Wednesday 18th Jun, 2014
The other night something occurred to me during a long stint of image editing. Maybe it was the just the process itself or the similarity of the content, but I realised that I hadn’t looked at images as part of a sequence for some time. It got me thinking about the nature of sequential shots and about my approach to them. Truthfully, they’re not something I’ve ever set out to do consciously before and that in itself is revealing. Perhaps my natural mode is to regard image making as a ‘one shot at a time’ process – not all decisive moments for sure, but certainly a search for the key narrative moments in any story. Often there is a point in any story edit where a decision must be made in favour of one picture over another because they are deemed virtually identical and therefore unnecessary to include both. But what about outside of a larger narrative, where the sequence of pictures could be seen as a ‘slice of life’ or a vignette?
Thinking about sequences can fundamentally challenge the notion of a moment. The way we experience what we call a moment can be that micro second of shutter speed, but also a more extended time encompassing several actions that flow seamlessly together. Indeed, a sequence might be a superior way to evoke the flowing sense of certain instances – a stop gap between the single image and film perhaps.
Of course, sequencing doesn’t necessarily mean a connection with obvious narrative. I’m reminded of Minor White’s work (actually called Sequences) that were directly influenced by the Stieglitz Equivalents cloud series. White combined his images in an almost abstracted fashion to get a what he called a “sentiment or emotionally symbolic idea”. See his work, The Sound of One Hand Clapping for reference. I returned to some previous work I put together about the coastal landscape that edges my county to see if there was any benefit in combining them more directly. After careful consideration I felt that the following four images, sequenced as presented, could offer a more ‘symbolic’ interpretation of the landscape:
Perhaps there is something in the new combination of shapes and the creation of new areas of negative space that get at a more fundamental sense of this particular landscape. There feels as though there is more flow, but also a fracturing and a certain oddness to it that conveys the sense of these places better. This example also raises a couple of practical considerations when considering sequencing. Firstly, the actual placement of the images in the series – vertically as well as horizontally. And secondly, the orientation of the images themselves (i.e. portrait or landscape). It’s useful to remember when putting a sequence together that the convention of reading left to right is not the natural order in all parts of the world, though other forms of sequential art (comics etc) at least maintain a top down approach. The outlet medium also requires some forethought – digital display may prevent a ‘reading’ of a sequence that would be without issue across a magazine page.
Then there’s the question of how many images to include in a certain sequence. Usually, simplest is best – so as few as are needed for the required effect, but I think of Elliot Erwitt’s work (especially in his book, Sequentially Yours) and he often uses more images than would strictly be necessary purely to increase the often humorous outcome.
Thinking of humour reminds me that jokes are essentially a three act structure – they have a set up, some rising action, and then a climax. Based on the two ‘narrative’ examples I have used it’s possible to see how this classic structure could relate to photo sequences as well. That is not to say that a sequence would be inadequate with less or more than three images though:
This final example raises one last point: imagine the two pictures the other way round, so the boy begins with the dummy in his mouth which is then ‘removed’ by his mother, leaving him with a bemused or disgruntled expression. It’s not the way it happened in real life, but it’s possible to see how that sequence of events could be portrayed using the same two photos. In this instance the choice is entirely that of the photographer, the author. But when it comes to accurate and ethical portrayals in documentary photography the integrity of the actual sequence should be adhered to – just to avoid any misrepresentations.