In the midst of the horrific aftermath of the terrorist attack on Democracy orchestrated by the Oleaginous Don, I noticed this photograph of an altercation between T***p supporters, people concerned about fascism, and the San Diego police. I grew up in San Diego and vividly remember the location shown in the photograph.
(My aunt and uncle lived just up the street where we often visited. One night my father took us all down to see where parts of the Crystal Pier crashed into the Pacific ocean. Was there a Boney’s near-bye?)
But the subject is Narrative Photography.
Many years ago I wrote a weblog piece about Narrative Art. I used the obvious example of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and illustrated the piece with his Triumph of Death painting (you may remember it from the classic Black Sabbath album). Bruegal’s masterpiece represented death and war through an overlapping panoply of gruesome vignettes, each suggesting a different visual representation of the subject. You might think of it as a Decameron of Death. But unlike the Decameron, all of the stories were occurring at the same time, allowing the viewer’s eyes to recreate a personal and unique version of the narrative.
What do we see in the photograph above? Who are the “Good Guys” and who are the “Disrupters”? Who are the anti-maskers? If the invitation said, “Dress in Black,” did the guy in brown pants miss the memo or was he a local just caught up in the melee? And the real elephant in the room: Is the outfit worn by the woman being accosted available at Nordstrom’s?
Even in this relatively simple photograph there is plenty to observe and comment on. Is that a protest flag or a real-estate sign? Is the beekeeper in black a demonstrator, an enforcer, a Time Lord? Is that a real-life Ninja brandishing his Katana over the head of the unhappy woman? Has that same woman just been pepper sprayed or is that her O face?
I suppose all photographs tell a story, some better than others; but as a visual art, photography can encompass a complex narrative much like writing. Interestingly, we use beaucoup de writing to recreate the narrative compressed in a single image, yet when we reverse the process it takes an entire movie to do the job.
What would Mad Meg say?