Stories From Images


The Diner – Ryan Schude

The German photographer and media artist Andreas Müller-Pohle observes that there are two types of photographers: the discoverer and the inventor. The discoverer acts “in motion,” after the model of the hunter and gatherer. His activity can be described as “scenic searching” in that he extracts something from the scenery, acting perceptually. The inventor, on the other hand, acts “stationary,” after the model of the sedentary producer. His activity is an “in-scenic” (staged) researching: he places something into the scenery, acting conceptually.

Therefore, Müller-Pohl notes, “searching and discovering” describe nature-oriented gestures, whereas “researching and inventing” are culture-oriented. He who becomes an inventor has been denied nature. It is exactly this which characterizes the current situation in photography. Reality – the photographer’s natural realm – has begun to be denied him. When reality has been denied, one must invent it anew.

This might explain some of the reasons for the growth of staged photography today where the photographer often uses actors and actresses and props to set up scenes in much the same way a film director might set up scenes in movies. Yet, staged photography often tells more of a story in one image than a two hour film tells in 172,000 images (at 24 frames per second, the standard film projection rate). One of the reasons for this is that staged photography is a “cool” medium inviting viewer participation in the story being told whereas modern films are often more similar to a “hot” medium, bombarding the viewer with more dialogue, music and action than immersive images.


Ryan Schude – Jaguar

Note the two staged photographs of LA photographer Ryan Schude. In his “Diner” a man in a derby stops and looks in at the various lives taking place inside a diner. A waitress spills a plate on a couple. An old woman looks out the window. A marching band rests against the diner. What is the story being told? Or, consider “Jaguar” above. A car has broken down but no one seems to care and a strange nightlife of play continues on around the broken car. It reminds one of Pieter Bruegel’s famous painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” (1590) where Icarus falls to earth but no one seems to pay attention.

Look at the below staged photos of Gregory Crewdson, probably the leading staged photographer working today. The viewer is placed into a story that has already started. Unlike a film where the viewer is present at the beginning, here the viewer is thrown into the middle of a story being told and needs to make sense of it. Unlike film which uses genre, dialogue, action and structure to explain what the story is about, staged photography offers a mystery to the viewer, a mystery that beckons the viewer to solve. In the end, those “inventors” of staged photography (as Andreas Müller-Pohle might define this group) makes viewers into “discoverers.”


Gregory Crewdson – In a Lonely Place


Gregory Crewdson – Maple Street


Gregory Crewdson – Maple Street

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