Category Archives: 22a-Evidence of Action

Evidence of Action

Evidence of action


While narrative in photography is the use of a sequence or series of photograph to tell a story, illustration is largely a matter of conveying a story in a single image.

Freeman (2012, loc 911) notes that the idea of a story in a single picture has long persisted as being the ideal, particularly among documentary reportage photographers. He notes that Henri Cartier-Bresson, a Magnum co-founder, saw a picture story second best to a single great image, although he conceded that for magazine story assignments a set of images was often unavoidable.

So, how can a single image successfully convey a story? Short (2011, p109) argues that in a single image the story can be drawn from all the components of the picture and how they appear at the time of photographing. She suggests that the components could raise questions from the viewer and offers examples such as: what is the picture of? What is happening? What is the relevance of the empty space/dark sky/ colour of the carpet?

The course notes agree, and state that even a very simple relationship between the components of the photograph can help a story develop.

Part One- Conveying abstract ideas and concepts

The exercise instructions note that illustration is particularly useful in dealing with subjects that are not straightforward solid objects or obvious events. It asks that I make a brief list of concepts that are regularly depicted in advertising and publicity, which cannot be shown directly.

Health-  A concept that features regularly in advertisements and in magazines. This could be conveyed through an image of someone involved in a sport and shot to either freeze the action or with a degree of motion blur to illustrate movement. A piece of sporting equipment could also be included in the composition such as a tennis racquet or a football. I noticed a full-page magazine advert for Nike, which shows a runner mid stride from the ankle down, so almost the whole ad was the running shoes.

Shots of colourful, raw fruit and vegetables arrangements are also often used.

Stress- A concept often shown in magazines right beside the adverts for massage, yoga and financial products. This could be shown by a photograph of a face with a furrowed brow, someone with their head in their hands or massaging their temples. It could also be shown by a pile of overdue bills or an overflowing in tray of work.

Sex- Many companies, particularly alcohol, fashion, perfume and cars manufacturers, frequently allude to sex in their advertisements. The women are beautiful, the men are handsome. Clothing is generally fashionable although bare flesh can feature heavily too as in the Calvin Klein jean ads and in the Pirelli calendars The body postures are often slightly provocative. The colours red and or pink are often included as they are commonly associated with romance and sex.

Friendship- Commonly conveyed through showing smiling children at play, handholding etc. It also is shown in adverts for pet food and products by pairing a smiling human alongside an obedient dog or content cat.

Equality- This is shown across advertising campaigns by including a mix of both sexes and ethnicities. Gender equality can be alluded to by scenes, which challenge traditional male/female roles. For example, a man cooking an evening meal or feeding a baby or of a female in a business suit in a boardroom or as a firefighter.

A set of balanced scales could also be symbolic of equality.

Part Two- Illustration

I am asked to produce a photograph in which it can be seen that something has happened. The course notes offer the suggestion of something that has been broken, or emptied.

Freeman states that it is difficult for single images to illustrate a story (without captions) if the audience is unfamiliar with the photograph setting and also if the story itself is not simple. I bore this advice in mind as I planned the exercise. The course notes also offered advice by suggesting the photograph could depict something that had been broken, or emptied.


1. 24mm, f/10, 1/500s, ISO 100

1. 24mm, f/10, 1/500s, ISO 100

I took this photograph of an unoccupied service facility just a few minutes from my apartment building. The graffiti and smashed window both show evidence of action, in this case vandalism. Layers of sand and dust had built up on the remaining glass in the window frame, which adds to the sense of neglect and also blocked any distracting reflections (my own included).


2. 78mm, f/5.6, 1/8s, ISO 100, +2 close-up filter

2. 78mm, f/5.6, 1/8s, ISO 100, +2 close-up filter

I decided to include a second photograph, using a familiar context to help convey the idea that something had happened. I set up a very simple still-life, a saucer, teacup and some biscuits. The action shown here is that someone had taken a bite out of one of the biscuits, illustrated by the bite marks and crumbs. I opted to focus closely on the bite mark using a close-up filter +2 to do this and a wide aperture to gain shallow depth of field. I positioned a 500w continuous photographic light at a low angle and to the right-hand side to try and emphasise the texture of the biscuit.


Showing illustration in one image was more difficult than I initially thought, as I wanted the photograph to stand on its own without requiring any captions to explain it. I think the second image probably achieves this better than the first, as the context and content are both familiar to the majority of viewers, allowing them to read the scene.

This is aligned with Freeman’s advice on telling a story in a single image; keep the story simple and the setting familiar.

This exercise has also encouraged me to consider the idea of conveying abstract ideas and concepts through symbols and props, which is not something I have consciously done before. I will continue exploring the idea of symbolism in the next exercise.

Freeman, M. (2012) The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual Narrative. Lewes: ILEX (Kindle Edition)

Short, M. (2011) Context and Narrative. Lausanne: AVA