Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Assignment 5: Applying the techniques of illustration and narrative

7 Comments

Brief:

In this final assignment imagine that you are about to illustrate a story for a magazine. You have a cover to illustrate, and several pages inside (create between 6 and 12 images – you can choose). Even though there may be no text, you should write captions (of any length) to explain and link each picture.

Submissions:

Please note that this post includes three images that were updated based on tutor feedback, so this is the final version of this assignment. For reference, the images replaced are both noted inline below and included in before and after versions in this explanatory post.

Small versions below for online viewing. Larger versions and contact sheet in a downloadable zip file.

UPDATEtutor report uploaded.

Thumbnails of the images as laid out in magazine style are below – please click on the first image to start a full-screen slideshow.  A separate PDF version can be opened in a new browser tab/window if preferable.

I chose as my theme the annual Nice Carnival, in particular the main parade that takes place just before the end of the carnival fortnight. I envisaged the output to be an 8-page photo supplement of the type one may find in an issue of a magazine.

Please take a look at the images in this photo-story format before reading the page-by-page analysis below, to avoid being overly influenced by knowing my intentions!

Nice Carnival 2014

Rationale and intentions:

Overall, the messages I wanted to get across – or more correctly described, the emotions I wanted to evoke – were the senses of joyawe and interaction that the carnival embodies. These are the emotions that one feels when there at the time, and I wanted to get across the sensations of being there from beginning to end – from the anticipation, through the building up of the scale of the event, then focusing on human interactions, and finally the ‘back down to earth’ feeling of the carnival leaving town.

I wanted to highlight the different behaviours of people – both the performers and the crowd – out of their normal daily context, ‘letting their hair down’. Specifically, I wanted to evoke the feeling of the performers and the crowd starting off as two separate entities, but ultimately coming together such that everyone is a participant in one way or another, and the boundaries between performer and spectator get blurred.

In terms of specific selection and sequencing, I paid attention to eyelines. I felt that these helped to support the underlying element of interaction that I was trying to show. I have noted below where this is evident.

Cover:

Cover

1. Cover (without magazine text overlay)

  • My fundamental intention for the cover image was to illustrate the concept of ‘joy’ and I consider the universal symbol of happiness to be the smile! So I wanted a smiling face
  • However: I wasn’t happy with the shots of smiling (human) faces taken at the time of shooting, as the backgrounds were too distracting and I had to fall back on cropping one of the giant figure shots that I used as an inside image – with a clean blue background
  • Once I’d found my cover image, my aim was to disguise the scale of the figure, so that it wasn’t clear whether this was a doll, a life-sized figure or (as was the case) a giant carnival character towering over nearby buildings… I wanted to give an indication of the contents but add a tiny bit of intrigue
  • This image helps to establish a strong, vibrant colour palette from the start, which suits the subject matter and is carried throughout the series

Pages 2-3:

Arriving

2. Here they come! The floats start arriving down the Promenade des Anglais, not yet fully assembled [note: reworked image, original here]

Waiting

3. The crowds line the promenade, getting in the mood with their colourful costumes and wigs

Dancer

4. Bring on the dancing girls! In between the parade floats are troupes of dancers and marching bands

05 Cup - replacement

5. Very French – giant dancing coffee cups! [note: replacement image, original here]

Acrobat

6. One of the many daring street acrobats [note: reworked image, original here]

  • The intention here was to start to build up the event, with an element of anticipation – the floats starting to arrive, the crowd lining the streets…
  • … then picking out details of the performers and the floats themselves, denoting that the event had properly started
  • Performers and audience stay separated at this stage; I wanted part of the narrative to be the coming together of the carnival folk and their spectators, as the unfolding interaction is a big part of the experience; in the end we are all participants
  • Eyelines, page 2: the bent over figure top-left looks down to the waiting crowd, who in turn look to the performers on the right hand page
  • Eyelines, page 3: the triangle of the dancer’s costume points down to the acrobat, who looks up at the queen, who in turn looks up at the dancer – forming an implied triangle

Pages 4-5:

Flower Queen

7. Catch! Following one of the major carnival traditions, the ‘queens’ of the flower parade floats throw out armfuls of mimosa for the crowd to catch, in what is known as the “Battle of the Flowers”

  • Here I wanted to give a feel for the scale of the event, and start to introduce the element of interaction between performers and audience
  • In the magazine layout format I chose a single large image, like a centrefold pull-out poster, bleeding right to the edge of the page and with the caption inset rather than underneath
  • The left-to-right dynamism and the motion implied by the thrown flowers gives the impression of both action and (in conjunction with the explanatory caption) interaction
  • Eyeline: the flower queen gazes diagonally down into the space where the viewer can imagine the crowd being – implied by the angle of the hand and the trajectory of the thrown flowers

