Photos must tell a story

Poland broke away from the communist block in 1989. Two years before that, Stanfield – a National Geographic photographer, took a very important picture of Zbigniew Religa. Stanfield commented: “In this day and age you need more than a pretty photograph, you need information.”

National Geographic long realised that a pretty photograph is not enough. They got to the crux of the saying that a picture is a thousand words – it’s not how many words that matters, but the substance. And the substance is captured by the right moment: “I never let him out of my sight, never turned my back on him,” Stanfield said. “This was the payoff.”

Dr. Zbigniew Religa

The anxious eyes of Religa monitor an instrument with data about the patient next to him. The patient has just gone a heart transplant. Outdated equipment drapes the patient. A staff member who has assisted Religa through the 24 hour marathon, is sprawled in the corner, gaining some rest. “Each of these elements,” says Stanfield, “gives dimension and drama to the photograph, while helping tell a story.” Each of these elements, Roland Barthes would say, contribute to the multi-dimensional space of the story, left to be disentangled only by the person viewing the photo. Stanfield’s perspective does not die (as in ‘Death of the Author’) after the photo is published, but it becomes one of the interpretations. Maybe, a story of the sadness of the desolate state of that operating theatre.

Everything about photos has changed since 1987. Good story-telling photos are everywhere now, and if you’re taking them, is helping you sell them. And even if that doesn’t make every person who buys an SLR a Stanfield, Facebook is open for anybody who wants to tell a story. Instagram’s homepage boasts the slogan “Capture and Share the World’s Moments”, pretty ambitious for a website, but then that’s why Facebook acquired it for a billion dollars!