Still mulling over Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, Huxley’s Brave New World, the Manga Bible and now Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. Principally in terms of the difference between text-based culture and image-based culture, and photography vs iconography. Question: to what degree are photos capable of functioning as narrative art?

We are flooded with photos from around the world and across time, but without context they can function for little else but novel amusement, for infotainment. Note the world wide web dominance of LOLcats for instance. O brave new world, I can see you in my SEO stats! And I can see your influence in worship services.

But as I have frequently intimated, without context, without narrative, the liturgical and iconographical potential of art is diminished. So its a key question for me now, given photography is ubiquitous, can it sustain a narrative without a human narrator? If so, how? Even if it is difficult, how?



6 thoughts on “Photography and Narrative Art

  1. Matthew, Please find a paragraph from an essay titled Awakening From the Word (1980)
    The conventional culture of contemporary Man is primarily a culture of the verbal mind and the discrete or discursive languages of the left side of the average or common brain model. Thus, it is a culture that tends to be dominated by verbal and other discursively symbolic language systems (such as the potent visualism of television and movie theatre, which make inverted use of visual or spatial and right-brained phenomena in order to serve the purposes of the verbal or discursive mind). The contemporary individual is propagandized constantly by exclusively left-brained appeals, powerful verbal influences, promises of ultimate egoic glamorization and fullfillment, and the parent like authority of analytical “knowledge”. Our experience and our understanding are dominated and determined via these means – so much so that the media of discursive mental culture, such as television, and all other officially reported knowledge, are more fundamental to us than what we experience in our living relationships and our intuition of the ultimate Reality. The “word” has finally become our Parent, and we are being eating alive.
    30 years later there has been an explosion of both words and visual images. We are immersed in them in almost every waking moment.
    Protestant Christianity is of course a religion of the left-brained word. Witness the explosion of Christian “theology” blogs which are devoted to promoting supposedly “new” understandings and interpretations of key (and obscure) passages in both the “Old” and “New” Testaments, and of “Paul” too (or especially)


  2. John Smith recently described a photo taken in Guatamala in the 1980’s on a cd which I think can relate something into this topic.
    In it a small, hungry boy in rags sits in the middle of a muddy road eying off a pea which became dislodged from a truck-load of boxes of vegetable produce marked for shipping overseas – probably intended for the US. An armed guard with a machine-gun stands nearby watching the boy, ready to shoot at anyone game enough to try stealing from the abundant food on the back of the truck.
    That photo – prophetic critique through art – narrates a great deal about social justice or the lack of it, and the distorted value systems which drive mindlessly cruel capitalistic aquisitiveness which drives Western affluent societies.
    It is a photo which narrates a particularly important story for us.
    I remember the photo because it was featured in a Time magazine of the day.
    It was a brave photo taken by some photographic journalist despite being under the gaze of a gun and the edgy risk-taking that involved.


  3. Yes John, I’d agree Protestant Christianity is predominatly a left-brained tradition. I see this as largely conditioned by its birth by printing press. And this has unfortunately left it ill equipped to engage with the emerging visual era. What I am engaged in exploring therefore is a more holistic Christianity, an integration of word and image, logic and intuition, action and reflection, speach and silence. Some of this involves recovery of more ancient Christianity, some of this involves charting new directions in Christianity.


  4. For what it’s worth, John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” might help you with aspects of meaning and imagery.
    Re your question Can Photography sustain a narrative without human intervention? The answer is obviously No, and no more than any other form of art including painting. Although I don’t know of them, there probably are contemporary photographers working in the area of religious art, and they might easily light a tableau of a man lying on the ground beside his horse to create their picture. Just like the photographer, the artist behind “The Conversion” would have used models on which to base his imagery. Paint has been converted into pixels on your blog to communicate your conundrum: no difference then between the two except for the medium and a few hundred years.
    “Text & Image” ( your integration of word and image above ) exemplified by “Raymond” ( google Raymond Salvation Army Vads ) provides the most powerful single image narrative I know and is within the context of a campaign to further this organization’s religio-humanist practice.
    Once, most of the world’s population were illiterate and were bombarded by the only imagery around, eg; like that of the “Conversion”. Were not contemporary individuals constantly propagandized by exclusively left brained appeals, powerful verbal influences, promises of ultimate egoic glamorization and fulfillment. – ie Heaven ? !!!!!!


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