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So... What Are You Saying?

One of my favorite lines in the film La La Land (2016) comes when Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) gets fired from his gig as a restaurant pianist. Not wanting to accept his dismissal, Seb tells his boss, "I hear what you're saying, but I don't think you're saying what you mean."  It made me think about one of the most ubiquitous pieces of advice currently being given to photographers and others in the communications fields: "Engage your audience with compelling content."  The buzz phrase "Content Driven" is bandied across the Internet, and from the rooftops of skyscrapers by everyone who communicates a message, image, or concept to an audience of any kind. We are admonished to "...Tell a story to draw your audience in," and "reach them on a deeper level."
      While I would agree that these ideas are very true, I would also say that - left without any other qualifiers - they are vague. Let me put it this way, if you had a driving instructor who got in the car with you the first time out, and said "....Maneuver the vehicle in a logical and decisive way in order to make progress," how confident would you feel when you turned that ignition key? I mean, I guess those words are true.... But more detail is needed before calling it 'valuable instruction.'
Communicating an idea is at the mercy of subjectivity.
  Everyone's idea of "telling a story" is different. And everyone's idea of the story being told is different. I have sat in audiences of over 100 people when a photo or illustration was shown, and members were asked to describe what they saw 'going on in the picture.' As you can imagine, out of a hundred plus people, there were almost as many "takes" on what the image showed. Everybody reacted based on the story THEY imagined - whether or not it was what the creator had intended, and in some cases, whether or not it even made sense. So my point is this: Communicating an idea is at the mercy of subjectivity.
     We have all seen it: Two people stand next to a car. One says that it is blue, the other calls it "greenish." And this is a tangible thing that you can walk over to, and touch. Imagine how this works with words and images on a screen! So telling a story that will reach people on deeper levels is not as easy as it sounds. Maybe that is why the folks saying it rarely provide clear examples of what they mean...

What is REALLY going on here..?

This photo: What is going on here?  What "story" is being told?  Is someone in trouble with the wrong kind of people for not paying up enough? Or is the man in the chair being paid for a "job" by someone? Is that a bodyguard behind him? Or an unseen foe sent to finish him off? Theoretically, it could be ANY of those. It all depends on how the viewer takes it. And as far as they are concerned THAT will be the way they see it, no matter what anyone else thinks.
      The reality is: I shot this as an experiment. I wanted to see if I could "play" all three characters in the same shot, so I locked the camera down, then ran around changing clothes to jump back into the scene as each one of the "characters." I then PhotoShopped it all together as one image. So MY take on it, is a lot different than anyone else's.
      But.... I would agree that it tells a STORY. I would also agree that it is somewhat of a subjective one. They key thing is to know where the power of such images are - and when you have to let the audience decide how they want to take it. Sometimes that can work in your favor - And sometimes you can accidentally open a whole can of worms that you never saw coming.
      How do you tell the difference before hand?  That's the subject of another post.
      Stay tuned...


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