The Narrative And The Photograph
“The greatest ride in my life was about to come up, a truck, with a flatboard at the back, with about six or seven boys sprawled out on it, and the drivers, two young blond farmers from Minnesota, were picking up every single soul they found on the road — the most smiling, cheerful couple of handsome bumpkins you could ever wish to see, both wearing cotton shirts and overalls, nothing else; both thick wristed and earnest, with broad howareyou smiles for anybody and anything that came across their path.” And so begins Jack Kerouac’s description of his ride from Gothenburg to Cheyenne in the summer of ’47 on his way to Denver in my all-time favorite “On The Road”. The two farmers and some of the characters riding with him — Montana Slim and Mississippi Gene, the stop in North Platte, the truck zooming over the plains and through the crossroads towns at night with the stars so pure and bright in the thin air and no trees obstructing low-level stars anywhere.
This always was and always will be one of my favorite pieces of writing because it made me feel a certain way. It conveyed the feeling of adventurous travel, of meeting real characters and feeling so darn alive doing all that. Just as I had felt on my travels. And all this left an image in my head. Then take any image you like, I for one happened to think for example of Walker Evans’ picture of a roadside stand near Birmingham, Alabama from 1936. There is a mood, there are stories. I think about the five-digit phone number of F. M. Pointer, about the boys out front and the girl inside the store and even the woman (which in my story is the mother) coming from the house behind the stand. What they offer and how sad the fish painted above the door looks. And then there are more details, thoughts, and feelings that make these stories mine.
The average human has about 60,000 thoughts on any given day, give or take. Now we could go on trying to define what exactly constitutes a thought, but let’s not and just assume we do think a lot. Or actually, we are being thought as a majority of those are associations. These are thoughts that are triggered by principles of association as similarity, contiguity, and contrast (numerous other principles have been added in philosophy and psychology). So each and every one of us will have his personal story when viewing an image and an image when reading a story. You might not be totally aware of it all the time, but there is something going on in your head when you are presented with an image and/or story and I do believe that these two belong together. That an image will always start a story in our minds and a story will always create an image before our inner eye. So when you are a writer, photographer, painter or let’s just call us storytelling artists you should be aware of this I think as it will be beneficial in the creative process knowing what you are going for and realizing for oneself what in your work can actually do that.
I once had a woman come into my studio and after she looked around, she came to me and said that she had looked at a print for quite some time, lost in thought. And that was the nicest thing she could have said about the photograph. When your photograph, your painting or your words are strong enough, it will cause a reaction the viewer/reader will actually feel and undeniably connect to your work. And that’s really why I do this. I feel that this falls into the category “Why we came down from the trees in the first place.”.