Visual Narratives

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Picturing community: an interview with Los Angeles Times’ photographer Francine Orr

By Digital Storytelling December 29, 2009

Photographer Francine Orr had experience reporting on poverty and humanitarian crises around the globe. But while working on “Gimme Shelter,” an audio slide show about L.A.-area homeless people living under a bridge, she found plenty to cover—and plenty to fear—right in her own back yard. [caption id="attachment_1488" align="alignleft" width="176" caption="L.A. Times/Francine Orr"][/caption] Orr spoke about the dangers of reporting on mentally ill addicts: "There’s such a history of random violence along the river. Everything is okay there until it’s not, and sometimes you don’t have warning before it changes. I always had to be aware of who was standing behind me, because I didn’t want someone to smash the back of my head while I was doing my work." And on how she views journalists' responsibilities to subjects, Orr had this to offer: "I’m a journalist; I’m not a social worker. If I do my job well, I present the story in a truthful manner, in an accurate manner, in a somewhat compassionate manner. I leave it to the viewer, to the reader, to respond. If they feel there is a need or an injustice that requires some action, that’s their role. My role is to present the story." Read the full interview. Read more

Intimate journalism: thoughts from a veteran and a beginner (part 1)

By Digital Storytelling December 22, 2009

Storyboard recently talked about visual storytelling and intimacy with two very different journalists: an independent 30-year veteran and a newsroom staff photographer just two years out of graduate school. Tomorrow, we’ll learn what it was like for a seasoned pro to turn a camera on his own family in the midst of crisis. Today, we hear from Sonya Hebert of The Dallas Morning News, who finished a master’s program in visual communications in 2007. Hebert’s two large-scale efforts to date include a look into adult palliative care at Baylor University and a portrait of a family whose baby lived only five days as a result of a genetic defect. Her video of the baby and his parents pairs beautifully with the print story in “Choosing Thomas," a multimedia project selected earlier this year as a Notable Narrative. On trying to shoot intimate pictures of sick adults under less-than-ideal conditions, Hebert says, “What we saw over and over again was a patient in a bed in a hospital room. Visually it looked all the same, so it required tuning out what I was hearing, and really looking. Thinking, ‘How can I tell this story visually?’ Sometimes it was getting tight in on someone and waiting for them to look up in a certain way in a dark room—being ready for something to happen.” Later, Hebert struggled with the challenge of making Thomas, a terminally-ill baby, fully human for viewers: “In the middle of editing, I didn’t feel like the reader could fall in love with Thomas. I was worried about doing a story about a baby to begin with, and he was tougher, because he didn’t do a lot. There were just a few moments where he was like a normal little baby and you could see how cute he was. There’s a clip where he’s sneezing, and TK is saying, ‘Oh, that was my eye!’ It was something to bring a lighter side to the story before we got into the heavy dying part.” Read the full interview. Read more

Comic book news: Joe Sacco draws on history (part 2)

By Digital Storytelling November 13, 2009

Part 2 of a look at graphic narrative journalism [Part 1 discussed how “comics journalism” rose from the underground and independent comics scene to combine conventions of the traditional comic book with telling personal, true stories.] The 1990s “indie” comics scene saw two trends. One reflected an almost neurotic drive to get away from the power fantasies of superhero stories. Using a careless graphic style that emphasized the pathologically normal, authors told stories from the point of view of a “defeatist,” in the words of comics artist Joe Sacco. On the other hand, this was the era in which American non-superhero comics also started engaging with topics bigger than the middle-class suburbs of their creators. Inspiration came from the sudden acceptance of comics in the wake of Art Spiegelman's 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Maus, which also built a bridge between the artistic language of the European bande dessinée and its comparatively low-brow American cousin. Bringing these two trends together, the first issue of Joe Sacco's Palestine came out in 1993, followed by nine original single comic book issues. Trained as a journalist, Sacco tells the story of the two months he spent in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between 1991 and 1992. Read the full story » Read more

Interview with Mitch Epstein: Images of “American Power”

By Digital Storytelling October 5, 2009

In September, photographer Mitch Epstein spoke by phone with us about his project “American Power,” which was highlighted in Granta’s summer issue. Epstein has worked as a fine art photographer and a photojournalist, as well as a director, cinematographer, or production designer on several films. While “American Power” was not done as a commercial news narrative, it is rooted in story, and Epstein had some interesting things to say about how images do and don’t work as narratives. Here are some excerpts: “With photography, I think one can suggest narrative. But it is not the same as literary storytelling. I think that I do maybe more storytelling and develop a kind of more definitive narrative with the way in which I put my pictures together as exhibitions and books. That’s part of what excites me about books. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The way in which the pictures get strong in their sequence does indeed lead you through an experience. And you have to arrive at a final point.” “An individual photo can suggest a narrative. It can imply a narrative. They’re better in a way at articulating questions than they are at delivering answers.” Read the full interview. Read more

Picturing the cost of power

By Digital Storytelling October 5, 2009

Mitch Epstein’s "American Power" depicts the landscape as political narrative. The American photographer, who has chronicled cultural complexities in India and Vietnam, now homes his camera in on dissonances within his own culture. The subject of "American Power" is energy in America—its production, consumption, and unintended consequences. And embedded in the terrain of the images is a critique of American power in the other sense of the word—its destructiveness and contradictions. Like an unflattering mirror, Epstein’s pictures reflect back the troublesome realities that the exercise of American power can create. Read the full essay. Read more

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