David Campbell – Narrative, Power and Responsibility

Notes from David Campbell’s talk “Narrative, Power and Responsibility” https://soundcloud.com/mattjohnston/david-campbell

Aim is to discuss how images can affect and influence world view

Quotes Tod Papageorge rephrasing Robert Capa – “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t reading enough”. Meaning contextual research is vital –proper preparation before shooting is essential.

Narrative contains

  • Story – over time
  • Event – single instant

Most powerful l narrative is one that understands its own context

Quotes Allen Feldman “The event is not what happens, it is what can be narrated”

Example: French revolution was not known as such at the time but became so after the event. Participants did not recognise it as such at the time. Narrative was applied afterwards.  

Narrative is not out there fully formed – it is the story we impose on a set of events. However there are limits to the sort of narrative that can be applied to events – not practical to view the assassination of John F Kennedy as comedy (quote from Hayden White).

Narrative cannot include everything; a choice of inclusion or exclusion is determined by perspective. True objectivity is not practical.   

Hayden White – Narrative is making sense of life, adding coherence to what is otherwise messy and incoherent.

Narrative (storytelling) relates directly to context. In general the structure of daily news works against context – avoids questions of ‘why’, or background information.

Narrative is often linear (beginning, middle, end) but even if this sequence is disrupted there is always a sense of temporality – time passing. Narrative can be non-linear and may also be unresolved. It will always be an account of connected events.

Relationship between individuals and context is important. People can embody issues and/or events – abstract concepts need concrete representation.

Phrase in common usage “trying to put a face on the issue”. Are there ways to illustrate abstract concepts without using a “face”?

Ideally narrative has to begin with a sense of the story beforehand – Papageorge “more reading”.

Power and responsibility: Narratives applied after an event can be used to infer a false history. Example is Nick Ut’s image of Vietnamese girl running from napalm attack. This did not directly lead to the ending of the war.

Marcus Bleasdale images shown in Zurich have directly led Swiss company to no longer trade gold from eastern Congo. Photographs did have a direct effect on one company’s policy – did not end the conflict. Realistic expectations

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