Mary Stewart Educator: Exploring Visual Narrative

Problem: Use a minimum of twelve photocopied photographs to create a narrative.

To explore linear and non-linear narrative.

Photocopies and other materials chosen by students. Can be done in Photoshop.

Step 1: Find twelve or more great images to photocopy or scan. Enlarge, reduce, superimpose and collage images as necessary to make your first rough draft. Consider:

  • Conceptual Sources. Anything you have ever seen, read, or felt can provide a springboard.
  • Visual Sources: Anything in the library is fair game. The twelve basic source images must be photographic.
  • Image manipulation. How can the source images be transformed and integrated into your own work? A great deal can be done at a self-service photocopier; those with computer access can use Photoshop.
  • Narrative structure. What sequential organization will best convey your idea? Should the story be told from a particular point of view? To what degree need characters be developed? Photocopies are inherently repetitive: can this be used to increase visual or emotional impact?
  • Format. What is the best structure? A codex book? A family album? A file folder? A triptych of three hinged panels? Consider what you want to show, how to show it, and when to show it.
  • Editing. How many images are needed, and how complex need they be?
  • Beyond clich*s. What does the viewer learn? What is the point of your story? Encourage the reader to think or feel; don't put him/her to sleep with clich*s.

Step 2: Devise at least six ways to manipulate a single image, using a photocopier or a computer. Re-design your project to increase the power of the communication.

Step 3: Create the final piece. We will critique works in progress, using small teams.

  • How interesting and unique is your story?
  • How compelling are the images? If they lack impact, how can they be changed?
  • How effectively can the source images be transformed and developed into an integrated final design?

Students learn a great deal from this seemingly simple assignment. Finding appropriate images requires hours of research. By using images from print sources (not simply using the Web), students get better images and gain an introduction to the history of photography. A mix of large group critiques, small team meetings, and individual meetings works well for this assignment.

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