Posted in Contextual Studies

Narrative Theory

A narrative is something that tells a story. This can come in many different formats including text, pictures, performance or a combination. Narrative space is a place where stories can be told, for example, an exhibition or a film. Most narratives follow a typical narrative structure.


11-23-36life_mag_cover_ftpeck.jpgOn November 23, 1936 – first ever issue of LIFE magazine was published. The front cover was Fort Peck Dam by Margaret Bourke-White. Life magazine was a pictorial magazine that showed photographic essays and documentary photography. Photo essays and documentary photography are very similar, but photo essays often tell a structured story and are sometimes accompanied by text. It was a huge success when it was first produced as it allowed the audience a new perspective. Although it had a massive impact on people’s lives during the beginning and mid 2oth century, by the end of the century it was starting to have less influence because technology started to develop things like tv, which introduced moving image and allowed even more to be shown to the public.

There are many theorists for narrative. Some of the theories, arguably, can be linked and argued against one another. Here are some examples. Tzetvan Todorov suggests that narratives always have a structure of Equilibrium/ Disequilibrium/ New equilibrium. Claude Levi-Strauss says human cultural understanding is based upon a system of binary opposites. Vladimir Propp said narratives always have certain character types who perform certain actions.

A non-linear narrative is a style used that opposes the structure of a typical narrative. These are usually used in films or text as they can build suspense and place the audience in the mind of the character. They usually are in the form of a memory or flashback. Some examples of this are Inception, Momento, and more recently, Deadpool.

Narrative interventions in photography was an exhibition at the Getty Museum which explored three artists who use a combination of text and imagery to imply the idea that narratives can be implied, real, or re-written.

1f592b26a9e6ede36abb7319b18ed4d7Simryn Gill’s art exploits the influences that define identity and belonging. In her series “Forest”, she tore pages from specific books that were significant to her and sculpted them into nature which she then photographed. This creates visual ideas of the history of nature along with her own personal history.

cowin_cupcake_bookEileen Cowin produced the series “I See What You’re Saying”, which explores the concept of storytelling and the need to strip away layers to reveal hidden truths. This was inspired by people’s lies.

Carrie Mae Weems photographed a series called “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried”. It is a selection of 19th century photographs, many of slaves, which she worked into, showing the history of black people and giving them a voice.a000797101-001

Rachel Jump is an art photographer currently based in the Chicago area. Her black and white images show narratives from her youth, highlighting themes of belonging, memory, and absence, and have been exhibited throughout the United States. Her series “Origins” is an exploration of her family life. It describes a time when her Mother had various operations. She said, “She showed me her pain, and I saw the stars.” Her images show her love and devotion but also add a sense of empathy. Her images also provide a way of her showing how she gained her identity and reunite her memories together. As a child she moved around a lot. She said “Later in life I began to question how my identity was shaped without a point of origin”. Her images signify how her family were reunited from the places they were left.




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