To through defining it as “Any message through

To cause something to pass
on from one person to another is the global definition of the word
‘Transmitting’. In this essay I will be closely examining this terminology in
regards to the highly debated question of ‘Can a single image transmit a
narrative?’  

 

Narrative
itself is a lot harder to define with theorist such as Gérard Genette, stating
that, “A narrow definition of ‘narrative’: is an exposition of facts by a
narrator who verbally signifies the facts (in written or oral form).” (1983,
24). In looking closer there are many theorists who contrast Genette for
example, André Gaudreault who obtains a wider view of narrative through
defining it as “Any message through which a story, whatever it may be, is
communicated, should rightly be considered a narrative” (1988, 84). Observing
these two theorist in a snapshot it is clear that they favor alternative
platforms when suggesting the opportunity for narrative to be communicated.
With the conflicts between theorist’s definitions and views towards narrative
it enables the chance to examine the question closer through researching the
relationship between media platforms and narrative understanding. 

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In order to apply a range
of theorist’s work I have decided to use a modern image captured on a beach in
Europe which displays a young boy who has been washed up onto the beach just
like many sea substances or plastic waste often found on the beaches. However,
this time it wasn’t just a coco cola bottle it was a young Syrian boy’s life named
Alan. The image captured displays the back breaking, dangerous and life risking
journey many refugees take supporting the relevance of the image within this
debate. Given the circumstances and background of the image it gives many
layers associated but while incorporating topical issues through providing the
bases to articulate my perception to the impact of narrative within single
imagery.

 

With the foundation of
these disagreements between narratologists going a lot deeper than a difference
of opinion about arrangement of words. They then permit the bases for what
exactly the correct definition of narrative is. Although this is not the
question in answer we need to be able to form a concept around the definition
of the word itself to be able to evaluate the usefulness in transmitting the
message across through a single image. 

 

It is often referred to
that there are three approaches to narrative through the theorist Hall (1997-
cited in Cobley p3). Hall allowed the representation of narrative to not only
be categorised but also to build a groundwork for narrative knowledge and
understanding itself to form. Hall’s three approaches where named ‘Reflective,
‘Intentional’ and ‘Constructionist.’ Through this is it builds potential for
narrative to be transmitted within a single image. Claude Bermond (1984)
famously stated that verbal narrative, novels, theater, movies and ballet among
potential vehicles for story, preparing the ground for narratology’s future as
a discipline. So the question of why not a single image will be directly
targeted throughout this piece of work. 

 

An image can contain
content, action, suggestions of movement alongside many other factors. With a
single image displayed a viewer is able to dissect often the time period, the
reasoning behind the image beginning taken or the purpose for it. To focus on
my example a viewer is immediately able to tell the extreme travesty that has
undergone. Bell who references coding often (2002,p9) suggests that as viewers we
naturally absorb in the work of decoding. With the work of photography being
built up by multiple codes no wonder when engaging with photography
individual’s start to dismember what is in front of them.

 

When applying this to the
single image, it quickly reveals this extraordinary case which caused many individuals
to see the harsh reality and miss-placed attitudes in regards to refugees. In
spite of the fact that Alan Kurdi’s was one of a million refugees the three-year
old boy was able to capture the heart of the nation. What this single image did
was not only bring media attention but also it sadly acted as a cover photo for
his story. At first glance at this image it is clear that harm has occurred on
the Turkish beach. However, the peaceful water almost acts as a distraction to
the fact that his senses were once being tackled by the harsh earthly element.
When focusing on this image the viewer can realise that Alan’s lifeless body
pressed against the sand with the waves consuming his body with salt water.

 

While it is common
knowledge that the sea moves when focusing on this single image through an
analytical point of view, the image reflects a fundamental basis of quietness
and stillness as a viewer. Which further addresses the component of
narrative through Alan’s body being unharmed it virtually looks as if the
sea ultimately carried him to safety. Granting that Alan’s spirit may not be
there, the sea has washed his three-year old body on to this beach which is now
acting as his transition graveyard. The bases of this analysis was formed
through the ability of the image to open the doors to the viewer. In order for
the viewer to breakdown each element of the image to form their own personal
understanding of it’s narrative.

