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Thread: The picture vs the backstory

  1. #1
    Shore Crawler Dylan & Marianne's Avatar
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    The picture vs the backstory

    Recently I posted on our FB page a topic for discussion regarding some of the wild stories told behind certain images. It generated alot of discussion but unfortunately the 'case study' which I vaguely referenced was identified by several photographers who went looking for the particular image. I took the thread down as the photographer then made some comments which removed the anonymity of the thread and then became personal.

    The question was this:
    If you see an image, does the backstory told add anything for your appreciation of the image itself?
    For me , recently I found that I loved a certain image initially but when I saw the backstory that was full of exaggeration and extrapolated truths, it took away something from my opinion of the photographer. I don't like to admit that it also takes away something from the image but for me, it does! I would have preferred just to see the image alone than a story with what seems like untruths.
    I appreciate that there are many reasons why the backstory could be exaggerated. None more so than the fact that sometimes memories are affected by the emotion of being at a scene. But I wonder if in many cases, the 'life threatening' experiences reported to obtain a photograph are used as a marketing tool. If so, does it work for you?

    I've been seeing more and more of these stories lately . I think it's probably because I'm visiting more of these places as I get more life experience so that I can spot stories that clearly are based on an event but are then reported in an exponentially more dramatic manner.

    Probably should have made a poll for this : What is the impact of a backstory for image appreciation?
    a) NO difference - I judge an image based on its merits alone
    b) Positive impact: A story of hardship makes the image all the more remarkable
    c) Negative impact: I don't care what the story, I don't need your hard sell!
    d) Variable : If I recognise it as true, it adds something. If I recognise it as lies, it detracts.
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  2. #2
    Administrator ricktas's Avatar
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    It depends. I like a backstory with a portrait. Not the glamour or wedding style shots, but a portrait of a person that evokes wanting to know their story. Take a photo of an elderly lady at a potters wheel. I would love to know more about her, what drew her to pottery, etc. Show me a great sunrise photo and I don't need/want all that.

    So my answer, it depends
    "It is one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it is another thing to make a portrait of who they are" - Paul Caponigro

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    http://steveaxford.smugmug.com/ Steve Axford's Avatar
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    I'd go for d. If you lie, then you usually get caught in the end, but an honest story can add something to a photo. Of course, this can be overdone and often is (just watch a bit of TV to see some examples).

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    Ausphotography Addict geoffsta's Avatar
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    My opinion is in any media... Believe a third of what you see. A third of what you hear. And a third of your own interpretation. And then maybe, it's roughly the truth.
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    Ausphotography irregular Mark L's Avatar
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    Do you walk into an art gallery wanting to see the art or read about what you're looking at?
    The photo should speak for itself.
    Stories are for friends or when you become famous!

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    Administrator ricktas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark L View Post
    Do you walk into an art gallery wanting to see the art or read about what you're looking at?
    The photo should speak for itself.
    Stories are for friends or when you become famous!
    I agree. When I have visited MONA, they have the option to take an iPod with you that gives you commentary about each piece as you progress through the museum. I found the way I was perceiving the Art was based on what I was hearing from the iPod. So I turned it off, let my own mind decide what I thought and much more thoroughly enjoyed the experiences. If I then was intrigued about the back-story to a particular piece, I would turn my iPod on and listen, only to the commentary for that piece.

    Being free to use my own life experiences to assess, evaluate, contemplate, enjoy a piece of Art is the great reason Art, in all forms, crosses languages, cultures and people. We each bring something of our own to how we see an artistic piece. Just relying on what someone else's viewpoint is, in their narrative, for me is to limit the enjoyment.

    Art is the freedom of the viewer to interpret what the will. Cleverly done Art directs your thoughts without words!

  7. #7
    http://steveaxford.smugmug.com/ Steve Axford's Avatar
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    While a painting or photo should certainly be able to stand by itself, sometimes a great deal can be added with a story. Personally, I find that if I understand what the artist was trying to do it can significantly add to me appreciation of that image. Of course, this story is often not added by the artist who often wishes that his or her art work be appreciated for itself. An example of this could be the work of the impressionists where they worked on the tricks of our perception, rather than what was really there. I remember seeing a work where the artist tried to show how colours are perceived to be part of a recognizable object, even when they are not. He painted flags with the coloured stripes outside the flag. We see them as being inside. By knowing this I can appreciate the piece even more, though I always found it pleasing.

