Swimming with the Razorfishes

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Importance of Sequence

Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer posted a link to an excellent multimedia presentation of some of Constantine Manos' work over at Magnum in Motion. Go take a look. Gadget geeks in the audience will also want to click on the Leica M8 link in the right margin.

[Magnum in motion is doing some fantastic stuff, by the way. If you don't subscribe to the video podcasts and regularly visit the site, there is something wrong with you.]

A couple of things struck me about Manos' photos, meshing nicely issues I've been thinking about of late.

If you look at any one of Manos' photos, you might think, "so what?" The presentation collects a number of moment in time photos (I'm making this term up): photos that don't feature carefully constructed studio tableaux, that don't feature dramatic landscape, and not organized around a carefully made-up model. Manos' photos capture a moment: a toddler on a picnic blanket; a woman sitting in a pickup truck, smoking, looking out at the ocean; a woman selling junk at a tag sale.

Some wonderful photos, but take any single image and you might be hard pressed to see the message. The photos are moments, but in isolation, can't tell the story. When the photos are sequenced, and particularly when accompanied by Manos' voice, a narrative presents itself.

For me, for how I want to understand the photos, the sequence is as important as any one image. When the photographer presents photos in a sequence, context emerges and individual images combine to created a greater narrative.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy looking through photo books so much more than walking through museums. Being able to spend much more time with an image notwithstanding, a photo book gives the photographer an opportunity to present many images in context, far more than would be shown in a museum, even more than would be shown in most galleries.

Concidentally, this month's PDN features an interview with Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, talking about their recently released second volume of The Photobook: A History . In the article, Badger and Parr argue that the photo book, rather than the print, is photography's primary medium.

While it will be interesting to see how computers and the internet change this dynamic over the next twenty years, I certainly agree with them.

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