The Stories In The Story

Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan. May 2014.



There’s a writing exercise I use with my students where I give them an image–usually something clipped from a magazine–and tell them to write about what they see for a set period of time. Then I give them a blank sheet of card-stock paper with a small square cut out of it. I tell them to put the card-stock over their image and move it around until it reveals some interesting detail, then write only about that smaller part of the image for the same amount of time. Often they write completely different stories or poems, about completely different things and from completely different perspectives. And yet, when you pull back, sometimes it’s difficult to see that all those stories are happening simultaneously.

It’s not really surprising then, that this is also a pretty important idea in photography. In many ways, the art of photography is the art of cropping. We use our cameras to crop the visible world down to the frame within the lens. Once we’ve taken the photograph, we can crop hundreds of different stories from the same frozen moment by shifting our attention and narrowing or expanding our frame to suit. How does the story of hands on a smartphone change if we are also given a glimpse of the face that is using it? What if we only see part of the face that’s using it–lips slightly parted in what? exasperation, exclamation, desperation, wonder? How important is the story of that phone if we move it to the side of the frame and centre on a woman in a jean-jacket or a man piggy-backing his boy and carrying a folded stroller?

Each of these images is cropped from the same image (below). Which story is the most compelling to you?

47 thoughts on “The Stories In The Story

  1. Brooke

    I enjoyed this post. I’ve often thought about this when looking through Instagram. If we could just see a little more, what would be revealed?

    Reply
    1. damienpitter Post author

      Hi Brooke. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes I wonder the opposite – what would I think of this if I didn’t have so much context for it, if I could see a little less? Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  2. impricelesst

    Great post, and great writing excercise! I went back at looked at the pictures several times…they looked like separate poses until the end! Perspective is everything.

    Reply
    1. damienpitter Post author

      The longer you practice, the more you realize that you’re cropping/framing even before you take the photograph. Hope it gives you some creative juice.

      Reply
  3. aquavintage

    Brilliant! The other day I went to a photo exhibition with a friend. The theme was human and daily doings and at some point we wonder what made these photograph considered to be art?
    It’s about perspective and seeing the same thing but with different angles. I think I’d like to try this kind of writing my self 🙂

    Reply
  4. ocjarman1

    I really enjoyed reading your blog–gave plenty of thought!! As an amateur photographer (very much out of practice; heat of Phoenix, AZ,USA, for 1 fact, chronic disease, for another–ugh!!) and fledging fiction-writer, I take all points all to heart!!

    Reply
    1. damienpitter Post author

      I’m glad you found it interesting. A story from a story, a scene from a scene. Sometimes it’s less about creating things as it is about directing attention to parts of a continuum.

      Reply
    1. damienpitter Post author

      There is a lot going on in that 3rd frame, visible struggle. The story in the others seems to be in what you don’t see, the mystery. Thanks for your comment. Cheers.

      Reply
  5. Paul Worthington Books

    When I look at a photo, I like to concentrate on the part I think most people would find insignificant, like maybe the backpack the woman is carrying. I wonder, what’s in the bag? Everyday stuff, or maybe personal treasures, like a notebook she’s using to write her first book, or maybe her tenth book.

    The idea of creating a story from a photo is very interesting. How many stories are really in one photograph? I imagine the possibilities are limitless.

    I started a new blog, http://www.Paulworthingtonbooks.com, with the goal to help me and other writers write more from the heart. When you get time, please stop by for a fun greet and meet and some heart engaging prompts.

    Reply
  6. gyps3ys0ul

    My professor used this exercise my freshman year at Northern Arizona University in a creative writing course I took. Needless to say, it helped to prompt my writing easily and have been less prone to writers block. He had us do this at least once a month. It is really a great exercise and helped to identify my personal style of writing. Thank you for sharing. Since your post, I have been able to look at an object/photograph/illustration and ideas have just begun to flow. What a refresher. I really enjoyed this particular post!

    Reply
    1. damienpitter Post author

      Thanks. My first blurry images were accidental. Then I found that I liked them as much or more than clear photos and experimented a l lot with how to take them. Tour the rest of the site or use the “Abstract & Motion” tag to see blurry photographs. Hope you like them too. Cheers.

      Reply

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