Photography

PHOTO-ASSIGNMENT 05: Storytelling With Pictures | Jane Evelyn Atwood

Constraints Of The Assignment:

Jane Evelyn Atwood frames the assignment as follows:

Telling a story with pictures is just like writing with words. Something is seen, or thought of, or imagined.

I would like you to tell a story with images that you make and put together, one after the other, to recount something – be it abstract, conceptual, documentary, or journalistic.

You can follow one person, a group, a place. Inside or out. It can be vast or very small. It can be realistic or abstract. It can be something real, an idea, a fantasy, an emotion.

You should use no more than eight photos, no fewer than five. Each image must add something that hasn’t been seen in the images that preceded it. The selection should be coherent.

This photo-assignment is from the book PHOTOGRAPHER’S PLAYBOOK, one of the books I had been reading in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifications:

Duration: 19 March, 2021. (Around 12.30pm IST)

Location: Nakhoda Masjid, Kolkata. (Google Map: Nakhoda Masjid – Google Maps)

Photographs From The Assignment:

My Experience With The Assignment:

I had made a casual plan with a friend to go out and shoot that day. I decided to show her this part of the city, I had been to this Masjid quite a few times, but for her, it was the first time. With the temperature around 38-40°Celsius, it was a difficult Photowalk, to say the least. We however decided to venture.

As we walked into Zakaria Street, we saw dozens and dozens of people putting out mats on the ground, and sitting on them. We soon realized it was a Friday, the sixth day in the Islamic week. Muslims perform the Jummah prayer every Friday in the congregation. Islam gives much importance to Jummah prayer as it is an obligation for men to leave all the activities and go to the mosque to offer the prayer.

We saw men sitting down and getting ready to pray even inside their shops and restaurants, something that I personally was unaware of. Almost every inch of the street was occupied – several hundred more men were praying inside the mosque.

Another activity that instantly captured my attention was that a group of poor people were waiting around when the men were praying – as soon as the prayer was over, they sat down in a single line in the middle of the street, with their arms open. The men who were returning from the prayer offered charity to them.

I am aware about how little knowledge I have about Islam, and I sincerely apologize if anything written in this article is hurtful or offensive to anyone. If so, kindly bring it to my notice, and I will make the necessary amends immediately.

Storytelling In Photography:

I am constantly bombarded with the word ‘storytelling’ relating to photography for a very long time now. To begin with, I was very confused. How exactly do I tell a story with my pictures? In 2019, I did a two-day-workshop with Soumya Shankar Ghoshal and Lopamudra Talukdar on “Visual Storytelling” where I learned about the basic aspects of telling stories with pictures.

It is a hard thing to master, even with diligent practice. Atwood is a master storyteller herself. In an interview with Claire Debost from the not-for-profit foundation, Aperture, Atwood says:

“I see something. All of my projects start with a visual cue. That can be in real life, in a newspaper, in a magazine, or even on TV sometimes. Every once in a while, I have an assignment that turns into a personal project…

I know whether I want to begin the personal project or not. As soon as I know that I want to do it, I do everything I can to organize my life around the project: finding the money, finding where and when I can do it. With most of my subjects, I want to photograph them because I have a lot of questions myself. My photography is about interrogations: it’s always questioning and wanting my questions to be answered…

The truth is, when you ask permission to take photographs, it can’t be conditional; you can’t let other people make decisions about which photograph you can and can’t use. It’s difficult but that’s the truth. You have to earn enough trust from the people you photograph so that they trust you to choose the right photographs. That means you have to follow the photographs for the rest of your life; you have to become a control freak and follow how and when those photos are being used, with what captions, et cetera—and that’s a whole lot of work that many people aren’t ready to do. And now with the internet, it’s practically impossible because you can’t really control images, but you can do your best…

You can never satisfy everyone. Even people who may have loved you when you photographed them might be angry at you about which photograph you use.

It is true that telling a story about a subject is easier to do with the help of a series, than trying to capture it in one single photograph.