Part 0 – Context and Narrative Definitions

The course notes included some definitions of context and narrative which I will probably keep returning to, so I’ve added this to my blog for reference purposes…

‘Context: noun (Oxford English Dictionary)
The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood.

The context of a photograph and its surroundings (i.e. what’s outside the frame as opposed to what’s inside the frame) are fundamental to how it comes to exist and how it is consumed. No photograph exists without a purpose, background or context. Context is not only the geographical placement of the photograph (Twitter, billboards, gallery), although that is very important. Context also means the ideological positioning of the photograph or series of photographs.

Narrative: noun (Oxford English Dictionary)

  • a spoken or written account of connected events; a story: a gripping narrative
  • the practice or art of telling stories
  • a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.

Individual photographs and series of photographs hold within them their own narratives (i.e. what’s within the frame). This course will refer to narratives both within single pictures and series of photographs. By ‘narrative’ we mean the visual flow, the coherence of the set of images, or the construction of the single image.

Within the frame of the photograph are the elements that make up the narrative. In a series, the photographer builds upon these elements to back up the general flow of the narrative but this isn’t necessarily linear; the photographer may manipulate the elements to cause disruptions in the story line, much as a writer might in a literary narrative. The overall narrative within a series of photographs should be consistent however.’ (Sharon Boothroyd, 2014)

Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

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