Street photography was never about blunt documentation. It was always about something else and much more than plain documentation. It was about telling stories.
Look at the portfolio of Henri Cartier-Bresson, look at the portfolio of Robert Frank, look at the portfolios of Winogrand, Lewitt, Eisenstein and William Klein. All those who matters. Finally look at the portfolio of Vivian Mayer. They all tell stories and that is why we honour them. They entertain and engage with photographs.
Why is stories important? They are important for two reasons.
First of all because we remember stories well told.. Stories place themselves in relation to our own lives and link into them. We are able to understand them as part of our own real life stories. Like the girl in the picture above proudly showing her friend that she has secured tickets for this evening’s dance.
Stories are also contextual in another way. In the best cases they go far beyond what is actually shown in the picture. Beyond what was intended by the photographer. Always beyond such intentions. We get to use our phantasy and play along on the theme in the photograph. The photographs is only the initiator of a theme. Never the whole story.
Look at the photograph: Why would it be a story about dancing? Because the picture fills you in if you look at it carefully: The dancing shoes near the top of the picture; the words Heute SWING in the middle of it; you read the name Spiegelsaal; and you detect the open doors welcoming you. Wir haben für Sie geöffnet, another sign tells you. Of course, I am at an advantage here since I know where this place is and what it is. It is the main entrance to Clärchens Ballhaus in Berlin. THE DANCE HALL in Berlin.
Weiter: What is the main point of this post and in this session?
The point is that you need to ticket your photograph. You need to make sure that the people you invite to your photographic ballroom have the ticket to get in, to understand it, to decode it. You do that by making information available that all supports the main theme.
In this shot there is actually one person holding a ticket. What is as important is that the contextual information in the shot, signs and objects, gives you additional information to the what and the where of the main idea. Tell you other parts of the story.
That is what we call ticketing an image. Once you are there, you will get it. You will be able decode it.
Here is your task:
What you need to do in this session, then, is to take a picture with a distinct main theme, which within the frame have additional storytelling elements to lead or continue the viewer in a certain direction that you define. Don’t feel, in any way, restrained by the example I have used here. Use your own imagination. Do it your own way.
Again, the important thing with these sessions is that you memorize their themes and thus are ready for them when they turn up your way. They definitely will. You have to be able to recognize them when they do.
Good luck with it.
© Knut Skjærven. Text and photograph.
Copenhagen, August 17, 2012.