us to be stronger- don’t depend on all the images- images need to be strong on there
  • Images have to be strong enough to stand on their own, works the same with songs within an album
  • Image makers might want to reflect the body of work within a whole image
  • Just see what people are sharing, the message might be lost/focused on the wrong thing due to the message being split along with the images
  • Wider population will see your work- due to hyper links- its not a specific or exclusive space such as a magazine anymore
  • More people are seeing the work but the message isn’t necessarily re-laid correctly
  • Are the audience now the curator? We curate the work as a whole- the body of work, but the audience re-edit when choosing what work to view
  • Being aware of atomisation we may be able to control it
  • Is social media a barrier? Not getting the whole message, is it now distorted?
  • Not given a book in person, its all online and through media
  • Media- a quick flick through things, don’t take as much time as you could
  • Things aren’t seen or heard in the manner they were expected
  • Might start to make images that can stand on their own, they all need to be strong- different audiences and different styles of reading
  • Might produce more types- exhibitions, books, videos etc.
  • Are we dumming down our work or just trying to control the message?
  • Ownership and authorship? Who owns the work if it is re-edited to peoples own interest?
  • Links to related items, maybe more of your work will be seen

How are we affected as consumers?

Are we empowered? What role does attention play? Are we getting closer to the role of makers?

  • Not as much pressure in terms as investment
  • Can choose what we want to buy
  • Listen/see/read individual bits
  • May not get the whole message but getting the part you are interested in
  • May miss out on certain parts without realising
  • Harder to get the body of work as a whole now
  • Good marketing strategy- strong images likely to be seen by people who wouldn’t originally see it, leading them to look at the body of work

How could this impact on our photo books?

Are the audience ready for fragmented narratives? Establishing control over reading or allowing interpretation?

  • A photo book should have a sequence, why separate it? Each page should link a flow
  • Information will be received differently- not how the photographer intended
  • The work could be interpreted and seen in a new way, this may not make sense, or may make a new sense- this isn’t always a bad thing
  • New opinions and points of views can be good!
  • Shuffle isn’t a bad thing- same thing in a sense
  • With sensitive material the message could be destroyed and the meaning can be changed, the photographer will still be associated, bad light

From this lecture I have learnt more about how to put a photobook together in the sense of how the audience is going to receive it. By thinking further into this will determine how successful my book or separate works are going to be. I have to think a lot about each image and what story they tell on their own as they may be seen out of context and without the rest of the series. I have also learnt that the audience is a very important factor when thinking about my book, they will determine how successful it is and in some cases even how it will be seen.

The object: the book:

  • Photograph- a physical object, the image- what it contains
  • The artefact as an object
  • We are creating a physical photobook
  • Originality, unique- copies aren’t the same, or worth the same, maybe not to others, but definitely to the person, precious objects
  • Patek Philippe- ‘you never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.’ Made as a precious item- not selling the object but selling the story and what it is worth to you and your family
  • Provenance- embed a story, and a life time in the object, where something comes from, the meaning behind the object, tied to the moment and feelings
  • Built in obsolescence and throwaway culture- we don’t have many precious items, certainly not with a digital artefact- accept it has a lifespan of a few years- these are all copy able
  • Photography- unique images on plates, negatives, prints, polaroid
  • Photography has been digitalised, you don’t have to have an object or an artefact- a choice you make to make and object
  • Destroying something that is physical is much harder than to delete a file
  • Physical objects- we think about flaws, the occupied space, its bulky, expensive and takes time to produce and money to distribute- only performs one function and cant be updated
  • Those flaws may be what makes the object more valuable
  • You trust a physical book more- been through the printing and publishing process, takes so much to bring it into existence, it has to be right
  • Everyone publishes online (twitter, Facebook, blog etc.)- The idea that your work could take a physical form gives credibility- resources and money, embed this- translating from a free and easy medium
  • ‘They become my property and my passion.’- Jean Baudrillard
  • Naked bound- Douglas Stockdale
  • A head with wings 2011- Jorg Colberg
  • Book- sense of permanence, together, bound, intimate, personal experience, compact, order, pages
  • ‘A book is a sequence of spaces. Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment- a book is also a sequence of moments. A book is not a case of words, nor a bag of words, nor a bearer of words.’- Ulises Carrion
  • Time based mediums
  • Try breaking the standard form, it doesn’t have to be like that, doesn’t have to have the same sequence every time, doesn’t have to be rectangle

