Teresa Pilcher Photography

On Characters vs Storytelling

On Storytelling… “I always start with characters rather than with a plot, which many critics would say is very obvious from the lack of plot in my films – although I think they do have plots – but the plot is not of primary importance to me, the characters are”.- Jim Jarmusch

Storytelling is an important part of street photography, but I’m inclined to agree with Jim Jarmusch here, I always start with an interesting backdrop or characters… If I am lucky I get both. It’s not just about chance, the more you observe people, the more interest you find. My MO is to identify interesting characters, then move my camera to set the backdrop and wait for the story or point of interest to unfold. If the story is left up to the viewers interpretation it then becomes more powerful. Just like in dreams or song lyrics, there are many meanings and symbolisms in images, but it is much more interesting when the intent is unclear or questions are asked instead of given.

For me, this image captures a mood rather than a story, the strong eye contact with the young girl is unsettling. It reminds me of a Stephen King film.. In this situation as the photographer, I have changed the equilibrium of the event and it would not have occurred if I were not present… (Catch 22). I really liked the juxtaposition of emotions vs setting of this image. I captured frames just prior to this, that she was happy and smiling but there was no dynamic tension, here her expression and eye contact add to the impact of this image.

For me, this image feels quite playful and always makes me smile. I liked the expression of the man looking down at his dog and his dog looking back up at him, I can almost read the subtext.. ‘I know the flowers are probably for his wife, but I feel like the love is for his dog’.. (My interpretation of course). Just a moment and an expression that does not necessarily reflect the opinions of subjects captured… I also liked the man in the background, he had an almost quizzical or disapproving look on his face, again this may or may not be linked to the story. I initially asked permission to take a photograph of his dogs, but kept shooting because I felt there was a better story here.

In this image it was the backdrop that first captured my attention, I liked the three strangers and the one empty seat. I like that the characters here seem in context with the poster and the eye contact with the central character. The signage also gives this image context, time and place. I must say that standing on the other platform of a Metro station felt quite safe and made me much more brave.

In all three images I have not set out to tell a story, but saw the characters and let the story unfold, so it feels more authentic to me. Lastly, an important point of clarity..The more interesting your characters, the more interesting your images will be.


Do you choose characters over storytelling? Did these images translate for you as they did for me?

Teresa Pilcher

Teresa Pilcher Photography A Blog on Street Photography

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