Storytelling has been a part of human nature since the stone age. From cave paintings were drawn on walls, and stories were word of mouth, to the great Greek playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides who created the worlds first large scale dramas and plays to Shakespeare and Dickens. Storytelling has and always will be one of mankind’s greatest achievements, the ability to convey the emotions of human kind, to explore the imagination of the mind, and to empathise, despise and aspire to the greatest and worst men and women of history and characters from the worlds greatest storytellers. Photography throughout its short life has had its purpose twisted and warped, in its early years it was seen only as a tool to document and then it slowly became an art form, the exposure, the shutter speed, all of these aspects of photography brought it into the light as a serious art form. The surrealist movement was one of the early movements that showed off photography as something that wasn’t just for the news. But storytelling has always been what photography has always been best at, it captures a single moment in time, anything from a war time shot of a battlefield, to a fork’s shadow on a plate or you and your friends all in arms in the grottiest club in town after seventeen Sourz shots and eight WKD’s.
This image taken by William Klein on Broadway and 103 rd Street, New York in 1955, displays perfectly the way in which photography has become a medium of storytelling just as strong as the novel. When I look at this image the first thing that comes to mind is the pure anger on the child’s face. While this shot was staged by Klein after asking the child to look mean, his face shows real rage. Secondly, the out of focus gun pointed straight at the lens shows just how close the end of the barrel must be to Klein, and is a testament to the man’s bravery. Thirdly, the look on the younger child’s face. I still can’t place it after spending many hours staring at this photo, I have decided it is a mixture of hope, aspiration and love. The close cropped photo shows very little apart from the two boys, the story is focussed on the short moment of their lives where someone asked them to pose, even the clothing of the two boys shows the difference between them, the older one in what looks like a leather jacket, collar up, as aggressive as he can look as a young boy can. The younger boy in a stripped fleeced jumper, the innocence of his clothing and even his haircut, the scruffy childish look, while the older boy, doing his best to look grown up, his hair pushed back in a quiff, the modern style of the time, the story that even the smallest part of their being can add to a picture.
When you combine these three aspects the imagined story of the photo comes to mind, the hand of the younger child on the older ones arm/chest holding him back, the blind rage on the older child’s face, there is no tool quite as powerful as a well shot image. This is ruined slightly when you learn the shot is arranged but if you did not know that then you would formulate your own story in your mind as to why this child is so aggressive, and that is the magic of storytelling with photography: That we all take our own slightly different view from our own very different lives and project our own feelings onto the image, photography is about interpreting the image rather than being told what it is about.