The Photobook: a guide

  • Embodiment: the digital copy is without body, free copy can be easily seen on a screen, and maybe you want a bigger screen at high res? Maybe in 3d?
  • Getting more intricate and intimate designs, not just photobooks- nice to own, spent your money well
  • If you are going to buy a book, the physical copy, it needs to be something you want to own, something special
  • Because of this the paper back may well die out, due to the internet, kindle, PDF’s
  • Photographic world we are a part of
  • LE photobook fest
  • NY art book fair
  • Kassel photobook
  • Vancouver book market
  • Whitechapel- London book fair
  • Aperture photobook review
  • Paris photo- aperture prize
  • MACK dummy prize
  • Box of dummy’s
  • Parr/Badger History of photobooks
  • Offprint Paris
  • The form of the book book
  • Offprint Amsterdam
  • Unseen Amsterdam
  • Recent- 5-10 years, most of the above, all about the photobook
  • Why the photobook?
  • Time
  • Space
  • Provenance
  • Structure
  • Relationships
  • Memory
  • Time based medium
  • Going through in an order, even if its not the intended order
  • Galleries, films, online exhibitions, portfolios, artefacts, all different, we lose the images in time and they only remain in our minds
  • Humans like narratives
  • Dick Higgins- ‘a book done for its own sake and not for the information it contains’ ‘it is a work. Its design and format reflect its content’
  • Alex Sweetman- ‘photobookworks are a function of the inter-relationship between two factors: the power of the single photo…’
  • Alex Sweetman -The photobookwork, then, is a series of images- that is a tightly knit well edited organised or set of images in a linear sequence…’
  • Collections and portfolios fall short of a photobook, not compilations, BODYS OF WORK
  • Horizons (Hans-Georg Gadamer) 2 horizons, 1 belongs to the audience and the other to the author/director etc.
  • Our horizon/perspective is shaped by context knowledge, opinions, shaped by everything we have done in life, where we were brought up, outlook on life, family etc.
  • Goal as an author: make them understand your perspective, make the horizons meet, let someone see through your eyes
  • All our choices must reinforce the communication of our message or theme- book making, image making, type of book, sequencing etc.
  • Our choices must suit the work, and support it, dot be gimmicky or do what everyone is doing
  • Alec Soth- Broken Manual- look at book hidden within a hard back book
  • The sunset strip- Ed Rushca- book style- accordion
  • A criminal investigation- book

Sequencing a photobook/ making a brownie:

  • Comparison of the two- need ingredients, need instructions- a timeline essentially
  • Alex Sweetman- the art her is the single image not the expressive action of the whole
  • Personal preference- optional things, need to know about your audience, make something they want to read
  • Think back to other combinations, if you like them try it out here
  • You know these things from experience, by practising and trying out different options, you are then able to make better and better photobooks
  • Tasting the food- looking through the photobook, constantly checking, showing people, reflecting
  • You would be eating at other peoples restaurant- look at as much work as you can, other photobooks
  • Sequencing the photobook is not a science its an art- Gerry Badger
  • Disagree somewhere in between the science and art
  • Reading photobooks, reading books, watching films- all will help with making photobooks- similar mediums

Narrative structure:

  • Flats, arcs, clusters and scatters


  • Flats may be unlikely to contain a narrative
  • Flats- order is dictated by the subject, maybe listed by a location, date taken, subjects name etc.
  • A useful starting point
  • Often displays images on a predetermined categorisation or organised structure- for example a timeline


  • Arc, follows the narrative of Nashville songs- normality, disruption of normality, trying to get normality back, and new normality or the old normality
  • Must remember that the reader has speed control and may be an active reader- need to allow room for interpretation and thought- don’t spoon feed


  • Cluster used to break up huge photo project, maybe more than one book
  • Allows different themes or spaces to be explored in different sections of the book- although there will be a similar narrative


  • Most difficult to get your head around, make and read
  • Unrelated? Unconnected?
  • Viewers are active and actively looking for connections- look for clues, could be a title, question, essay, introduction or something else to give a connection and tie this work together
  • Can be very successful, when we find the meaning yourself we remember and like, more appreciative
  • Often needs a motif or theme to hold it together
  • More often than not a photobook will be a combination of more than one style, a flat scatter? A cluster is a narrative arc?
  • Alec Soth- everything he makes provides a big body of work and narrative- all of his work


  • ‘The reader carrying some memory of an earlier image’- Stephen bury
  • This helps with narrative, remembering characters, places etc.
  • When we put two images together we create a new one – Alex and valentine- Akina books
  • Same thing applied with 30 odd images in a book, given a new meaning
  • Lev Kuleshov- the Kuleshov effect- a breakthrough in cinema highlighting the power of edit, subtle acting, same footage of man, but seeing the pairings the audience makes the connection and link the two together, we embed the emotions and create a new meaning
  • Memory and active reading- very important in the photobook
  • ‘The space in between the images becomes equally important as the images themselves… This is because a phenomenon known in a typography as colour’

Rhythm, flow, rests:

  • Think about the amount of images, white space, and blank pages? Do you need to give a rest?
  • How can we inject extra information with images, text, blank pages
  • Astronomical- Mishka Henner, several books, series, 12
  • Don’t have to lay out onto a base colour of white- invisible city
  • Surprise/ monotony
  • Jane Hiltons, dead evil trail, always photographed with a white border, landscape every now and then cutting over the gutter, shows the importance of the landscape and the confinement of the other images, big statement just breaking the border by a little


  • Jane Hiltons, dead evil trail- window and the way the cowboys have brought the outside in
  • Will I use a motif I my book? Things coming up again and again?


  • Text helps us think, and link things together
  • Changes images
  • Celebrity- thermal images from madam tuesaudes

Where to begin?

  • Audience applicable
  • Put everything together, don’t group them too much
  • Don’t throw any images away
  • What am I trying to say?
  • Make pairings and small sequences
  • What structure do you want?
  • Include blank pages, get an idea of rhythm