 

Reflecting on the history
of narrative itself within single images it all started before the birth of
Digital Imagery and Print. Many different ways were in fact used to express
narrative and storytelling. Sequential art was a major part of different
cultures around the world. For example; Greek artists used to use vases to tell
stories by sculpting on them, as well as Rome’s Trajan’s Column (Completed in
113 AD). 

 

Within my chosen image you
can see the local authority documenting the event in a different way this
time not on a cave but on a sheet of paper.  Whilst the man’s facial
expression is hidden due to the camera angle it is clear that the man is not
making direct eye contact. As a viewer this detail captured brings forward many
possible reasons for this. Has the man become numb to the reality, is he only
looking at this child in a professional mind set or by looking at the child too
much of a harrowing experience for him.

 

Alan’s Story would have
ended if it were not for the work of Nilufer Demir who captured this single
image. The Turkish photographer who worked for the Dogan News agency provided
the symbol for all children who lost their lives in trying to reach safety in
Europe in 2015. This is due to the fact that since it’s inception, photography
has acted as a medium form of communication in which has enabled photographers
to have an increasing amount of power through technology and codes associated
with it.  Alan Kurdi’s was one of a million refugees the three-year old
boy was able to capture the heart of the nation.

 

Single images can be
produced in many forms with a wide range of different audiences. Such as
expressing narrative through the creations of tapestries and textile art. One
of the most famous was the Bayeux Tapestry which told the story about the
Normans and their conquest towards ruling England. Which leads on to the strength
between narrative transmitting not only in a still image in photography but
also in art, comics and storyboards. Which has provided the vast amount of
power having a narrative presence within individual’s who have be susceptible
to the story intended of their creators.

 

Wendy Steiner’s coined this
area of research as, ‘Pictoral Narravity’ (1988, pg145) In doing this Steiner
helped provide the grounds in which the acceptance of single images influence
within communicating narrative was further established. Achieving this meant
that the remarkable amount of control single images has over the human
sensorium.

 

Dieters (1998) also promoted
the recognition through demonstrating the high possibility of a clear
relationship between a narrative and a specify picture. This was founded
through Dieter’s work was able to direct the focus into analysing a range of
single images. As a result of this Dieter’s work then allowed the creation of
‘Narrative Reception’ to be further familiarized within single images.

 

In
saying this, Narrative stories will most likely contain three common themes.
Conflict, Climax and Resolution. Within a single image it is often a snap shot
of a moment whether it is staged or has been captured in a natural way. In
fact, narrative reception has been determined by the photographer’s eye. This
then provides power to the photographer to alter the viewer’s perception and in
turn naturally effects the reliability of the narrative. Through the
progression of these three core themes it causes clashes to arise against the
statement, “Can a single image transmit a narrative.” Walton also investigates
this further through describing that there needs to be a clear distinction
between the photographic representation and the photographic deception.

 

In
regards to the connection with ‘pregnant moments’ (lessing), the narrative
limits of a single picture come into focus. Within an image, although there are
endless possibilities to interpret the work or find meaning behind the detail, there
is still so many vacancies when it comes to meaning. This comes through a
single image only being able to suggest change it does not actually present the
way in which it formulates or occurs. This then prevents the wider
understanding of what is being depicted and in turn limits or discards any form
of narrative. 

 

With the viewer/audience
having to infer and determine the reasoning behind the image, there is often a
chance of miscommunication which directs away from the importance and strength
of the single image. To reflect back on my chosen example, you can observe the
fact that there is not only a divide in regards to age between the two male
figures captured in this image but most importantly life expectancy. With
refugee families having to accept the reality when stepping onto those life
boats to flee from their home. Many have to come to terms with the
understanding that they may not all make it and that their previous life is
sadly not more than a memory.