  8. #8
    Shore Crawler
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    Thanks for the thoughts and opinions
    I think it's useful when there's an informative backstory to a landscape photograph too.
    Lets take the art gallery example though - if you walked into the gallery and played audio pieces regarding the various artworks and since you knew something of the genre, you recognised extrapolations of hardships and difficulties that did not exist. How would you then feel about the artist and the artwork itself? I don't think it happens in that particular field because from my naive perspective, I don't think that it is as exposed to the mass marketing pitch as much as photography is these days. Do you get people trying to do the hard sell in other forms of art through selling the apparent hardship experienced to gain the final result? ( I don't know as I haven't looked) - All I know is that it is rife in landscape photography and if that I heard that the Mona Lisa required the fending off of three bears while being painted in a windstorm at high tide on a dangerous beach (while knowing otherwise), it would personally be a big detractor from the artist and possibly even the final result.

  9. #9
    Sir Rattus79 - The Proclaimant
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    A picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words.

    Those thousand words are dependent upon the viewer as to what they are.

    I think it's nice to get the words straight from the artists mouth, that way, you get the story you're supposed to get, not the story fabricated in your mind.

    That said, sometimes the story in your mind is far more believable then the "truth" told to you.
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  10. #10
    http://steveaxford.smugmug.com/ Steve Axford's Avatar
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    Dylan, I see your point with the hardship thing. I have rarely come across that and would usually ignore it anyway as it would add little to my appreciation of the work. On the other hand we all like good stories and if the photo becomes part of a larger story then that can only add to our appreciation. If there happened to be a photo of , say - the crucifying of Jesus, then I expect that would be extremely valuable, even if it were not a great photo. Without the story, it would just be a photo (albeit and extremely old one). Part of the story of any art work is who is the author? A forgery, even if it is just as good, will rarely fetch the same price. Why? Because the story is a lie.

  11. #11
    Shore Crawler
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    Exactly Steve - however most 'lay' people won't know the lie ! I think does make for good marketing but it's the scruples (or lack of) that I sometimes question.
    Last edited by Dylan & Marianne; 13-05-2013 at 9:31am.

  12. #12
    Just keep plodding away... Mat's Avatar
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    I see Goeff is sticking to the rule of thirds
    Damn Greg beat me to it re thousand words .

    Generally I think that a bit of background story can be good but only a bit and as you say it need to be truthful (or close to it). eg a great shot of a canyon that has not been seen by many could have the journy 'cutting through a thick steep jungle to reach a cliff's edge' could be told but the truth could be brushing past a shrub down a 20m track to a lookout that has a slight drop off.
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  13. #13
    Going Cold Blooded outstar79's Avatar
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    I remember this discussion on Facebook - for me personally, I love the story that goes with the image (as told by the photographer) - but there is certainly no need for the tall tales that go with it, even if it's just for your own integrity or moral compass. Someone always knows better, as you found out. I do like to hear the motivation behind the image; why there?; Close encounters etc and for the "lay" people that may travel via the internet they will not know any better - generally speaking but then - sensationalism sells?
    I think if the photographer has lied about how he came about the image (or "up-selled" the way he created it) and I found out, it don't think it detracts from the image but that photographer's own integrity, I would still like the image but maybe have a little less respect for the photographer!



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  14. #14
    http://steveaxford.smugmug.com/ Steve Axford's Avatar
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    I suspect that lying has become more popular (actually, I'm not sure that it has - perhaps lying is just a part of us) because of the perceived, instant profit it may bring us. Look at much of the advertising we see. Many are blatant lies, but they rarely get stopped as we accept this as part of our society. I'm reminded of a beer add that has the song "Greater Love" with lots of blond people walking quietly through London streets. It is an add for blond beer, so there is a tenuous link there, but the general feel of the clip and the song Greater Love???? Surely that's a blatant lie, yet we tolerate it.

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