Pages 6-7:

Parade

8. The 2014 carnival parade in full swing in the main city square, Place Massena – this year’s theme: food!

Serene Head

9. One of the more serene giant head figures gets in close with the audience

Face Within Face

10. An occupational hazard of being a performer: silly string attacks!

  • The idea on this pair of pages is to show the carnival parade in full swing, and in particular the interaction of the performers and the crowd, which is an integral part of the experience
  • The first image juxtaposes the giant figure of the gingerbread man with the throng below; prior images have either depicted the performers or the audience, so the point of this image is to unite them and to give a sense of the huge scale of the spectacle
  • The image below this also depicts the performers in conjunction with the audience, but in this case a one-on-one encounter – this juxtaposes with the gigantic scale of the photo above
  • The opposite page zooms in on the face-hole in the front of one of the giant carnival figures… to see the ‘man behind the mask’; I also wanted to include an ‘evidence of action’-type shot, in this case showing the aftermath of a silly string attack (also showing evidence of interaction between crowd and performers)
  • As well as showing evidence of action, the mass of silly string caking this and the previous image indicate the passage of time, which should further aid the sense of moving through the narrative
  • Eyelines, page 6: the giant gingerbread man’s eyes look down towards the crowd, supporting the juxtaposition of scale, while the lower image has a very obvious diagonal two-way eyeline between the giant head and the spectator

Page 8:

Confetti

11. The parade is over, the crowds disperse. There’s ticker tape and confetti everywhere!

Leaving

12. And now it’s all over for another year, and the giant decorated floats go back from whence they came…

  • For the remaining images I needed to show the carnival parade finishing up, to conclude the narrative
  • The top image shows empty seats and a thinning out crowd in the background, but still focuses on the ‘fun’ aspect of the carnival, as the crowd starts throwing the remnants of the ticker tape and confetti around
  • The feeling I wanted to evoke here was the sense of ‘not wanting it to end’
  • The closing image acts as a counterpart to the opening one; a shot of a float moving away from the camera; the solitary (and unexcited-looking) worker sat on the back seemed to sum up for me the sense that: it’s over – back to reality
  • I slightly dialled down the saturation on this last shot as a subtle signifier of the ‘back to reality’ feeling

I hope that the images and my intentions did match, to at least some degree. I worked hard at the pre-visualisation and the subsequent selection and sequencing to tease out the narrative arc in the series.

Self-evaluation:

I found this assignment more enjoyable than the last couple, not simply because I was interested more in the subject matter (having visited the carnival a dozen or so times, it’s a true highlight of my year), but also that I found it to be more of a stimulating creative and intellectual challenge. Whilst the shots were taken over a relatively short space of time, there was much more preparation and pre-visualisation than in the previous assignments, and following shooting, lots of selection, structural and sequencing work to mould the images into the shape of the narrative I was seeking to project. I enjoyed this aspect of the assignment more than I expected to; it showed me that there is more to photography than just taking the pictures.

Evaluating my submission against the Assessment Criteria:

  • Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:
    • I am largely happy with the technical execution of the images (with one notable exception, see below) – there were some challenges with low direct sunlight for much of the shooting time, but I am happy that I worked around these and/or selected the images that minimised the risk
    • The bright daylight meant that I could work with low ISO and fast shutter speed for the majority of the images, keeping them nice and sharp – except in cases of deliberate depth-of-field decisions (pictures 4, 6 and 9)
    • The cover image: I kicked myself after the event that I hadn’t taken more close-up images of smiling faces to choose from; there was one smile image that I originally intended to work with, but I ended up rejecting it due to the messy background – leaving me with the need to select a fallback shot… which ended up being a crop from a larger torso-length image as I’d neglected to take a facial close-up [moral: if you know you can’t go reshoot – always have a backup shot]
  • Quality of Outcome:
    • I am happy with the quality of the overall outcome on what I believe are the three significant levels: first, in terms of individual images selected; second, in terms of the relative positioning of images to form elements of the narrative when seen together on the page; and third, how the whole collection hangs together as a coherent piece
    • I put a lot of thought and effort into how the images would be presented in a published layout, and it was important to me to actually see through the visual mockup aspect of the exercise (see below) so that I could produce the best presentation I am capable of – I was as fussy about (and as pleased with) the magazine-format PDF of the whole piece as I was about the 12 individual photographic images
    • I believe that in this assignment more than any of the others, my communication of an idea (message, mood, emotion) was both more considered and ultimately more successful
    • Regarding the application of knowledge, I am satisfied that the outcomes demonstrate the learnings of this section; I feel that the outcomes are superior to the ‘dry run’ exercises on similar themes that I did in the run-up to the assignment itself
    • I was mindful to ensure that the learnings of the first four sections of the course weren’t neglected; I paid attention to framing and composition, to geometry and graphical elements – lines, shapes, primary and secondary points of interest, where the eye moves around the frame and so on – to colour combinations and to the use of light and shadow
  • Demonstration of Creativity:
    • I was very conscious of the need for creative subject and composition choices in this situation, lest the series end up just looking like a set of tourist snapshots – and so I hope I succeeded in finding the more interesting ‘ways of seeing’, especially in the detail shots (4, 9 and 10)
    • In terms of narrative creativity, I was interested in using my own experience of previous carnivals to guide the unfolding story arc, and to me the interesting part of the event is how the performers interact with the crowd, and how the parade starts off as more of a one-way spectacle (with spectators behind barriers) but once into the main square, descends into a mass of performers and spectators mingling together (photo 8) so that you really feel part of the carnival and not simply a watcher… whether this comes across to the uninformed viewer sufficiently is the measure of how successful I have been in this narrative creativity, but from my point of view I feel that I was at least thinking creatively in this respect!
    • This was the first assignment that had me printing out, folding, cutting and repositioning bits of paper to mock up the visual representation – starting with post-it notes before I’d even finished selecting images – so that I could get a real physical feel for how the end result would hang together coherently… for the first time on this course I felt that I was being ‘creative’ in the most traditional ‘arts-and-crafts’ sense rather than just moving pixels around!
    • In terms of how much this represents any evolution of my ‘personal photographic voice’, I remain unsure – I know which of my images I prefer, and what these have in common (I am attracted to shape-centric compositions – the semicircle in 2, the triangle in 4, the lines around the eye in 6, the implied triangles in 7, the concentric circles in 10) but to what degree this is ‘my style’ I feel unqualified to say at the moment… I’m not aware of much that is particularly distinctive in terms of either aesthetic style or a ‘way of seeing the world’
  • Context:
    • As previously noted, I spent quite a bit of preparation time on research, first on photo essays generally (using an amalgam of various online lists of ‘key shots’ that make for an interesting narrative) and secondly on a couple of respected examples: Martin Parr’s ‘The Last Resort’ [1] and Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ [2] and while the influence from either may not be at all obvious, I did find them very insightful and useful at the planning stage
    • In addition, I found the ‘Stories’ chapter in John Berger’s ‘Understanding a Photograph’ [3] to be very enlightening in a more philosophical way, in terms of how images relate to each other as fragments of a story, and how the connections between them are, in part, made by the viewer
    • I wrote a few posts detailing my preparation and post-shooting work: starting with a general preparation piece, followed by a shooting list post, then a post at the end of each of the first and second shooting days, followed by a detailed explanation of my workflow – how I selected, structured and sequenced the images
    • As ever, I found the experiences and outputs of other students on this assignment, and the contact of my ‘virtual classmates’ on the same section, to be invaluable in helping me feel more able to tackle the challenge ahead, and to inspire me to do as well as, or better than, what has gone before me

To summarise: this has probably been my favourite assignment, and the one of which I am most proud. Between the start of AOP and this assignment, I have learned a lot, and believe that I have applied what I have learned, and demonstrated an improvement in my photographic skills and outcomes.

References:

1. Parr, M. 2012. The last resort. Stockport: Dewi Lewis
2. Frank, R. 2008. The Americans. Gottingen, Germany: Steidl
3. Berger, J. 2013. Understanding a photograph. London: Penguin Classics

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7 thoughts on “Assignment 5: Applying the techniques of illustration and narrative

  1. Wow, what a great assignment! Hope you’re really proud – a great set of images and it sounds like you enjoyed doing it too. I can’t believe you’ve finished TAOP already – what are you going to do next?

  2. Hi Rob – its been fascinating reading your build up over the weeks for the main shoot and you’ve proven it was very well worth it. The photos emphatically do not look like snapshots and you can tell you really loved this assignment. It helped to look at the PDF version too so I will pinch this idea if you don’t mind. Very well done indeed and a great achievement. Good luck with your next course and I’ll watch your development with interest.

    • Thank you for your kind words! Yes, I did enjoy the assignment actually, more than the others. Not just the shooting but the pre- and post-work too. I needed to do the PDF thing for myself if nothing else, to actually see them laid out… it’s not my original idea, I have seen other students do the same kind of thing :-)

  3. Hi Rob
    Excellent result. Particularly like the front cover, it has a Hitchcock type of threatening presence.

    Mal

  4. Pingback: Assignment 2: initial preparation | People & Place

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