Interpreting a photo can be a difficult task. We capture a moment and those moments are not equifinal, that is they don't all lead to a known end. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The visual juxtaposition of people and objects have the potential to lead to multiple outcomes or multiverses. John Berger perceived this notion of equifinality as an inherent metric of photo quality in terms of how much of the moment a photo can inform us and what we can then say about its past and potential futures — its “quotation” as he called it.
However, we can also use a photo to develop alternate past, present, and futures, allowing it to form part of the creative process. Writers do this all the time through the use of writing prompts; look at a paragraph of text given to you and then continue the story. We can think of a photo as a visual prompt and use this to create a new story.
For example, I shot the photo below as part of a street project on smoking but thought it formed a great prompt for the following starter.
Lera exited the underground, bustled by the throngs of people streaming from the platforms deep below. She found the environment hot, sticky, claustrophobic; the close proximity of so many people was repulsive. She burst onto the street gasping for air, breathing in deep lungfuls, calming her nerves. The heat overwhelmed her, engulfing her in crescendos, like emotional waves breaking upon the soul. She should have left her coat at home as it now hung uselessly on her arm. Over her shoulder was slung an imitation Gautier bag — pulling down one of the handles she reached in furtively, feeling for the familiarity of the pack of Sobranie. Her fingers fumbled at the lid before flipping it open revealing a half empty carton, the lighter snugly inserted into the empty space. Lera slid a cigarette out and placed it between her lips then flicked the wheel of the lighter. Her hand shook as she tried a first time, then a second, before finally producing a flame. The end of the cigarette sprang to life, the orange glow a marker of success. Slowly, very slowly, she inhaled a lungful of smoke, breathing it deeply, down into her chest, before exhaling. She sighed. Putting the pack of cigarettes away, she slung the bag back on her shoulder before disappearing into the anonymous crowds that thronged, each individual with a purpose, a destination. Lera began making a path to her own.
Starters are a magical way to create begin fictional worlds and generate new creative avenues. If you want to participate in the ultimate story starter then the Collaborative Writing Challenge is written a chapter at a time by different authors, eventually publishing a full blown novel. This brings me right back to Berger who developed the idea of a fully visual photographic story, produced in collaboration with the photographer Jean Mohr. There is no better exemplar than "Another Way of Telling" and makes me wonder if we as photographers could undertake our own photographic CWC. Does anyone want to take my photographic story starter and send in the next in the series?
Lead image by rawpixel via Pixabay.