Doctor of Creative Arts
Faculty of Creative Arts
Battye, Gregory, Stories of a war: narrative and the single photograph, Doctor of Creative Arts thesis, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, 2001. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/932
Theoretical accounts of the communicative powers of photography characterise it, inter alia, as intrinsically a medium of the instant, depicting time only insofar as it depicts the moment of exposure. While a few special cases, such as time exposures or multiple exposures, are acknowledged as technical exceptions, the single unmanipulated photographic picture is generally held to exclude time. Since narrative, however defined or circumscribed, conveys information about the unfolding of sequential events over some period of time, it would initially seem that narrative and photography can have no common ground. This research seeks that common ground: a way of making photographs that use narrative and convey narrative information, and a theoretical framework that supports this activity. It seeks to answer the question: can a single photographic picture — a picture made by photographic means, whether by single exposure or through combination or manipulation — be a narrative?
Thematically, the project stemmed from a desire to address, through creative work, the author's childhood memories of stories which had 'attached' themselves to family snapshots taken in the 1940s and 1950s, depicting family events associated with his father's service in World War II. This notion of 'attached' narrative is specifically dealt with in both the creative work and the theoretical domain. Through a concentration on World War II as an important backdrop to the family snapshots, war photography gradually emerged as an area of particular, though not exclusive, interest, through which the theoretical and artistic concerns could be constructively integrated. The images made at the end of the project deal with the photographic representation of war, a topic which integrates the creative, the theoretical and the personal.
The boundaries and concerns of the project are approached discursively at first through a historical comparison between selected narrative paintings and early non-realist photography. Particular attention is paid to some Pre- Raphaelite painters, for their use of photographic techniques their influence on photography itself, and to contemporary photographers such as Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson, w h o viewed their composite photographs as constructed pictures akin to painting. Both groups shared a concern with moral messages, often framed in narrative terms. This brief survey foregrounds ways in which, to the extent that paintings can be narrative, so too can photographs.
Some formalist and psychoanalytic modes of narrative potentially applicable to photography were distilled from their original applications to literature and film, and used as a background for an analysis of the few preexisting direct applications of narrative theory to photography. This analysis encompasses critical writings by others about narrative in photography generally and about particular key examples, as well as original analyses undertaken by this author, of photographs with apparent narrative significance.
The course of this analysis increasingly focused on narrative tableaus as the most fruitful and appropriate style of work through which the photographic representation of war, rather than war itself, could be addressed. The latter part of this documentation follows the development process through which the author's final creative work was produced, in the form of narrative tableaus referring to, and mimicking, famous war photographs. These pictures connect with their historical referents through several different forms of narrative device derived from the theoretical investigation. The exhibition, which includes new versions of the early family photomontages as well as the latter tableau photographs, is analysed as to its success in making narrative photographs, and a brief conclusion determines that while the individual photographs cannot be said to be narratives, they in fact narrate.