Context and Narrative


Photography is a subject not that distant from painting, yet also not that distant from literature. It can be argued that at times in particular photography’s relationship to literature is stronger than its relationship to painting.

If a photographer is looking to communicate thoughts, feelings, experiences – through a sense of place, semiotics, a series of work that tells a story then perhaps the photographer will draw upon skills comparable to the literary devices used by a writer. As Paul Hill states, “a metaphor consisting of words can conjure a visual image, and a photographic image can also operate as a visual metaphor.” (Hill P, 2004, Approaching Photography, P.49).

This comparison of photography to literature is important when beginning to look at the relevance of the context of the photography and the narrative of the photography. The context of the photography can be said to be how the photograph or photographs are going to be presented to a viewer. Not only are photographic ‘selects’ going to be made and images finished but they will be curated in some form to appear perhaps as part of a piece of journalism, as an exhibition, on an online platform or in a book.

The narrative of the photographs is what is within the image. What story is being told? How are we as viewers drawn through the image witnessing significant points within the image? How do we read these points within their associated surroundings? How do we proceed from photograph to photograph as we are led to the story that is being told us?

Context and narrative within the medium of photography can be relevant to a single image framed and displayed in isolation from any other images or to an extensive documentary series. The context and  the narrative in imagery are the overarching frameworks of the more discreet devices used in visual storytelling.

Hill P, 2004, Approaching Photography, Photographers’ Institute Press, an imprint of The Guild of Master Craftsman Publications, Lewes, UK.