PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE - Making Every Picture Tell a Story

Romances of the Past are Brought to Light in this Novel Idea

A contest in which photographs of still life become the subjects for stories is one of the interesting ideas which Stein, the Paris photographer, has been trying.

“As one walks along,” he explains, “one frequently sees old and discarded objects abandoned in the street. Frequently these can be used as subjects for interesting photographs in which the subject itself becomes unimportant and in which the composition, the play of light and shade become primeval.”

For this reason Monsieur Stein began to take photographs of these objects - broken umbrellas cast into the gutter, weather-beaten signs long since abandoned to their fate, sometimes even old tramps lying along the riverside, also broken and cast aside by life.

Only when he already had quite a collection of these pictures did the idea come to him that they might be used as material for stories. All of these objects had a history. An umbrella lying in the gutter with water running over it once protected someone from the rain. Whom? And how did it come to be broken? Had there been a family quarrel and had the umbrella been made to suffer for it?

Questions such as these suggested to Stein the idea for his contest.

An editor took it up and tried it. Publishing a photograph, he asked his readers to try to fit a story to the picture, to imagine how the object came to be in its present situation and why it had been cast aside. For the photographer, however, there remained the problem of choosing the subjects. One can find them in any street, in any dump and along the banks of the Seine - anywhere, in fact, where disused objects are likely to be found. The choice is largely one of subject. Anything is suitable which does not carry with it its own obvious story.

The broken-up remains of a lamp-post, for example, might have been broken in an accident, or it might, more prosaically, have been replaced with a newer and better type. A group of old second-hand objects in some dealer’s shop might have most varied histories.

The art of the photographer in these pictures becomes closely akin to that of the photographic reporter. His business is less to tell or to suggest a story than to state the fact of the conditions he saw. The story of what he saw ought, however, to be told with art. He should try to remember that the photograph is an illustration and try to bring out by choice of angles and lighting the maximum of quality which the subject affords.