How is narrative communicated in the visual book? How does one navigate the spectrum between telling a story and implying a narrative?
With photography and the book, I’m always struggling with the issue of narrative. I crave narrative, crave storytelling, but it doesn’t always work, it’s like you suggest narrative, but you don’t really tell a story. But it’s this push and pull between how much of a story to tell.
Like poetry, photography is rarely successful with narrative. What is essential is the voice, the eye, the way the voice pieces together the fragments to make something continuously whole and beautiful.
I look at poetry because I know it functions in a similar way as photography . . . I’m jealous of novelists and filmmakers, I’m jealous of that feeling of being carried along by a narrative, and I’ve always said that photography doesn’t do that, can’t do that, and you’re sort of stuck with it. But I’m now at the point where I’m like, screw it, I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna see if I can tell a story.
I mean, since we’re talking about books and thinking about books, for me, it’s how do you shape the thing as a book with a beginning, middle, and end, since you don’t have the narrative line . . . When you start out on a photography project, you have no idea where it’s going it just seems so fragmentary so how are you going to pull this stuff together. For me that’s the big battle and that’s the great fun of it, too. – Alec Soth
So as you can see, the story was quite well-documented and parts of it are well-preserved in various archives. But after all my research, I felt that there was plenty of room for me to step into the story and to attempt to reconstruct, then deconstruct, and ultimately fragment or turn this story inside-out. After all, there were only two people in the world who knew what really happened and one of them, at this point, was dead. And so a new vision for the work began to form in my head, the idea of presenting this true-crime story through a mix of photographs, documents, and objects challenging the viewer to sift through the information and to decipher the visual clues to deal with the story in a similar way that an investigator or researcher would.
In essence, a good photobook should function as a concise world within itself, and I personally took this to mean that I could do whatever I wanted without any particular concern over what’s fact and what’s fiction, but with particular concern for telling a good story visually.
And so over the course of these five years, the story began to disintegrate and fragment and fall away. It never disappeared completely, it was always there, like some kind of floating ghost. But its sole function for me was to serve as a source. Ultimately, I wanted the work to act as a more complex, enigmatic, visual crime dossier, a mixed collection of cryptic clues, random facts and fictions that the viewer had to deal with on their own. – Christian Patterson
The thing that really amazed me is that if you take these pictures out of the context of the story, I mean this is not news to anybody, but, suddenly the photograph loses its narrative. The photograph sort of promises a narrative, and it engages you on the level of narrative, but ultimately it sort of roadblocks you at the end, and you have to go somewhere else with it.
This work is about, again, just like with Alpine Star, trying to truncate narrative in a photograph, building a certain expectation with a photograph and then sort of sliding it elsewhere. – Ron Jude