 

All of this is lost and far
from transmitted within this image. The personal detail of who this boy is,
where he came from or even his name is not provided. While this image clearly
has a strong message behind it the basis of it’s strength it only truly
obtained when researching. Within the image you can see the local authority
documenting the event. As his facial expression is hidden due to the
camera angle all the viewer can calculate is that he is is not making direct eye
contact.

 

Consequently,
there are a number of elements remain uncertain within this detail, such as has
the man become numb to the reality or is he only looking at this child in a
professional mind set. The after mass and core questions have no clarity within
this single image which reflects the lack of narrative substance. However, if
we were to take the example of verbalised narrative there would be the ability
to expand on a wider set of variations such post and pre photograph.

 

This is
not only seen in the instance of this photograph but also is behind the
reasoning for narrative deficiency in regards to single image as it originates
from the limitations of pictorial medium as a whole.

 

To
further investigate the limitations of single imagery in matter of the ability
to transmit narrative compared to verbal forms. The uncovering of the
limitation of not being able to embody spoke language verbally with in the
image causes there to be hurdles when trying to expose the advanced depiction.
Single images can not transmit the character’s physiological motivations and
goals which go beyond the emotional information provided by a photographer,
painter or artist. This can leave an altered perception which can lead to an
obscure interpretation of their work which can devalue the meaning instantly.

 

An
interesting point of view towards the relationship between narrative and single
images is from Mike Meyer. Although most photography that sells itself based on
narrative functions either includes enough leading links to invite the viewers
to connect to a story in their minds or allows them to produce narrative of
their own from the components of the image. Both are stimulating and both have fundamentally
supported producing astonishing photos, but neither can accurately be called a
narrative art form according to Meyer. Mike Meyer goes one step further and
states that, “Photography and narrative are incompatible at a fundamental
level. The obsession with storytelling overlooks photography’s more practical
and powerful uses.” Through researching further, it highlighted that Meyers
bleak outlook on narrative may be understandable. The photograph I have chosen
although truthful the fact that alternations could have been made to make the
image more ‘marketable’ is something that needs to be taken into consideration.
This is due to the ability of a story to invade our mental defenses to modification
attitudes or manipulate emotions, which is the center of advertisers and
marketers. Without the truth how can narrative stand alongside a single image
without the support of other forms.

 

In
conclusion, Photographers choose what kind of equipment to use, how to frame or
develop the negative to produce the final product. As a viewer we can become
easily fixated on an images vulnerability to distortion through the the idea of
false interpretation. However, iconic photographs can help us convey historical
events through the ability of single images to transmit narrative to their
creators and their audience. This is displayed within a range of historical
paintings, photographs and tapestries. With many elements in placed to act as
narrative triggers. The
image captured on the Turkish beach in 2015, is just an illustration to how
powerful a single image can be in capturing the essence of any moment. Which
signifying the huge presence single images have across the news, entertainment
or advertisement industry. With photographers even describing their craft as ‘narrative photography.’ Porter Abbott talks about ‘narrative consciousness’ a tendency
to supplement selected forms of ‘narrative time’ into static scenes. With
this image imprinted across the world in regards refugee crisis through stomach
turning reality of it allows as a viewer to break down the cultural, historical
and chronological factors surrounding the events of the narrative behind it.

 

With the
strength behind my chosen image and many others such as the documentation of
the man landing on the moon. Not only indicates a moment of events but also
permits it to be timeless through the narrative given within crucial details of
the single image needed to obtain the message behind it. In essence, a single
image does have the necessary details for audiences to interpret or even depict
a narrative as Walton
(2008) claims: “Static pictures may represent much longer sequences of events than
they depict” (p. 172). Overall, a single
image provides a large window of opportunity in terms of narrative and the
understanding behind it.

 

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