Saturday, August 4, 2012

Photography, Storytelling and Artist Statements

Since the mid-1990's I've been engaged in storytelling.  Literally.  I was employed as education director for a synagogue in New Hampshire, and was acutely aware that educators need to bring their personal creativity and passion into their venues.  I don't play an instrument, I don't sing, and I'm not much of a graphic artist outside of the medium of photography.  But I discovered I could retell stories that I encountered in the Jewish tradition.  So I would tell a new story each week, either adapted from the Bible or from the rich collection of Jewish folklore.

I've been told I'm a pretty good storyteller.  Some storytellers learn stories verbatim, like a script. I tend to learn stories in a different way.  I discovered I learn stories visually, and when I perform them, my mind's eye reaches back into a special place where I've learned to go and I verbalize what I "see" during the telling.  I guess this visual aspect of learning and performing accounts for my attraction to another visual art ... photography.

It's nothing new to hear people say that photography is a kind of storytelling, so the connection between the two genres doesn't need further elaboration here.  But there's another similarity that bears additional mentioning.

A well-told story that's effectively performed by a storyteller doesn't need an explanation at the end to tell people what the story is about.  Listeners will get what the story is about in their own way.  The message is almost tailored to the listener. Each member of the audience might leave with a different understanding, insight, feeling and experience.  They don't need to be told what this ought to be.

It's the same with photography, or any art for that matter.  What's salient is the engagement between the artist and the audience through the particular medium.  My experience with storytelling has taught me that a well told story carries the audience along in a journey and there's a kind of energy that binds the performer and the audience together.  I experience that same thing when a particular photograph engages me.  I'm drawn into it.  I keep going back to it.  It possesses a kind of magnetic attraction with something inside me.  But my journey is going to be different from another person's.

I don't need to be told what a photograph is about any more than I need to be told what a story is about.  If it works for me, I can figure that out myself. If well crafted as an artful expression, it can do its own telling in its own voice without any additional help.

Forget about artist statements and concentrate on the tellling.

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