Jim kicked off our Story Telling competition in September 2020 by giving us a fascinating insight into his own successful social-documentary photography, and by explaining the criteria that he thinks are important for successful stories.
Before he reviewed this evening’s 15 entries, he explained the five “lenses” through which he will be looking at each story:
- Does the imagery engage and intrigue us?
- Is there consistency between the images? Are they a harmonious presentation of one artist’s eye and voice?
- Does each image add something new – depth, variety, narrative – and avoid repetition?
- Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts?
- Is the story clear? Do I “get it”? Do I feel and see what the artist is saying?
“A Cathedral for the Community” (Chris Jepson) - Jim congratulated Chris for obtaining access to the community and for gaining their trust and confidence. He thought there were two really good images, the opening image with the priests and acolytes round the altar and the baptism (below left) which summed up the whole story. There is a great idea here which can be developed further as a result of the access obtained.
“2020 Reality/Unreality” (Julia McLean) – Jim was intrigued by the matching of captions and images, although he thought some worked better than others. There is a variety of wonderful artistic expression. He particularly admired September (below centre). However, he thought that more consistency in style, for example, in aspect ratio and height of horizon, would strengthen the story. He commented that Blipfoto was an excellent discipline to improve quality, and he complemented Jools on the really good idea behind the story and how different it was from all the other stories. He recommended that we look at Simon Roberts’ “A daily sea” to see how consistency helps with a story.
“The space between two lockdowns” (Jean Jameson) – Jim thought this was a simple clear coherent story well told, and full of joy and happiness. He singled out the image of the girl flying the kite as a lovely moment (below right). There was some repetition in the images and not enough consistency in the palette, but nevertheless the story was successful.
“London lockdown 2 – Saturday nights of November 2020” (Colin Page) – Jim thought this was an example of a great set of images but not a great story. The images of streets in the rain, mainly without people, have been done before. These were good examples, with strong use of colour and technically excellent. However, in terms of a story they are repetitive, and the viewer knows what to expect and therefore his attention is not held. The constant change in point of view and horizon is disruptive so the sequence does not flow well. The strongest image (below left) has a single figure. This motif could have been used in all the images to add intrigue.
“Steps to a perfect coffee” (Dennis Law) – Jim thought this was a simple clear story, almost like an instruction manual on how to make coffee. Black & white might have been a better choice as the light was harsh and difficult. The exposure could have been reduced for more drama. All but one image had a hand which was a unifying element. Jim would have preferred a hand in all images, but particularly liked the image with the dripping coffee (below right), even though it did not have a hand. Although the story works, Jim thought that the imagery was not strong enough to intrigue.
“Love in the time of Corona” (Richard Eyers) – Jim thought that there were some very strong images, such as the hands, with their emotional engagement, and the registrar explaining the rules (below left) which summed up the whole story. However, there were some repetitive images particularly of the couple. Jim would have preferred more narrative with more images from the ceremony. The set works well in black & white but needs more consistency in processing.
“How to survive the pandemic” (Chris Box) – Jim had difficulty understanding the story. There were several good individual images, particularly the shot of Covent Garden (below right), but they used inconsistent styles which made it difficult to be clear what the story was about. The opening image can get away with a different style, such as the use of a fisheye lens as here, but the other images need more consistency.
“Cab Care – under the Bethnal Green railway arches” (Paul Shelley) – Jim thought that the picture of all the black cabs parked up was a great opener as we immediately knew what the story would be about. The quality of the images was variable, with inconsistency in the aspect ratios and some repetition. Several of the images were portraits, such as the strong picture of the boss and two workers (below left), so it was unclear whether the story was about the individual workers or about the work, the place and the atmosphere. A choice must be made between these. This is a really good black & white documentary story, which made Jim feel as if he was there. Paul should capitalise on his access and the relationship of trust that he has built up, to work the material up into a major story of 16-24 images.
“Where’s Moldova? A slow move away from Soviet rule” (Debbie Smyth) – Jim thought this was another example of strong individual images where the whole was not greater than the sum of the parts. He thought the two images of statues were good (one shown below right) but that other images would have been stronger with someone or something in a key spot in the image. The images vary too much in content and style for the story to be clear.
“Kew beyond the gardens” (Karen Neal) – Jim expected to see the unexpected Kew behind the scenes. However, the first image, which he liked very much (below left), was a classic picture of the Palm House nicely framed. The other images showing art works, a lizard, a building, were either unexciting or hard to photograph well. It is possible that Karen does not have enough access to do justice to her story, in which case it would be better to choose a different story which could be better told.
“Meals on wheels – a delicious British institution” (Nick Bowman) – Jim complimented Nick for the access he had obtained and the trust he had built up. This was a great set of images, a good opener setting the scene, strong compositions, such as the shot of the whole snack bar (below right), great moments and details and variety. There were some technical issues with focus not being perfect and not all the images are equally strong. However, each image contributes to helping the story along. The people in the shots are mostly natural and expressive. The composed shots are less effective, more contrived. The missing shot is the one that would have showed more customer interaction. It is a good use of black & white, which gives a timeless feel, and Jim is left feeling that he was really there.
“The consolation of nature in a year of lockdowns” (Sally Smith) – Jim thought that the story would be about the relationship between people and nature, but several of the images do not contain people. A particularly successful image was the snowy scene with a tiny person walking along a path (below left). There are some technical issues with the images such as the person being too far to the side of the rainbow, and the unclear profiles of the people with the statue and its shadow. It was not always clear how each image related to the story.
“A birthday in a London lockdown” (Lata Sheth) – Lata did not provide a story, so Jim tried to make one up for himself. There are several interesting ideas with animals, the backs of people, statues (below right), and celebrations but it was not obvious how they were linked. So Jim was not clear what to take away from the mixture of things and events. As with many of the stories, the link between the images and the story needs to be clearer.
“A few notes” (Terry Andrews) – Jim thought it was a great idea to capture a journey and we ought all to try it. He recommended Paul Graham’s book “A1 – The Great North Road” for inspiration. It is hard to do and needs a lot of time and to be clear about the message. Architecture shots are difficult to do well and these are not strong enough. The image of a squatters’ encampment (below left) is wonderful, there are so many aspects to explore. Some images show poverty, others show old and new. Terry needs to decide which is the most compelling story and do much more observation before continuing to develop a clearer story.
“A farewell in the time of Covid” (Gerard Ryan) – Jim found this an incredibly moving story, sensitively told, such as the image of the people lining the route of the cortege (below right). They are good images with consistency that work well in black & white. If the repetition was removed there would be more space for images to reveal more, such as more people around the coffin and more people around the fire.
Jim chose the winners based on the most effective story telling. He stressed that it is a personal choice and recommended that we should debate between ourselves what we would choose. The runners up were Jean and Paul, and the winner was Nick.
Alan thanked Jim for his excellent commentary, which was honest, direct, pithy, and full of helpful suggestions and insights.
Some of the stories are now available on the Storyteller of the Year 2020-21 page.